The Legend Behind Gasparilla

If you live in South Tampa, then you know. You know that when you take down the Christmas decorations, the fuse is lit for Gasparilla.  

I remember trying to explain Gasparilla to my friends in undergrad in North Carolina. "So wait, what do you mean your dad and brothers are pirates?, Like REAL pirates? Like that weirdo family on wife swap?"  

I basically had to give them the back story of a part of many of our lives that we never really take the time to explain. We should. But it's what we were born into, so as weird as it sounds, this is our NORMAL. 

So in an effort to shed some insight on possibly the greatest tradition to ever touch a community, we are going to dedicate our posts during parade season (yes, you'll learn it's not just January) to the one and only Gasparilla.  

We begin with where it all started.... The Legend of Jose Gaspar (the cliff note version).

He was an born into an aristocratic family and an officer in the Spanish Navy. He was well educated and looked more the part of a gentlemen as opposed to a dirty pirate. Although he did end up turning to piracy, disappointing his parents and took off in a stolen ship.

Legend states that Jose Gaspar created his own pirate city for his crew on the island of Cara Pelau, on the west coast of Florida. He also created his own exquisite residence on an adjoining island, Boca Grande.

Supposedly the island of Captiva, also on the west coast of Florida and near Boca Grande and Cara Pelau, got its name because it was the island where Gaspar kept his female prisoners captive till he received the ransoms he requested.

Fast forward to Tampa in 1904, when Miss Louise Francis Dodge (hey girl hey), the society editor of the Tampa Morning Tribune, used the legend of Jose Gaspar as the theme for the first May Day festival. 50 civic leaders came together to form Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla and our first Queen was crowned, Miss Dodge herself. King Edward Gunby (note the hyde park street name) and his Queen created a magical spectacle traveling by royal carriage.

                                King Edward R. Gunby and Queen Mary Lee Dodge - 1904

               Most of the parade consisted of peoples sweet rides, like this 1903 caddy

The William Bisbee, as the José Gaspar, sails up the Hillsborough River through the Lafayette St. Bridge, 1938

Tampa society and Tampa public generally, were so captured by the first invasion for the Mystic Krewe, that the entire city demand was voiced that the organization be made permanent.

Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla has thus remained intact since 1904.

To think, without the first group of guys, none of this would exist today.

We leave you now with some of our all time favorites from the royal bloodline (for obvious reasons and you're welcome) (more to come about the royal court)


C. & G.