Kids make history at Old Lutz Depot
By SHERYL KAY
© St. Petersburg Times, published May 13, 2001
LUTZ -- A small crowd will gather Monday evening at the Old Lutz Train Depot, not for transportation, but for entertainment.
Voices will fill the air with songs and stories as teachers Lynn Leahy and Mary Brate bring their fourth-graders from Maniscalco Elementary School to the old railroad station for an original production called "Meet Me at the Depot -- Four Stories and Songs of Old Lutz."
Dressed in costumes of the early 1900s, the children will tell the turn-of-the-century history of Lutz, as well as the annals of the Depot.
"We study Florida history, but of course there's nothing about Lutz in our Florida history books," Leahy said. "We've done plays on Ybor City, Hyde Park, the Seminole Indians, but I like to make it as localized as possible, and Lutz is about as local as we could get."
For the past 12 years Leahy's students have performed in these plays, but always at the school. This is the first year her program will be conducted off-site.
"I was at the Fourth of July celebration where they were having the dedication of the Depot, and I thought to myself this would be a great place to put on a program about trains and the history of the Lutz area," she said. "You know, do it on location."
Leahy took several songs and changed the words a bit to reflect the Lutz theme. One tune, originally written about the Strasbourg train in Pennsylvania, will now recall the details of the Pea Vine, a locomotive that frequented the Lutz Depot almost a century ago.
"Lessons of Love," a song that describes the general kindness of good neighbors, has now been altered to retell the story of the McDowell family from Kansas who came to Lutz with no food, and the neighbors who helped save the family.
Victoria Zeccola, a 10-year-old student in Leahy's class, plays Ella McDowell, an 8-year-old in the McDowell family.
"She seemed like a good character for me to play because when I want something, I make sure I can get it," Victoria said. "She really wanted a peanut butter and jelly sandwich . . . and we really don't know if she ever got one. But it seems like she did because there was a lot of food that the neighbors brought there to the station."
Budding actor Brenna Bamberry mostly enjoyed the humor in putting the production together. Also in Leahy's class, Brenna, 10, will play Katie Belle Marsh, a young woman who recalls the summer of the fleas in Lutz.
"I like when the audience laughs when I say something funny, and I like when they smile because it lets me know I did a good job," she said.
In addition to the almost 40 student performers, several adult storytellers will be on hand, including Ron Stoy, an integral person in rebuilding the old Depot; and mother-and-daughter team Elizabeth and Susan McManus, two Lutz historians who have written books on the town.
"It takes a lot of time and effort to put this together, but I think it's a great educational experience for the children because it's not just something they are reading about in a book," Leahy said. "They are actually involved with this, and it becomes real for them."
Brenna agreed. "I learned a lot about the true stories that happened at the Depot," she said. "I didn't even know it was a train depot 'til we started this play."
The event begins Monday at 5:45 p.m., with a one-hour bring-your-own picnic on the grassy area in front of the Depot. The students will begin their performance at 7 p.m. Both activities are free and open to the public.
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