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Free Museum Day draws crowds

A group of people including J.C. Milan, second from right, and Erin Albertson, far right, enjoy the colorful glass forms of Dale Chihuly’s Mille Fiori at the Morean Arts Center’s Chihuly Collection in St. Petersburg on Saturday during Free Museum Day.

LARA CERRI | Times

A group of people including J.C. Milan, second from right, and Erin Albertson, far right, enjoy the colorful glass forms of Dale Chihuly’s Mille Fiori at the Morean Arts Center’s Chihuly Collection in St. Petersburg on Saturday during Free Museum Day.

ST. PETERSBURG — For hundreds of feet it stretched, the line of mustachioed men, women and children.

Some of them, mostly the men, smoked cigarettes and stole glances at their watches. Others, mostly the children, sat on the pavement and played hand-held video games. They had not come to town Saturday afternoon as members of a bearded circus team or to attend a convention of facial hair aficionados.

The lengthy line, in fact, was thanks to Pinellas County's annual Free Museum Day. And the mustaches, made from black chenille stems, were thanks to a woman passing them out in front of the Dali Museum.

Crowds like that one formed around buildings all over the area Saturday. From Creative Clay to the Pier Aquarium to the Museum of Fine Arts, admission was free.

Officials at the Dali expected about 3,000 visitors. By 1 p.m., the wait was an hour long.

Memphis Essmyer, who is 5, stood with his parents near the middle of the line. Beneath a mop of curly brown hair, he wore flip-flops, shorts and a blue shirt labeled: "LONDON." Memphis didn't care for mustaches, so he turned his into a snake.

"Only my mom wanted to," he explained of why they were there. And why, specifically, were they there? "The weird museum."

He and his parents, Kirk and J.R., had driven down from Oldsmar.

They moved to the area eight months ago, but had never visited the Dali. J.R. didn't mind the crowd. Her husband, though, had lightly suggested coming back another time.

"There's bigger stresses in the world," she said, "than waiting in line."

Longtime St. Petersburg residents Cindi Para and Linda Villinger decided to skip it. They began their day perusing the Chihuly Collection museum, where more than 100 people had lined up before the doors opened at 10 a.m. The two had hoped to visit the Dali, but decided against the wait. They instead opted for the St. Petersburg Museum of History.

"I'm already getting tired," Para said. "And it's warm."

Thermometers in St. Pete crept near 90 degrees, but that didn't hamper the gathering throng outside the Florida Holocaust Museum, which offered little shade.

Mark and Marylee Owens, equipped with an umbrella, had been waiting in the slow-moving line with their 11-year-old son J.P. for about 15 minutes.

The family attends at least one location every year on Free Museum Day. They had previously seen the Dali, the Museum of History and the Museum of Fine Arts.

"We've never done this one before," said Mark. "We're really excited."

Free Museum Day draws crowds 09/29/12 [Last modified: Saturday, September 29, 2012 10:14pm]

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