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REVISIT ISLE O' LOVE

An exhibit explores Honeymoon Island's romantic past.

Honeymoon Island State Park is home to osprey, royal tern and more than 260 other species of birds. But did you know that decades ago, another type flocked to its sugar-white sands?

They were lovebirds - those starry-eyed creatures that travel in pairs and mate for life (that's the plan anyway).

From March 1940 to December 1941, just before World War II, the 4-mile-long island was visited by about 250 newlywed couples from around the nation.

They stayed in tiny thatched shacks, fished, played cards, danced, made love and had the time of their lives.

Now the story of "Honeymoon Isle: Paradise Dreamland" has come to the Dunedin Historical Museum. The exhibit, which celebrates the 65th anniversary of the last group of honeymooners, runs through Jan. 15, 2008.

"For this period of time, Honeymoon Isle was a national sensation," said Vinnie Luisi, executive director of the museum. "Couples wrote letters to try and win a free vacation. The only thing they had to bring was their own bed linens."

In 1938, Clinton Washburn bought "Hog Island" for $25,000, thinking he would turn around and make a handsome profit.

His asking price was $150,000, but there were no takers; he needed a good promotional idea.

One day, as Washburn was lunching with an editor from LIFE magazine, the two dreamed up the idea of giving away vacations in this tropical paradise. The editor agreed to promote the idea in his publication. Soon Washburn was besieged by requests.

The exhibit features photographs and artifacts from this charming, innocent era, as well as LIFE magazine articles, vintage home movies and Paramount newsreels. A replica grass shack features a tiny table for two, letters to home from honeymooners, an oil lamp, a propane stove for cooking - even a box of pancake flour.

"We've been preparing for this exhibit for seven years," said museum director Luisi. "You're not going to see these materials or artifacts anywhere else."

Terri Bryce Reeves can be reached at treeves@tampabay.rr.com.

If you go

'Honeymoon Isle: Paradise Dreamland'

Where: Dunedin Historical Museum, 349 Main St., next to the Pinellas Trail

When: Through Jan. 15; 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Closed Sunday and Monday.

Cost: Suggested donation of $2

Information: (727) 736-1176

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