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Painting and knitting? Yes. But hell-raising, too, at 93

On her 90th birthday, she streaked; at 92 she danced at a gay bar.

By DONNA WINCHESTER
Published January 10, 2006


ST. PETERSBURG - Annie Harl's obituary, all 11 lines of it, described her as a homemaker who came here in 1952 from Altoona, Pa., and enjoyed painting and knitting.

But Annie, who died on New Year's Day at age 93, was so much more.

Friends and relatives who gathered Sunday to celebrate her life remembered her as a "born-again hell-raiser" who commemorated her 90th birthday by peeling off her nightie and streaking from her neighbor's house two doors down.

They spoke of her affection for Champagne and deviled eggs. They laughed about the neighborhood tradition she started of parading down the street on New Year's Eve banging pots and pans. They recounted the story of her first visit to a gay bar at age 92 and the way women lined up to dance with her and buy her drinks.

But they also talked of her love for animals and her ability to nurse the sick and comfort the weary.

"She put a permanent stripe on my life," said Ed Babimcheck, a neighbor for 13 years. "She made us all feel comfortable and loved."

Baptized into the Presbyterian Church as a child in Altoona, Pa., Annie wasn't religious, her relatives say. She studied Judaism and thought about becoming Catholic. But she would "revert to being a Presbyterian when the Mormons came door to door," and had no qualms about inviting teetotaling members of Jehovah's Witnesses into her house for a drink.

She never learned to drive, preferring buses and cabs. She made friends with everyone, including her mail carrier, who sometimes stopped by for a drink when he finished his route.

She wanted someone to write a book about her and even had a title for it: Everybody Should Have a Cousin Like Edna. Annie's cousin Edna had a free spirit, too, relatives said.

Jean Moore, Annie's sister, brushed back tears as she spoke of the way a young Annie took care of her while she was growing up.

"I became her baby," Mrs. Moore, 86, said.

Annie's great-niece, Michelle Moore, 28, recalled the Annie of a different era and the amazing tales she could weave.

"We always knew when we were going to Annie's that we'd have a good time," she said.

Her neighbors echoed the sentiment. Kim Barker, who lives a couple of doors away from Annie's house, recalled the first time they met.

"She came down the street in her slippers and her nightgown with a bottle of Champagne in one hand and two glasses in the other and said, "Welcome to the neighborhood,"' Barker said.

When Annie moved to the Jungle Prada neighborhood in 1952, there was nothing there but pine trees and palmettos, her family recalled. She and her husband, Ben, built their house from the ground up, grading the lot and pouring the foundation themselves.

Ben, who didn't always approve of Annie's antics, died in 1993 from Alzheimer's disease. Annie took care of him the last few years of his life, refusing to move him to a nursing home.

About two months ago, Annie broke her pelvis when she tripped over some bricks in her yard. Her family moved her to Lexington Health and Rehabilitation Center to recuperate, but she developed pneumonia. Her doctors put her in the hospital.

It wasn't long before Annie decided to stop eating. She said she was tired and wanted to "live out her last days on coffee and Jack Daniels," her nephew Jade Moore said.

Moore, the executive director of the Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association, spoke of the day just before Christmas when he sat with his aunt at the hospital.

"I asked her, "What do you want, Annie?"' Moore said.

Annie, who hadn't smoked for 20 years, told him she wanted a cigarette.

"I pointed to the no smoking sign," Moore said. "She said, "Well, then I want liquor."'

Underneath that tough-talking exterior beat a heart of gold, said Moore's wife, Sue. Years ago, Annie decided to leave her estate, with the exception of a few prized possessions that will go to her loved ones, to several charities.

"That's just the kind of person she was," Sue Moore said. "She gave to those who needed it."