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The Legend of Gasparilla
The Gasparilla Pirate Festival is a large parade and a host of related community events celebrated almost every year since 1904 in Tampa, Florida. It is held in late January and hosted by Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla and the City of Tampa, and it celebrates the apocryphal legend of José Gaspar (also known as Gasparilla), a mythical Spanish pirate who supposedly operated in Southwest Florida in the early 1800s. As of the 100th edition in 2015, the parade was the 3rd largest in the United States and had an economic impact of $23 million on Tampa's economy.
The Gasparilla Concours d'Elegance
is an official club event of the
Hillsborough Region AACA
(Antique Automobile Club of America)
The theme of the Gasparilla Festival was inspired by the local legend of José Gaspar, a Spanish naval officer who turned to piracy. Different legends say that he was either a nobleman and adviser to King Charles III of Spain who was exiled after a romantic scandal in the Spanish court or an ambitious young officer in the Spanish navy who was driven to mutiny by a tyrannically cruel captain. Whatever his reasons, the stories agree that Gaspar stole away in the late 1700s to the virtually uninhabited southwestern coast of Spanish Florida and established a secret base at Charlotte Harbor. Gaspar is said to have plundered many ships and taken many female hostages in almost four decades of roaming from Louisiana to the Spanish main aboard his stolen flagship, the Floridablanca. His exploits came to a sudden end in 1821 when, to avoid being captured by the schooner USS Enterprise, he wrapped himself in the ship's anchor chains and threw himself overboard while shouting ""Gasparilla dies by his own hand, not the enemy's!"
Despite this colorful history, there is no evidence that a pirate named Gaspar or Gasparilla ever operated off the Florida coast. Although the USS Enterprise was indeed attached to the pirate-hunting West Indies Squadron in 1821, the United States Navy has no record of any interaction with the mythical buccaneer or a person claiming to be member of his crew. In fact, researchers have found no contemporaneous records either in Spain or the United States that mention Gaspar's existence, and no physical evidence of his presence in Florida has ever been uncovered.
The first written account of José Gaspar was in a 1900 advertising brochure for the Charlotte Harbor and Northern Railroad Company, a part of Henry B. Plant's railroad system that ran to Plant's Boca Grande Hotel in Charlotte Harbor. The brochure greatly embellished tall tales attributed to the late John Gomez, a well-known local fisherman and guide, to create the story of the pirate Gaspar, "The Last of the Buccaneers". It also mentioned that neither Gaspar nor his crew had ever retrieved his vast treasure cache, which was supposedly still hidden somewhere on Gasparilla Island, which was of course the location of the Boca Grande Hotel. Subsequent tales of the pirate Gaspar are based on that fanciful brochure, including several erroneous mentions in books about Florida history or real pirates.
Pirate festival Tampa's 2nd Gasparilla parade in 1905 included every automobile in town
An early version of the ship Jose Gasparilla sails into downtown in 1922
The first Gasparilla parade was held in May 1904, after Tampa Tribune society editor Miss Louise Frances Dodge and Tampa's director of customs George Hardee combined the legend of the dashing pirate with elements of a New Orleans Mardi Gras / Carnivale festival to give Tampa's relatively sedate May Day celebration a new theme with local connections. The first "invasion" was via horseback, with the first sea-based invasion coming in 1911.
The Gasparilla parade was moved from May to February when it restarted following a lapse during World War I. This timing coincided with the Florida State Fair, which was then held at sprawling Plant Field near downtown Tampa. The events merged, and for decades, the parade route ended at the fair grounds, drawing many thousands of spectators to the combined festivities. Since the Florida State Fair moved to more spacious quarters east of Tampa in 1976, the parade route has varied slightly, but always includes a portion through downtown and a long stretch along Bayshore Boulevard.
Gasparilla was cancelled during World War II and resumed in 1946. With one exception in 1990, it has been held every year since.
For many decades, the Gasparilla parade was held on the second Monday of February. It was an official holiday in Tampa, with local schools and many businesses closed. In 1988, the main parade was moved to the first Saturday of February to allow more residents of other communities to take part in the festivities. Since 2005, the event has been held on the last Saturday of January.
Thursday March 7-Saturday March 9
Friday, April 12, 2019
Saturday, April 13, 2019
Sunday, April 14, 2019
The organizers of this event receive NO COMPENSATION and are truly Volunteers! We are a 501c3 IRS recognized charitable organization.
The inaugural year's proceeds will be donated to Shriners Hospital for Children, Tampa.
We do it for the love of the community, great classic cars, and the charities we support !
Besides the Gasparilla Children's Parade (first held in 1947), the Sant'Yago Knight Parade (first held in 1974), and the many galas and balls hosted by individual krewes, Tampa has long hosted a variety of other Gasparilla-related events from approximately January through March. One of the first was the Gasparilla Open, a PGA Tour stop which was sponsored by Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla from 1932 to 1935. The 1935 edition had the largest prize purse on that year's PGA Tour ($4000), but with the deepening of the Great Depression, the tournament was discontinued thereafter. It returned in 1956 as the Gasparilla Invitational Tournament, an amateur competition which has been held annually ever since.
Other large-scale events held during the Gasparilla season include the Gasparilla Festival of the Arts (established 1970), the Gasparilla Distance Classic (established 1978), the Gasparilla Film Festival (established 2006), and the Gasparilla Music Festival (established 2013). A changing lineup of smaller events held in Tampa during the first months of the year also use the Gasparilla name.
Many of the activities, organizations, events, and businesses that make use of the names "Gasparilla" or "Gaspar" are not affiliated with Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla or the City of Tampa, as these names are not legally controlled by any organization.
The average crowd at the main parade is over 300,000 people, with over 1,000,000 attending at least one Gasparilla event. According to several studies, the Parade of Pirates has a local economic impact of over $22 million, and the combined events bring in over $40 million. Beginning in 2015, Visit Tampa Bay, the local tourist bureau, began a multimillion-dollar promotional campaign in the northern United States, Canada, and Europe to attract more visitors to Tampa during its "Gasparilla Season"