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Party thrown in spirit of Henry Plant

Old Henry B. Plant had to glance at his birthday cake Saturday to remember his age. "Egads!" he cried when he saw three candles shaped like numbers: one, seven and one.

"How old am I, Margaret?" he asked.

"Too old to think about it, dear," replied Mrs. Plant, who gently patted his hand then tottered across the Henry B. Plant Museum veranda to greet more guests.

Folks began making a big deal out of Henry Plant's birthday on Oct. 27, 1895, when he was a mere stripling of 75. On that day, about 3,000 employees of the Tampa tycoon's Plant System of Railways and Steamships planted water oak trees along tracks in four states.

On Saturday, Plant looked remarkably fit for a man who has been dead nearly two centuries. Perhaps it's because Plant actually is actor Patrick Doyle, and Margaret is his real-life wife, actress Rosemary Orlando.

Feisty Plant wore a slightly frayed gray morning coat. Elegant Margaret, in a floor-length ivory frock with a cameo brooch clasped at the neck, took time to share confidences. "My dear," she said in hushed tones, "I am Henry's second wife and I am considerably younger than him."

For the second year, the friends of the Henry B. Plant Museum _ now part of the University of Tampa's Plant Hall but formerly Plant's majestic Tampa Bay Hotel _ honored the founding father with sweet breads and coffee, Victorian entertainment and a chocolate cake.

Henry kissed the ladies' hands and invited the gentlemen to a friendly pinochle game _ never mind that the old Rathskellar closed in the 1930s.

He fumbled with a newfangled coffee pot. ("It doesn't work. We need a servant," he grumbled.) He watched students from Plant City High School perform magic tricks. ("Ver-r-y good," he cheered.) Then he planted a 12-foot water oak in front of Plant Hall. ("I don't know what to say. I'll just shovel dirt," he said.)

As about 30 friends of the museum chanted Happy Birthday, Henry promised to return for his 172nd birthday.

"Do come back," he said. "Next time we'll sit on the rocking chairs and have a chat."