By Amy Scherzer | Times Staff Writer
Ahoy, matey, did you hear the one about the pirate who veered off the Gasparilla parade and galloped right up to the bar of a nearby pub to quench his thirst without ever leaving the saddle? How about the flock of hungry pirates who supposedly commissioned a helicopter to swoop down at parade's end to whisk them to dinner at the yacht club? Such exploits are the stuff of urban legend, amassed in the 109 years since doctors, lawyers and businessmen began painting on bloody scars and spending wildly on beads and beer. Even the inspiration for the annual mayhem — José Gaspar — is a mashup of several real-life plunderers. A homeowner on the Bayshore Boulevard parade route tells of a knock on the door and a $500 offer to use her bathroom. Many remember the lady of Ye Loyal Krewe of Grace O'Malley who garnered maximum exposure when her Renaissance gown got caught in a passing golf cart. This one is fact: In 1997, a float touting a certain newspaper caught fire. Panicked journalists jumped off, heartbroken at being forced to abandon beads and beer. Boos and jeers are what I remember of our sad, empty-handed march. That's my tale. Here's more Gasparilla lore.
Kathryn Daley, Ye Loyal Krewe of Grace O'Malley
Six years ago, I was our parade chairman. I was exhausted. I hadn't slept the night before, worrying about who would throw up or get run over.
It was finally over and I was off my feet, sitting at the bar at the University Club when this huge pirate (Tom Daley Jr.) comes over and barks, "Stand up."
I said, "Absolutely not." He was insistent: Stand up. He kept at it until I finally did. Then he grins and says, "I just wanted to see if you were tall."
Then he got down on his hands and knees and unleashed a barrage: Do you like kids? Sunday dinners with parents?
It was just amazing. I had been divorced and single for 15 years, and this guy was either totally drunk or my knight in shining armor.
He called the next morning and asked me to dinner. I realized on the way to the restaurant I didn't know what he looked like. He'd had on so much makeup, plus scars and a big hat.
But I remembered his smile. We were married later that year.
Brad Salzer, pirate, Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla
Buttons sprout like weeds on pirate costumes, usually with a backstory.
"I'll have a Bloody Stichter" reads one, referring to the time Scott Stichter fell and hit his head on the post-parade sail back to the Tampa Yacht Club. Of course, everyone assumed he had too much to drink, but actually it was just really dark. Today, pirates still order a Bloody Stichter to start their Gasparilla morning.
Another button appeared after John Touchton fell in the bay attempting to board the ship at Ballast Point. The next year he wore swim wings and everyone else sported buttons that said "YMKG Swim Team / John Touchton Founding Member."
Lee Culbreath III, pirate, Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla
It was probably 1976 or '77, when Gasparilla was still held on Mondays and the ship docked at the old Curtis Hixon Hall on Ashley Street. A number of us would get off the ship and walk to the University Club for lunch. It was on top of the Exchange Bank on Franklin Street back then.
Guns were prevalent, on and off the parade route. And, imagine, the whole group of us walked into the bank lobby, guns blazing. Could anybody ever conceive of anything like that happening today?
Terry and Aaron Malo, Krewe of the South Shore Marauders
Gasparilla brought us together in 2002, pillaging and plundering as founding members of our krewe. We'd both been married before, so when we decided to take the plunge again, we thought: "Why not have some fun and do it on the float?" We cleared it with Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla and they moved us to the front of the lineup Jan. 29, 2005.
Terry made her wench bride outfit, a blue brocade bustier, and a matching captain's jacket for Aaron. Bridesmaids and groomsmen all wore pirate and wench outfits.
Even the minister got into the spirit, dressing in a captain's jacket, boots and hat. As we exchanged vows, you could hear yelling from the condo balconies: "Don't do it … big mistake … abandon ship." When the parade began and the float began to roll, a Just Married sign and clanging cans tied off the back announced the news to thousands of our wedding "guests."
Bob Monroe, pirate, Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla
Note: Monroe is the last of the original four African-Americans to integrate Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla after the Super Bowl XXV controversy in 1991. Pressured to admit black members, the club canceled the parade that year, replaced by the multicultural Bamboleo parade organized by the city of Tampa.
It never crossed my mind to be part of the krewe before the NFL controversy. There must have been a tremendous debate about what to do. At that time, the only thing I knew about Gasparilla was Seagram's promotional tie-in with Captain Morgan Spiced Rum. As regional vice president, we'd get a boat and food and drinks and invite our customers to be part of the flotilla.
Turned out I knew many members, but no one ever talked about it. One day, someone in the krewe asked me to go to lunch and I met some of his colleagues.
Somebody had to be the first. Four African-Americans responded because we thought it would be beneficial to the city to put this past them. … I didn't join to rub elbows with city leaders. I wanted nothing personally and didn't get anything personally, except I made a lot of new friends. So I did get something out of it.
John Mills Jr. pirate, Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla
One year we debarked at the old Curtis Hixon Hall on Ashley Street and were waiting for the buses to take us to lunch. About 50 feet away, I saw a balloon man in the crowd and I fired a 12-gauge shotgun loaded with blackpowder blanks. When the smoke cleared — a lot of smoke — he was standing there with nothing but strings in his hands. I looked for him everywhere the rest of the day to compensate him, but to no avail.
I miss the guns, gambling and Jack Golly's band on the ship. Too many rules now.
Joni Cusimano, a founder of Krewe of Queen Anne's Revenge
My first parade (in 1993, I was in a different krewe), strutting down Bayshore in my beautiful costume, loaded down with beads. My heart was racing at the screaming crowds. Finally, my childhood dream of being in the Gasparilla parade was actually a reality.
Time flew, and the parade was coming to an end when the friend who sponsored me to join the krewe came over and said, "Joni, do you realize you have not thrown one bead?"
How embarrassing. I was so overwhelmed I forgot to throw my beads. We laughed ourselves silly.
Anecdotes have been edited for clarity and brevity. Amy Scherzer can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3332.