What the heck is Gasparilla?
A Tampa original that started in 1904, Gasparilla was first held as a May Day celebration, then in conjunction with the Florida State Fair. Now it has its own identity - and many facets. Gasparilla includes not only a mock invasion and parade but also a Pirate Fest in downtown Tampa with rides, food, live entertainment and Arts and Crafts Show. Gasparilla-related events continue through March, including a Gasparilla Distance Classic road race for adults and kids, the Gasparilla Children's parade, Fiesta Day and the Sant 'Yago Knight Parade, an illuminated night parade voted one of the Southeast's best.
Why do they throw beads?
The idea was taken from, of course, Mardi Gras. Back in 1904, when a group of Tampa businessmen were looking for a theme for a social gathering, one member, who was from New Orleans, suggested doing something like Mardi Gras. And so began Tampa's fascination with bead throwing. They now throw beads at the Sant' Yago Knight Parade, Guavaween and the St. Patrick's Day parade through Ybor City.
What's with the pirates?
The organizers of the first Gasparilla had some leftover pirate costumes from Mardi Gras, so they put them on, rode horseback into town in a mock invasion and called themselves Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla after a pirate named Gaspar.
Was Gaspar a real person?
It depends on whom you ask. The Ye Mystic Krewe says yes; their press material tells the story of Jose Gaspar, "last of the Buccaneers," who terrorized the coastal waters of West Florida during the late 18th and early 19th centuries. As the story goes, in a bloody battle, while defending his burning ship, he seized a heavy chain and wrapped it around his waist and neck. He leaped into the water, brandishing his sword in a final gesture of defiance as he sank into the sea. Historians, however, dispute that Gaspar ever existed and that Tampa Bay ever saw "real" pirate activity.
Will it be crowded?
A lot depends on the weather. On warm sunny days - as Florida often is in February - crowds can reach 400,000.
How much walking will I have to do?
The Pirate invasion is near the Tampa Convention Center. The parade starts at Bayshore and Howard Avenue, about a mile away. The Pirate Fest is in downtown Tampa _ another mile _ so bring walking shoes.
When is next year's event?
Gasparilla 2001 will move to Jan. 27, to coincide with Super Bowl XXXV weekend in Tampa.
- Babita Persaud