Tuesday, August 14, 2018
News Roundup

In death, Pulse victim 'Top Hat Eddie' still helping bring together U.S. and Cuba

SARASOTA

Sally Rackey had been looking for the right person to receive her gift — a century-old wooden briefcase, faded but sturdy, holding supplies once used by her artist father.

Rackey found the right person in Santiago Hermes, a Cuban artist who is at work on a tribute to the 49 victims of Orlando's Pulse nightclub shootings.

The conservatively dressed Sarasota real estate agent presented the case to the wild-haired artist, his long beard twisted into five braids, when he visited Sarasota last week.

The setting was Legendary Travels, a travel agency that is the link between the two as the place where Edward Sotomayor worked. Sotomayor, a 34-year-old University of South Florida graduate killed in the Pulse shootings, was an acquaintance of Rackey's and developed a deep friendship with Hermes after he launched trips to Cuba through a Legendary Journeys' division called ALandCHUCK.travel, specializing in gay vacation packages.

"I've been looking for years for the right person to give it to," Rackey said, sobbing, as she handed over the rustic case Wednesday in a gathering at the travel agency. "He is perfect. It will go to good use."

Hermes will put the art supplies to work as he finishes the 49 pieces that form his exhibit honoring the Pulse victims, scheduled for a tour starting in June through a number of American cities — Tampa, Orlando, Sarasota, Washington, D.C., New York, Philadelphia and Chicago. June 12 is the anniversary of the attack on the gay nightclub by Omar Mateen, a 29-year-old security guard also killed in the shootings.

The Hermes work that received the most attention Wednesday is titled Top Hat Eddie, Sotomayor's nickname, depicting people lifting a giant top hat so those trapped under it can escape. Hermes said the painting symbolizes the ongoing struggle for the rights of LGBT individuals and the work of those who support them.

Sotomayor spearheaded the Cuba tours, friends said, to help bring the two nations together in a new era of normalization. He first visited Hermes' gallery in Cienfuegos last April and made it a permanent part of Legendary Journeys' Cuban tours. Rackey joined one of the tours in January.

"He was able to connect the two countries and he continues to connect us," Hermes said. "He will always be my friend."

"Eddie is a bridge between Cuba and the United States," Hermes' wife, Mary Hermes, said through an interpreter. "He is special to us."

She added, "There was a magical connection. When we found out about Pulse, it was like a gut punch."

Hermes attended Sotomayor's funeral in Sarasota, then marched in the St. Pete Pride Parade on June 25. The parade inspired him to pursue the Pulse exhibit — a mix of paintings, sketches, sculptures and works in other media.

"Sometimes when people disappear from one's life, the people are forgotten," Hermes said. "I cannot allow people to forget Eddie."

"This is ambitious," said Al Ferguson, founder of Legendary Journeys, who has been raising money for the exhibit and working out logistics. "But we're doing it."

As small groups of Sotomayor's friends looked over the paintings during the sneak peek, Rackey took a moment to rummage through the wooden briefcase one last time.

The style Hermes' art, she said, is similar to her father's.

"My father lived in Washington state when he was given this," Rackey said, kissing her hand then touching the briefcase in farewell. "From Washington to Cuba. Enjoy the trip, Papa. You're in good hands."

Contact Paul Guzzo at [email protected] Follow @PGuzzoTimes.

     
   
Comments
The Daystarter: The latest on ‘stand your ground’ arrest; red alert for Red Tide; it’s Taylor Swift time in Tampa

The Daystarter: The latest on ‘stand your ground’ arrest; red alert for Red Tide; it’s Taylor Swift time in Tampa

Catching you up on overnight happenings, and what to know today.• Showers will push ashore and strengthen in the early afternoon. There’s a 40 percent chance of rain mainly in the afternoon, but forecasters believe most of the rain will be gone by t...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Amalie Arena tries to lure millenials to its Firestick Grill

Amalie Arena tries to lure millenials to its Firestick Grill

TAMPA — How to attract the cool kids? This is the mantra for so many restaurants these days: That huge generation of millennials eats differently, thinks differently and spends differently than their parents. So how do you reel them in and make them ...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Echelman Pier sculpture raises bird safety concerns

Echelman Pier sculpture raises bird safety concerns

ST. PETERSBURG — From the beginning, the city’s plans for an aerial net sculpture on the downtown waterfront provoked alarm from those concerned about birds."I do not think that it is appropriate to place a moving, lighted net in an important flyway ...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Passed over for principal, a Pinellas educator with a problematic history is promoted

Passed over for principal, a Pinellas educator with a problematic history is promoted

Robert J. Gagnon was the shoo-in pick to be the next principal of St. Petersburg High last year, at least until "new information" surfaced about his early career that led Pinellas County school superintendent Mike Grego to reverse course.Now, 15 mont...
Updated: 12 hours ago
Anti-straw movement picks up steam on beaches

Anti-straw movement picks up steam on beaches

Efforts to persuade restaurants and bars to discontinue the use of plastic straws are having a rippling effect in beach communities as well as some inland in Pinellas County.Former Treasure Island Mayor Bob Minning is spearheading efforts for the Tre...
Published: 08/14/18
What’s in the way of the Rays’ rebuild

What’s in the way of the Rays’ rebuild

So here's the good news.The Rays are 60-58 after taking two out of three in Toronto. Their so-called "tanking'' plan isn't really a total tank job after all. Call it a rebuilding project, and this rebuilding project looks way ahead of schedule. Not o...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Hillsborough School District will speed up lead testing, following Times investigation

Hillsborough School District will speed up lead testing, following Times investigation

TAMPA — The Hillsborough County School District said Monday it will accelerate how quickly it is testing school drinking and cooking water for lead.The announcement came several days after the Tampa Bay Times reported that the district didn’t disclos...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Shooter charged with manslaughter in Clearwater stand your ground case

Shooter charged with manslaughter in Clearwater stand your ground case

Frustration and anticipation have packed the roughly three weeks since Michael Drejka shot Markeis McGlockton in a convenience store parking lot in a case that has reignited the debate over Florida’s stand your ground law.And on Monday, it took a dra...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Find A Friend: Paddington the Black Cat

Find A Friend: Paddington the Black Cat

Sweet! Friday (Aug. 17) is National Black Cat Appreciation Day. Love has no color, but Paddington and his black kitten siblings are all ready to celebrate. There are lots of reasons to adopt a black cat — and you’ll never need a lint brush during bla...
Updated: 9 hours ago
Habitat for Humanity says it plans to buy back mortgages sold to house flipper

Habitat for Humanity says it plans to buy back mortgages sold to house flipper

TAMPA — Habitat for Humanity of Hillsborough County said Monday that it will seek to immediately buy back 12 mortgages that it had sold to a Tampa company with a history of flipping foreclosed houses. The announcement came a day after the Tampa Bay T...
Updated: 9 hours ago