Being Bertha

By staff January 1, 2006

Among the low-key pleasures of the tourist season are Historic Spanish Point's living history performances, where actors play out vignettes, from pioneering homesteaders to the grand Bertha Honore Palmer era-yes, that Palmer, of Chicago's famed Palmer House hotel.

As Mrs. Palmer, Kate Holmes dons a formal cream lace dress and greets visitors in the Sunken Gardens. She talks about how Mrs. Palmer, at age 65, spied an ad in a Chicago newspaper that read, "Land for sale in sunny Sarasota," or answers questions about her winter estate (it started as a four-room hunting lodge and expanded to 31 rooms, 12 of them bedrooms). Chicagoans are often in the audience, Holmes says, and they're always surprised to hear the Palmer Hotel was her wedding present from husband, Potter, whom she met when she was 13 and he was 36.

Holmes, also an author, is working on a historical novel about Sarasota, in which "Mrs. P." figures.

"I've gotten to know her pretty well; she was a marvelous, marvelous character," Holmes says. "She was born in 1849 and she did things people born in 1949 are still striving to do."

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