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Tampa family finds a good pirate story in the attic

A bizarre collection of what first looked like pirate booty was found in an attic in Ybor City recently. Rodney Kite-Powell, curator at the Tampa Bay History Center, said the items look to him like early Gasparilla relics, not real pirate artifacts. Still, he said he's not sure what the story of that severed hand is. Photo courtesy of Mike Lopez
Published Apr. 29, 2015

TAMPA — To Mike Lopez, the severed hand and the Spanish coins looked like real pirate artifacts.

The items recently turned up in a box in his late grandparents' attic in Ybor City, along with an old, cryptic map of Tampa. So Lopez took them to the curator of the Tampa Bay History Center to get them checked out. He left, encouraged enough to want to share his news with the public.

But the curator, Rodney Kite-Powell, said Tuesday that Lopez must have misunderstood.

The items looked real — as in real Gasparilla mementos from the early 20th century, Kite-Powell said. The coins were corroded, indicating they weren't precious metal.

And the frayed Tampa map goes back no further than the 1920s. It shows the severed hand about where Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park is now, but it also includes the Cass Street bridge and the minarets of the old Tampa Bay Hotel (now the University of Tampa). The box also contained a picture of the possible owners of this bizarre booty, Ernesto and Ev Lopez, Mike Lopez's great-grandparents.

The hand, however, remains a macabre mystery. One shriveled finger wore a ring marked, "Gaspar." Kite-Powell said it looked like a mummified monkey hand. "It smelled kind of funny.''

The items, which stirred local media interest Tuesday, were not offered to the history center. Had they been, the museum probably would have accepted them, but as Gasparilla relics, Kite-Powell said.

He also would have paid a visit to the medical examiner's office, he added, "to make sure it was not a real human hand.''

Contact Philip Morgan at pmorgan@tampabay.com.

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