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The merchants of downtown Inverness doffed their collectives hats to the 600-plus ladies of the Red Hat Society who brought their jaunty toppers to town on Thursday for a Red Hatters Tea Party on the grounds of the Historic McLeod House.

Inverness City Manager Frank DiGiovanni welcomed the ladies. After encouraging them to visit local merchants, many of whom offered discounts to those sporting the trademark red hat, DiGiovanni took a deep breath, looked out over the audience and said, "I haven't seen this much red since the roses bloomed back home!"

Joyce Rogers, Inverness mayor and member of the Precious Peaches Red Hat chapter, went to the microphone to tell the gathering, "All of you look mah-velous, darlings!"

She added, "Just for today, the city of Inverness police has waived all fines for spitting on the streets and sidewalk . . . but please, don't pick the flowers."

The last was in reference to the poem Warning, When I Am An Old Woman by British poet Jenny Joseph, which has become the anthem of the Red Hatters.

Linda Murphy, co-founder and exalted vice-queen mother of the original Fullerton, Calif.,a group, was also on hand for the fun. And that was her message to the crowd: "Just have fun today."

And so they did!

More than 600 members of the Red Hat Society converged Thursday on Inverness for a Red Hatters Tea Party on the grounds of the historic McLeod House on Apopka Avenue. To accommodate the large numbers of ladies, the tea and fashion show were done in three sessions. Shown are a few of the ladies from the 11 a.m. tea.