Tampa’s Gasparilla Celebration

January 31, 2023

Tampa’s Gasparilla Celebration

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This past weekend marked the annual celebration of Gasparilla in Tampa.  Every January, this Downtown Tampa event brings people from all over central Florida for an unforgettable pirate-themed celebration, featuring a huge parade, live music, and many other festivities.   How and when did it all begin?

The Beginning of the Story

The name, Gasparilla, was born from Jose Gaspar, a pirate who terrorized the coastal waters of West Florida during the late 18th and early 19th centuries.  Fond of calling himself “Gasparilla,” he and his band of pirates lived a life of seizing and robbing merchant ships off the Gulf Coast until 1821. 

Ready to divide their riches and create lives of luxury, Gaspar and his crew decided to seize one last ship.  But this ship happened to be a United States Navy warship in disguise.  A bloody battle took place before the U.S. Navy ship crew reigned victoriously and finally ended the long, thieving career of the legendary Jose Gaspar. 

How City Officials Adopted into a Celebration

In 1904, city officials and civic leaders decided to celebrate this victory over evil by adopting Gaspar as the patron rogue of this new city-wide celebration.  Later on, city leaders decided to plan a mock pirate attack on the city, now known as the “Pirate Invasion.”  This was so successful that city officials decided to turn Gasparilla into a huge, annual event as we know it today.  Tampa’s pirate invasion involves the world’s only fully-rigged pirate ship which creeps into the bay to “attack” Tampa Bay.  Other small crafts join the pirate ship in an all-out invasion.  They dock at the Convention Center to meet the mayor, who has to surrender the key to the city.  Then with the key in hand, the pirate crew takes over the city with Gasparilla Festival Celebration and the many weekend festivities. 

Residents and participants of this fun event go all out to dress like pirates and look forward to collecting pirate “booty” during the parade, especially the long strands of beads.  This is just one of many unique and exciting events that happen in the Tampa Bay area! 

This Article was written by Andrew Silverstein of www.813area.com,  who has written the detailed story of how Gasparilla came about in Tampa. 

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