Every city around the world has that one thing that they are famous for. For New York, its broadway. For Chicago, its their wind (or comedy shows). For Philadelphia its their cheesesteaks, and their direct attachment to America’s history.
But for Tampa, its Gasparilla.
It loosely looks like New Orleans Mardi Gras, but with swash buckling pirates invading the town. The whole town shows up dressed as pirates towing their red wagons decorated as Pirate ships and have their hands ready to catch as many bead necklaces as humanly possible.
The parade is based off of the life of Spanish pirate Jose Gaspar, who as the legend says was a naval officer in Spain before he ran away to piracy in the late 1700s. As it goes, Jose Gaspar traveled along Florida’s coast and dropped his treasure around the peninsula before nearly being captured by the East India Trading company that was hunting pirates.
In every legend, Jose Gaspar is captured but takes his own life shouting:
Gasparilla dies by his own hand, not the enemy’s!
Now, there is a parade which honors his invasion into Tampa that is celebrated every year. This Gasparilla Parade is one of the biggest turn outs for the city of South Tampa. Everyone lines the streets of Bayshore and eagerly waits for parade floats of different pirate crews make their way downtown, as they have every year since 1901.
This adorable tradition also includes a pirate crew taking their boat (float) downtown to kidnap the local mayor at the time until he gives them the key to the city. If you have never been to an invasion, it is absolutely a sight.
You will follow the pirate crew of Gaspar around downtown until they land in the center of a park (which has already been set up for the skit) and either side with the pirates, which is encouraged, or with the mayor.
Each year the skit is played out a little differently, but each year the Pirates ask for the key and the Mayor at the time (this year Bob Buckhorn) says no.
Then a battle is waged or the Mayor is kidnapped until the invasion a few days later.
The invasion is when anyone and everyone who has a boat will sail together into the bay following the Gasparilla ship through the water. This is Tampa’s big event and among the other events that take place with the Gasparilla season; the parade is the most attended.
This is Tampa’s big event and among the other events that take place with the Gasparilla season;
the Gasparilla parade is the most attended.
And, because I am allowed to give my biased opinion, its the most fun!
People will build crazy large and intense floats to throw out beads and coins, and anything that could be considered pirate treasure and the goal is to catch it. Because who doesn’t want treasure?
If you are ever in Tampa around Gasparilla time, make sure you dress up like a pirate and head to the parade. You’ll fit in immediately.
So, go to Tampa. Its an incredible little city that has sports teams galore, amazing restaurants that are home grown, but most important; you’re gonna find pirates. And you might even meet the Mayor.
Be prepared if you go to the Gasparilla parade (and not the childrens parade) it is adult. Basically its an excuse to get drunk with your friends and collect the most pirate booty you can. If you're not about that life, you've been warned.