Gaspa who? Gasparilla is the nickname of Jose Gaspar, a little known Spanish pirate who raided the West coast of Florida during the late 1700s and early 1800s. The folklore accounts for the festival’s location in Tampa, but the escapades of this buccaneer are mythic, because we aren’t sure he ever existed.
The story goes like this, an old man named John Gomez, who lived in Boca Grande, Florida, regaled locals with tall tales of his exploits as a young man. John, who changed his name from Jose, claims to have served in the Spanish Navy in the 1780s, but left navy life behind when he captured and ransomed a wealthy man’s teenage daughter. After this successful exchange of booty, Gomez made a career of raiding merchant ships travelling through the Gulf of Mexico.
The first documented occurrence of this myth is from an early 20th century advertising brochure given to guests at the Boca Grande hotel. It’s widely believed that the land developer fabricated the myth to add sizzle to his brochure. What is real is the Gasparilla Pirate Festival located in Tampa, Florida. The City of Tampa and Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla host the festival.
The Krewe is an events organization that brings a family-oriented style of Mardi Gras atmosphere to the Tampa area. Daytime activities include a parade of boats in the bay led by a large pirate ship, a parade on land replete with pirate style floats and pirate revelers.
Children can get their faces painted like fearsome pirates and costumes for all ages are encouraged. As with most festivals, there are plenty of street vendors selling food, T-shirts, and pirate memorabilia.
By night there are free concerts. The Pirate Festival usually occurs between 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. on the last Saturday in January, a time of year when the weather is normally spectacular.
Visit www.gasparillapiratefest.com for more information.
Photos by: EventFest, Inc.