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Pictures of paradise
By MAUREEN BYRNE
© St. Petersburg Times, published June 23, 2000
DUNEDIN -- There were no luxury accommodations. No fancy restaurants. No automobiles.
But the secluded island off the coast of Florida was the perfect spot for newlyweds from across the country who won stays at Honeymoon Island during the early 1940s.
They spent their days exploring the island and fishing in the Gulf of Mexico, their evenings playing cards, putting on talent shows and relaxing in palm-thatched bungalows.
They didn't need much to entertain themselves. After all, they were in love.
"It was paradise," said Seminole resident Althea De View, who spent her honeymoon on the island in July 1940. "It was everything we dreamed it would be."
In 1940 and 1941, 200 newlyweds from across the United States won honeymoon trips to what was then called Honeymoon Isle. The spot, now a state recreation area, got its name from those visits, which were financed by a New York millionaire, Clinton Mozely Washburn.
Althea and Herbert Meyer were one of those couples. The newlyweds from Waukesha, Wis., spent three weeks on Honeymoon Isle. "It was very romantic," said Mrs. De View, who remarried after her husband died in 1981. "Everyone walked around holding hands."
An exhibit capturing the honeymooners' haven, titled Honeymoon Island, Paradise Dreamland, opens Saturday for a six-month run at Dunedin Historical Museum. "We've been doing a lot of digging," said museum director Vinnie Luisi. "A lot of this has not been seen by the public."
The idea for Honeymoon Isle came after a failed attempt to sell the island. Washburn wondered what to do with his $25,000 piece of property. He joked with a Life magazine editor saying the island would make an ideal spot for a honeymoon.
The joke became real.
The editor put the story on the news wires and soon Washburn was swamped with requests. He required the couples to write a letter on why they should be chosen; to provide three references; to be married less than two weeks; and to pay their own way to Tampa.
Mrs. De View said even Ronald Reagan and Jane Wyman applied for the free vacation in Florida. They were turned down because they had been married more than two weeks.
The first honeymooners were Ernest and Marjorie Burkett of Orlando. They arrived on March 8, 1940, to a flock of news reporters and photographers.
Honeymoon Island was featured in Paramount newsreels and in the April 8, 1940, issue of Life. An original copy of the magazine will be on display at the exhibit.
"All of a sudden, it became national news," Luisi said.
Inside the museum there is a half-sized replica of the 10- by 12-foot wooden cottages where honeymooners spent an average of 10 days. Most huts had a double bed, card table, two chairs, a pan, a kerosene lamp and two sets of utensils and dishes. Couples bought their own food from a store on the island and cooked on gas stoves. Outside each cottage was a rowboat.
The first cottage was sponsored by the Clearwater Lions Club, which seized the opportunity to get some free publicity for Clearwater. By the end of 1942, 50 huts dotted the barrier island near Dunedin.
Lovey and Dovey, Love Nest and Love Birds were some of the names given to the bungalows. "The first honeymooners put the names on them and they stuck," Luisi said.
Although the cottages had no electricity or plumbing, there were lights in a recreation hall/grocery store and showers and toilets in a bathhouse.
Washburn spent $19,000 building the huts, a recreational hall, a bathhouse, a water tower, a landing pier, a sewer system and a chapel. He also paid the wages of 29 employees.
Another highlight of the exhibition is a 12-minute video of honeymooners John and Tess Pawluk of Brooklyn, N.Y. The 60-year-old film shows the handsome groom and beautiful bride having the time of their life: frolicking in the sand, fishing in the gulf and dancing in grass skirts. And there was plenty of hugging and kissing, too.
Other items on display are original artifacts from the two-year period, such as the Honeymoon Isle pennant, 60 pictures and personal scrapbooks from some of the honeymooners. The museum also will have a special section for children where they can try on grass skirts, draw pictures of Honeymoon Island, look for treasure using a computer program and sift through a shell collection.
The end to Honeymoon Isle came in December 1941, with the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Washburn leased the island to a defense manufacturing company that sent its weary employees to the island for rest and relaxation. Washburn sold the island in 1956 for $600,000 to Arthur Vining Davis, supposedly one of the world's richest men at the time. Three years later, Washburn died of a heart attack. Eventually, through a series of purchases in the 1970s, the state bought the island for a recreation area.
Althea and Herbert Meyer returned to Dunedin on their 25th and 40th wedding anniversaries. In 1991, 15 of the couples reunited on Honeymoon Island. Mrs. De View declined the invitation saying it would be too painful since her husband had died.
Yet 60 years later, her face beams as she recalls her stay on Honeymoon Island. "We thought it was going to be paradise and it was," she said. "We had a lot of fun."
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