The Gasparilla Pirate Festival, which is held in Tampa each January, commemorates the life and times of José Gaspar, a Spanish pirate captain who operated in the waters of southwest Florida around 1800. The festival started in 1904 when the city’s leaders adopted the pirate as a “rogue” symbol for its celebrations.
Gasparilla is a unique celebration that includes an invasion of the city by the krewe of the ship, José Gasparilla, after which the mayor hands over the keys to the city to the victorious pirates. The Gasparilla might be the star of the event, but it is accompanied on its way into Tampa by hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of smaller boats. There are so many boats in the invasion flotilla that it’s a wonder they don’t run into one another (or maybe some of them do)!
The early morning invasion is followed by an elaborate parade that features pirate-themed floats and their krewes. The festival, which attracts more than 750,000 people, is a wild and wooly affair that is punctuated by gun fire and cannon shot. The krewes toss beads and coins to people lining the parade route (think Mardi Gras) and by time the parade is over, everyone is swathed in layers of beads. Partying continues into the night at the street festival in and around downtown Tampa.
There are Gasparilla-related events, including a road race and arts festival, through much of January and February. The largest associated event is a children’s parade and fireworks show that takes place a week before the invasion and main parade.
Gaspar and his krewe have become an enduring part of Tampa’s identity. If you’re an NFL fan, you are probably familiar with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the pirate ship that shoots its cannon whenever the team scores. Most of the krewes sponsor various community and philanthropic events throughout the year and, not surprisingly, many of their members are business and community leaders in the Tampa area.
This post is my contribution to Jenny Matlock’s Alphabe-Thursday which, this week, is studying and commenting on the letter “G”. Feel free to add your own “g”-rated post to the mix.