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Pensacola Museums Set For Phased Reopening Saturday

UWF Historic Trust is preparing for the reopening of some of its downtown properties. In the initial phase, the T.T. Wentworth, Jr. Florida State Museum and the Pensacola Museum of Art are reopening on a limited basis, starting Saturday.

“You know, it’s a little bit terrifying. It’s like having a party at your house, you’re inviting everybody over and you’re trying to make sure everybody’s taken care of,” exclaimed Rob Overton, executive director of UWF Historic Trust, in reference to the prospect of re-opening the museums.

“But, this is what we do and this is why we exist, to share this with our visitors, so it’s great to have. It’s like family coming back home again, that we haven’t been able to let them.

Because of the coronavirus, Overton and his staff have had to make a few adjustments in order to open up safely. First, they’re taking it slow, for the time being, opening only on Saturdays and Wednesdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m and eliminating walk-up transactions.

“The biggest thing is we’re doing our tickets through online sales only. We’re doing two phases, so we can control the number of people,” he said.

“The ordinances are now that we can only be at 25% of occupancy, so we’re keeping those numbers low. Online tickets, we do a morning ticket and an afternoon ticket. Now, we are doing one individual ticket. We used to ticket the Wentworth and the Art Museum separately, but for $5 you get access to both.”

The reopening is being done under the guidance of the American Alliance of Museums, which is their national accrediting body.

Among the measures taken, a face shield has been erected at the welcome desk. Wipes and hand-sanitizer stations will be available. Additionally, museum staff will be wearing masks and equipped with cleaning supplies for regular wipe downs of commonly touched things such as doorknobs, elevator buttons, stair railings, and glass exhibit cases.

Interactive features, that encourage touching, had to be removed.

“We have a few things that are touch-screen, IPads, they’ve come out.” Overton explained. “We’ve got an exhibit upstairs that talks about post cards, Greetings from Pensacola. We were actually letting people write postcards and we were mailing them, so that’s unfortunately had to come out. Simple things like the guest book, that’s coming out.”

Credit Sandra Averhart / WUWF Public Media
WUWF Public Media
Visitor Experience Manager Wendi Davis is preparing to remove the store at the T.T. Wentworth Museum to eliminate onsite purchases.

A couple of days out from re-opening, Overton and visitor experience manager Wendi Davis were among the limited staff getting things ready. Davis was making changes to the Wentworth’s merchandise area.

“In order to be ready for Saturday, I’m moving all of our store merchandise out of the Wentworth and the Pensacola Museum of Art,” said Davis. “Those two stores will be closed. We’re not doing any transactions onsite. It’s also the best opportunity to do my annual audit of inventory, so I’m counting and moving.

Like tickets, merchandise will be available online.

While there are several new safety protocols in place, some things haven’t changed. There’re still many great exhibits to explore, starting on the first floor of the T.T. Wentworth.

“We are in Pensacola, 1559,” Overton proclaimed. “We’ve got over 450 years of European occupation here. So, on the first floor, we still have that City of Five Flags exhibit. Some of the very popular things we find is based on the archaeology that’s been done by Dr. Judy Bense and her program and Dr. Benchley out at the university.”

“There is a lot left. There are hundreds of shipwrecks in the bay,” begins Dr. Bense in a video associated with the City of Five Flags exhibit. “There are thousands of archaeological sites in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties alone.”

Credit Sandra Averhart / WUWF Public Media
WUWF Public Media
The Trader Jon's display is one of the permanent exhibits at the T.T. Wentworth Museum, which is reopening Saturday on a limited basis.

Artifacts include formal bowls and alligator heads from Pensacola’s British occupation excavated in the museum plaza behind the building.

Overton went on to detail some of the 1559 Luna Shipwreck artifacts, “The anchor; we’ve got items like the nails, some of the small cannon balls, cups and some of the things that they drink out of.”

That’s just for starters. Highlighting the second-floor offerings is the Trader Jon’s Exhibit.

“Everybody loves Trader Jon,” proclaimed Overton. “Trader Jon’s was a local Naval bar that was here and he, Martin ‘Trader Jon’ Weissman’ had a huge collection that was gifted to the university. It’s all military memorabilia, so we recreated that.”

In an exhibit video, “Trader Jon” describes one his prized possessions.

“After Bob Hope landed with the Blue Angels, he called me over and he presented me with his flight suit. I thought it was a great thing and I’ve treasured it ever since,” said Weissman.

Visitors can also checkout the Punksacola exhibit and the Lessons in Ink comics display. Across the street, there’s the Pensacola Museum of Art.

“Just before we closed down for the virus, we did the Art Museum Member Show, which is local people; there’s quite some talent here,” said Overton. “So, that’s still on show over there and we’re working on a couple of others from our permanent collection that will be in.”

Overton says there will be a final round of staff training and some last minute adjustments before the doors to the Pensacola Museum of Art and T.T. Wentworth Museum open on Saturday. Information and tickets available online at www.historicpensacola.org and at the PMA website.

Visitors will need to register for a timed ticket prior to entering the museums to ensure adherence of capacity limits.

Sandra Averhart has been News Director at WUWF since 1996. Her first job in broadcasting was with (then) Pensacola radio station WOWW107-FM, where she worked 11 years. Sandra, who is a native of Pensacola, earned her B.S. in Communication from Florida State University.