So, I have a confession. I’ve lived in the Tampa area my entire life and have never gone to a Gasparilla parade. To be honest, I’d rather look at the pictures from the parade’s history.
The Gasparilla Pirate Festival is Tampa’s big annual bash celebrating the mythical pirate José Gaspar (Gasparilla) who supposedly operated in southwest Florida.
The legend of José Gaspar says that Gasparilla sailed from a secret island base south of Tampa in Charlotte Harbor, plundering ships and the coast from the late 1700s until 1821. According to the legend, when he was about to be captured, he wrapped himself in chains and threw himself overboard shouting “Gasparilla dies by his own hand, not the enemy’s!”
Gaspar didn’t really exist, in fact he seems to have been completely invented as a tourism draw. The first written account of José Gaspar was in a 1900 advertising brochure for the Charlotte Harbor and Northern Railroad Company, a part of Tampa mogul Henry B. Plant’s railroad. The brochure claimed that Gaspar had operated in the area and that his vast treasure was supposedly hidden nearby but had never been found. LOL. Subsequent tales of the pirate Gaspar are based on that fanciful brochure, including several mentions in books about real pirates. Oh boy.
The first Gasparilla parade was held in May 1904, after the society editor for the Tampa Tribune, Miss Louise Frances Dodge, and Tampa’s director of customs George Hardee merged the pirate legend with elements of Mardi Gras. Basically pirates “invade” the city leading a parade with elaborate floats. The first “invasion” was via horseback. The sea-based invasions began in 1911.
Every year, once the pirate ship reaches downtown Tampa the Mayor of Tampa surrenders the Key to the City among other booty.
I love seeing pictures of my hometown from so long ago! All the photos in this post link back to the State Archives of Florida’s Florida Memory site where there are many other photos of Gasparilla from the 40’s and 50’s.