Tampa is well-known for its Cuban sandwiches and highway expansions. However, it’s also popular for its celebrated Gasparilla Pirate Festival. The celebration got its name from a fictional pirate named Jose Gaspar. Ye Mystic Krewe from Gasparilla is created with starting the event, which is more than a 100 years old.
Tampa Pirate Festival
Imagine this: It is the 1700s, the age when pirates were king. Jose Gaspar, a famed pirate, is exploring the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico looking for treasure and riches to plunder. He comes across Tampa, the treasure that is.
Although there is no evidence to support the claim that Jose Gaspar was a pirate some hundred years ago, it has nevertheless become a household name in Tampa, Florida.
A group of people, including an editor at the Tampa Tribune, worked together to promote Tampa’s May Day celebration in the early 1900s. The group had secret meetings and planned to launch a mock pirate invasion of Tampa. It would all be one big surprise. The group Ye Mystic Krewe was formed from these meetings.
With costumes from New Orleans, the first Krewe stormed Tampa’s streets on horseback in 1904 when they “captured” the city.
Although a ship would not be added to the picture for several years, Ye Mystic Krewe entered the bay in 1911. The Krewe went one step further and used a pirate ship in the 1930s. It was named Jose Gasparilla I.
The Gasparilla Pirate Festival evolved into a two-month celebration that began with the invasion of Tampa. It is now the third largest parade in America, with more than 300,000, and one of the most celebrated pirate festivals in Florida.
The parade of pirates actually includes several parades and other activities, such as a music festival or art festival and even a marathon.
Gasparilla’s children’s parade usually kicks off the second Saturday of January.
The event is family-friendly and includes kid-friendly activities as well as a parade down Bayshore Boulevard. You’ll find hundreds of floats at the children’s parade. It’s also a great opportunity to get all your treasure beads.
The Tampa pirate festival is held the week following. This is a spectacular sight, especially if you have a view from Davis Island and Harbour Island.
Residents launch every type of boat and watercraft to defend their city as Jose Gasparilla enters the bay, carrying a “shipload” of pirates.
Legend has it that Jose Gaspar’s magical aura makes it impossible to defend ships against pirate invaders. This is why they decided to join forces with them. The Jose Gasparilla and more than 1000 boats make their way towards downtown Tampa.
Pirates seize control of the city and plunder its treasure. They demand the mayor’s key.
These are just some of the major events you can expect to experience in the Gasparilla Pirate Festival.
Ye Mystic Krewe
Ye Mystic Krewe of the Gasparilla Pirate Festival was founded in 1904. The Tampa Bay Hotel staged a horseback invasion to promote the May Day Festival. Let’s take a look at nitty-gritty details of one of the most celebrated pirate festivals in Florida.
1. The Pirate
Jose Gaspar, the legendary pirate, who terrorized West Florida’s coast waters in the 18th and early 19th centuries, is the inspiration for Tampa’s Ye Mystic Krewe.
As the legend goes, Gaspar, an aristocrat and Spanish Navy officer, was educated and displayed courtly manners. He also had the appearance of a gentleman.
Jose Gaspar, who died in 1904, left behind an untold fortune of treasure buried somewhere on the Florida coast. Although the treasure was never found, the tale of Gaspar, the swashbuckling pirate, was retold in 1904 by Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla. It adopted him as its patron rogue and celebrated the city’s birthday.
2. The Extravaganza
Miss Louise Francis Dodge (society editor of the Tampa Tribune) and George W. Hardee (then with the federal government of Tampa) founded the Gasparilla Pirate Festival in 1904. Both conspired for the promotion of Tampa’s May Day celebration.
The first “Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla” was formed in secret meetings. Its forty members were determined to shock the public with a mock pirate attack. The first Krewe, which rented costumes from New Orleans for the occasion, arrived on horseback on May 4, 1904 and “captured” the city during the festival parade.
Tampa continues to celebrate the occasion every year. The festival was originally celebrated on the second Monday of February. It was then moved to Saturday in 1988 to make it more accessible to the surrounding communities.
3. The Krewe
Today the Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla uphold their mascot Gasparilla, a “hearty, old swashbuckler with courtly demeanor with some possible mischievous tendencies.” They also promote tourism by visiting local hospitals, McDonald’s Training Centers, and children at James A. Haley Veterans Hospital. The Krewe continues its social tradition with the annual Debutante and Coronation Balls. The artifacts and memorabilia of Ye Mystic Krew are on display at the H.B. Plant Museum.
4. The Ship
Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla (YMKG) used a ship to capture Tampa in 1911. However, it wasn’t until 1937 when the Krewe acquired its first vessel, Jose Gasparilla I. Jose Gasparilla II was built by YMKG in 1954. It was christened on the Krewe’s 50th anniversary. She is often docked at Tarpon Way Station along Bayshore Boulevard for the public’s enjoyment. The ship, a replica of the West Indianman of the 18th century, is made of steel and measures 165 feet in length by 35 feet across the beam. It also has three masts that measure 100 feet high.
What to Expect and Do at the Gasparilla Pirate Festival
Because the festival is all about non-stop fun and festivities, don’t forget to the things here to make sure that you paint the town red on the day of the celebration.
1. Don a pirate attire.
As one of the most celebrated pirate festivals in Florida, make sure that you dress as one of the high-ranking pirates.
The Krewe members don themselves in full frock coats, rich gold buttons, and red velvet. The vibe is that the boatswain are not paid a fair wage. The vibe is “plundered with a great deal of damask.” The vibe is “swift, pistol-wielding, and sloed with some gin fizz.”
2. Keep your beads.
As you celebrate within the festivities, you will receive tons of beads.
Don’t toss the beads into the water or in the garbage. They can be turned in at locations within the city. They will be cleaned and prepared for next year’s ritual.
3. Keep yourself hydrated.
Many people drink alcohol during Gasparilla. Just remember that with every glass of alcohol you consume, gulp down water to keep yourself well-hydrated and continue enjoying the festivities. Always be sure to drink responsibly.
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