Gasparilla Pirate Fest
by Al Alvarez
(New York, NY)
Gasparilla Pirate Fest Florida
The Gasparilla Pirate Festival is an annual celebration held in the city of Tampa, Florida.
Since 2005, the event has been held on the first Saturday of February.
Held each year in late January and hosted by Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla and the City of Tampa, it celebrates the apocryphal legend of José Gaspar (Gasparilla), supposedly a Spanish pirate captain who operated in Southwest Florida.
The theme is an "invasion" by Gasparilla and his men, which begins when the "Krewe" (made up of residents of the city) arrives on a 165' long pirate ship, the Jose Gaspar, in Tampa Bay and land near downtown Tampa. The mayor of Tampa then lends the key of the city to the pirate captain and a parade ensues down Bayshore Boulevard, one of Tampa's major streets.
The krewes throw beads, coins and other items while shooting blank pistols from floats during the parade. The average attendance for the event is over 400,000 people.
Gasparilla was first held in May 1904 in Tampa Bay, but the invasion originated on horseback instead of by boat. In years past, a US Navy ship would be attacked by small boats throwing Cuban bread and black bean soup.
The Navy would respond with fire hoses but would succumb to the Ybor City Navy, and then surrender to the Alcalde of Ybor City. The sailors would be treated to an evening on the town. This was discontinued after the September 11, 2001 attacks.
However, the invasion itself continues as "Capt. Jose Gaspar" and his crew of "Pirates" "attack" Tampa, surrounded by hundreds of other boaters as they sail the Gasparilla Ship through Tampa Bay, land in Downtown Tampa and "take over the city."
The festival has been known to have numerous college students from nearby University of South Florida, University of Tampa, and Florida Gulf Coast University, lured for its notorious drinking and Mardi Gras style of partying.
Historically, Gasparilla was held on the second Monday of February until 1988, when it was moved to a Saturday festival in February.
This change allowed more local communities to take part in the celebration. In 2001, the event was moved to the last Saturday of January to coincide with Super Bowl XXXV weekend, because Tampa's Raymond James Stadium was hosting the game that year.