Gasparilla parade's 100th edition marked by mostly behaved revelry

Carol Treftz, center, of Tampa reaches for beads as the Gasparilla parade of pirates moves through downtown Saturday.
Carol Treftz, center, of Tampa reaches for beads as the Gasparilla parade of pirates moves through downtown Saturday.
Published Feb. 1, 2015


Scores of bead-crazed fanatics. Some 1,400 cops. One wedding. About 50 gallons of Bloody Mary mix. Lemonade stands. More than 1,000 portable toilets. And 100 years of saucy tradition.

Add a few intemperate revelers under temperate skies and a faux pirate ship, and the result is a party that little has been able to halt: the Gasparilla parade.

Tens of thousands of people from across the Tampa Bay region turned out for the 100th annual Gasparilla parade of pirates Saturday, an event that began modestly in 1904 and has been interrupted a handful of times, most notably by two world wars. Little, if anything, seemed to mar 2015's anniversary edition.

The weather proved ideal. And law enforcement officers who in past parades have had to combat loutish misbehavior instead found themselves battling something unexpected this year.


Look no further than the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office mobile command unit, where dispatchers were prepared to communicate with deputies and Tampa police in the field. Instead, in the middle of the afternoon, unit personnel were enjoying an Arnold Schwarzenegger thriller, Predator.

Across the parking lot, just west of Publix and behind Zudar's, a Tampa Police Department trailer was just as mellow.

"We've got nothing to talk about because nothing's happening," said Jeff Kritz, the mobile command center's operator.

The day's arrest tally seems to bear that out. Although official numbers aren't due out until Monday, preliminary estimates show arrests dropped by nearly half compared with last year: 24 arrests, versus 42 for 2014.

Open-container citations took a nose dive to five, compared with 63 for 2014.

One thing that was happening was merriment and good times, especially for revelers who love those cheap, plastic beads tossed by pirates. People jumped and ran for them. Catching the beads is part sport, part science.

Anna Lauren Speduto, age 9, offered a tactic that brought her success: "Scream as loud as I can."

• • •

Gasparilla started before sunrise for Paul Schnitzlein.

The 57-year-old slept Friday night on his 34-foot motorized catamaran — docked at Tampa Yacht & Country Club — to get a head start on festivities. At 5:30 a.m. he awoke, put on pirate attire and headed to the club's breakfast buffet by 7 a.m.

The buffet served up 300 eggs, 1,200 pounds of fried chicken, 500 pounds of potatoes, 2,000 biscuits, and 200 pounds of sausage and bacon for about 1,700 club and Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla members, said Scott Fairbairn, the club's general manager.

He said bartenders served about 50 gallons of Bloody Mary mix and about 80 gallons of the club's signature milk punch — a mixture of milk and brandy.

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"The theory is the milk coats their stomachs," Fairbairn said.

• • •

John Mark Wallace and Jamie Labrecque pulled up to the Academy of the Holy Names in a white limousine not long before the parade began. Wedding guests and cameras quickly surrounded the car. A crowd clad in pirate boots and corsets watched as Labrecque stepped onto the street with her father, Jack.

Labrecque's champagne and burgundy pirate dress draped to the floor, and she smiled and waved at friends, family and Krewe members as she made her way up the makeshift aisle.

The ceremony was quick, and at about noon the two said their "I do's."

After snapping a few pirate portraits, bride and groom boarded the Krewe of Rogues float. They each wore sashes that read, "Just Married."

• • •

Organizers boasted about the 1,000 portable toilets lining Bayshore Boulevard and environs. But not everybody enjoys the portable toilet experience.

At Rome Avenue and Bayshore, Tampa's Jennifer Brown, 45, was managing upscale bathroom stalls called VIPEE. It was one of four stations posted near the parade route at which attendants charged $5 for a visit. The bathrooms had wood flooring and were cleaned throughout the day.

"It's like an upscale regular bathroom out of a house," Brown said.

Gasparilla isn't all about adults and their adult beverages.

Ava Lambert sold lemonade on Estrella Street with her father, Adam, looking on as the parade meandered through the city. Ava planned to use the proceeds on a very special occasion: her upcoming 10th birthday party.

Ava wasn't the only person during the parade who participated in a bit of commerce.

Tony "The Birdman" Beck walked the parade route with a colorful pair of parrots. A kiss from one of the birds was free, but for a photo with the parrots, Beck ask for a nominal tip.

• • •

The Gasparilla party-to-be-at on Bayshore was the joint bash thrown by the families of Joe Maddon and Jill Kelley, arguably the best-known next-door neighbors in Tampa. And they knew it, too.

The families hired about 20 private security officers to grant entry to only those on a guest list.

Maddon's side was blocked off by a chain link fence. Behind it, a Bruce Springsteen cover band, the B Street Band, belted away on favorites like Rosalita.

Kelley, who has a much more expansive lawn, didn't bother with the fence, and instead positioned guards every 50 feet or so. The grass was tastefully dotted with alternating black and red table cloths —- classic pirate colors.

Kelley was visible from the sidewalk, mingling with members of a charity for wounded troops.

• • •

Yolphira "Yaya" Lubin, a Brooklyn transplant who lives in Tampa, was at a loss to explain the crowd's fascination for the plastic beads. But she sought them nonetheless, along with her 7-year-old daughter, Yahkaira .

"I don't know what all the hype is about for these beads," the elder Lubin said. "But they got me sucked right in."

Times staff writers Rich Shopes, Rachel Crosby, Chelsea Tatham, Jimmy Guerts and Amy Scherzer, and correspondent Keeley Sheehan contributed to this report.