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Museum's Reptile World shows sell out

December 12, 2009|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

HAGERSTOWN -- When the first 106 tickets for the annual Children's Holiday Program on Saturday at the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts sold out in 15 hours, Amy Hunt said she was kind of "shocked and horrified."

Shocked by the overwhelming demand and horrified by the prospect that many more children would not be able to attend, Hunt scrambled to schedule a second show, which also was a sellout.

"The big draw is the reptile man we have here today," Hunt said in between shows, when children were able to tell Santa Claus what they wanted for Christmas.

Some probably asked for a snake, lizard or turtle after watching Michael Shwedick's whimsical, humor-filled talk about the reptiles he has handled for 40 years.

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Held by the museum since the 1930s, the annual holiday program has evolved over the years into an event that steers away from the Christmas holiday's religious themes so it is more inclusive, Hunt said.

Shwedick's "Reptile World" had been almost a fixture at the museum, where he has appeared at least 12 times previously, but Hunt said they had not booked his show for three or four years.

"He is our favorite," said Mary Bowling of Halfway. While she doesn't care for reptiles, Bowling said her sons, ages 9 and 13, love them.

Bowling's friend, Donna Sales of Hagerstown, who owns a menagerie of pets including a hedgehog, said she always brings her granddaughter to see Shwedick.

"It's very educational and kids might not see this stuff if they don't come here," Sales said.

As each reptile appeared from its boxed confines, a chorus of oohs and aahs from the children followed.

At the end of the show, the children had an opportunity to touch Banana Boy's Brother, a large, 8-year-old yellow jungle python.

Snakes that squeeze don't poison and snakes that poison don't squeeze, Shwedick said.

This year's program was sponsored by the Agnita M. Schreiber Stine Foundation, which also has sponsored the museum's Saturday youth program, Hunt said.

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