Why would a Chicago socialite with homes in London and Paris want to buy property in the area today known as Sarasota and Venice at a time when there was little in the area other than palmetto, wild turkeys, snakes and gators?
Palmer re-enactor Kate Holmes has been sharing the answer to that and other questions about Bertha Honore Palmer since 2001, which was 99 years after Palmer’s arrival in this area.
“I was never interested in history until I moved here and volunteered at Historic Spanish Point,” she said. “I developed a monologue about Bertha for the Heritage Holiday skits.
“Then I left Spanish Point and went to the Historic Society of Sarasota for about 10 years.”
There she researched other characters, including Jeannette Pickering Rankin — who was the first woman elected to the U.S. House of Representatives (in 1916 and 1940, from Montana), In her first term, Rankin became the only woman in the U.S. to vote for women’s suffrage as she was the only female in Congress.
Holmes also has researched Lizzie Guptil and will present her in January at the Crocker Church in Sarasota for the Sarasota Historical Society.
But her sweetest presentation will be Oct. 13 where, in addition to being guests of the late Nettie and Edson Keith, attendees will not only be able to listen to Holmes as Bertha talk about Bertha Palmer’s life in this area and around the world but also taste the famous brownies developed for the Chicago World’s Fair (Columbian Exposition) in 1893 by the chefs at the Palmer House Hotel in Chicago at Palmer’s request.
Holmes is making the famous brownies for guests at that event.
When Holmes was researching the Palmer — who arranged to move Venice south to its present location, she discovered the recipe which continues to be served to this day at the famed Palmer House Hilton in Chicago.
They were created by Palmer House chefs at Bertha’s urging to be served at the Columbian Exposition in 1893. The treat remains one of the hotel’s most popular confections. The extra rich and moist treat is topped with crushed walnuts and an apricot glaze.
Bertha Palmer owned thousands of acres of land in what is today the Sarasota and Manatee County area of southwest Florida. She developed the Eagle Point Club in what is today known as Venice and also was responsible for moving the name Venice to this area when she had the old Seaboard-Airline Railway terminal south to about where it is today. At that point the name Nokomis was selected for the area formerly known as Venice.
Holmes said she elected to portray Palmer as she would have appeared in 1915, which was after the era of high-button shoes and before the “flapper” era.
“I order vintage clothing online and find my old-fashioned shoes at costume shops,” she said.
Holmes attended Antioch College, a co-op school in Ohio. As a student she worked in Cleveland’s planning department and later for Shell Oil in Chicago.
Bertha died of breast cancer at the Sloan Kettering Hospital in New York in 1915. She and her husband are buried in Chicago’s Graceland Cemetery. While in this area, Palmer lived at the Oaks at Spanish Point. The house was torn down about 1961 after a fire.
In 2010, during the centennial of Bertha’s arrival in this area, there were about 250 reenactments of Palmer.
“I did 10 percent of them,” Holmes said.
The event is from 2 to 4 p.m. Oct. 13 at the Edson Keith Mansion at Phillippi Estate Park, 5500 South Tamiami Trail, Sarasota. There will be three additional presentations in the series. For more information, call 941-861-5000. The cost is $20 per person. For reservations, call 941-861-7275 or visit: scgov.net.