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Travel through time with our '100 doubloons' of Gasparilla in Tampa Bay

The invasion flagship of Jose Gaspar passes under the Platt and Brorein street bridges for the last time in 1975.
The invasion flagship of Jose Gaspar passes under the Platt and Brorein street bridges for the last time in 1975.
Published Jan. 31, 2015

Who knew a civic prank — businessmen pretending to invade Tampa during the 1904 May Festival — would evolve into the city's signature event, lending its name to festivals, a road race and conjuring the mascot of a pro football team a century later? Since those pirates, Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla, mixed Mardi Gras style and marketing savvy, the "invasion" and parade have grown exponentially, spawning a multimillion-dollar impact, 60 krewes, 9,000 parade participants and 300,000 spectators along Bayshore Boulevard and downtown streets. • With a fledgling start, wars and one infamous cancellation causing the festivities to skip certain years, this is the 100th procession. We honor it with 100 doubloons of history.

Amy Scherzer and Philip Morgan

1. Ye Mystic Krewe's 40or so charter members steal their name from a supposed pirate named Jose Gaspar. No research authenticated the tall tale of this west coast terrorizer, but there was a wily reprobate with the same initials, Juan Gomez, connected to Odet Philippe, one of Tampa Bay's early landowners.

2. Tampa businessmen "invaded" on horseback for the first four Gasparilla fetes, and since 1911, have seized power arriving by water. These pirates' demands never waver: the key to the city, signifying control over who enters and leaves, as in medieval times.

3. For the second Gasparilla in 1905, Ye Mystic Krewe galloped into the South Florida Fair's Floral Parade, which boasted three horseless carriages. Bet at least one pirate stole a ride in one of those newfangled automobiles.

4. With no city festivals to latch onto, Gasparilla just didn't happen in 1907 and 1908 and 1909.

5. Gasparilla revived in February 1910, hitched to a Panama Canal celebration and the abdication of the third king and queen, Penn and Lillian Dawson, who hung onto those crowns from 1906 before World War II until four years later. Their daughter Elizabeth Dawson became queen in 1929.

6. Ye Mystic Krewe incorporated as a non-profit in 1911, that year joining the city's Census Celebration marking Tampa's astronomic, 43 percent population increase in 10 years.

7. Gasparilla invaded and paraded during a Washington's Birthday Celebration on Feb. 22, 1912.

8. At last, in 1913 Gasparilla stood on its own: a singular event staged by the Gasparilla Carnival Association, proclaimed with the logo of a pirate wielding a bloody knife between his teeth.

9. Pirates marveled marching across the new electric Lafayette Street drawbridge (now Kennedy Boulevard) in the eighth Gasparilla in February 1914. Tampa Electric's float stole the show with a working model of the drawbridge.

10. A happy marriage of livestock and pirates, the South Florida Fair and Gasparilla Carnival Association affiliation lasted from 1916 until 1976, with the parade ending at the fair grandstand, now the University of Tampa campus.

11. Pirates joked about planting land mines around downtown Tampa at Gasparilla 1917 to keep away foreign invaders. No one was laughing two months later when many krewe members were drafted to fight in World War I. Gasparilla was cancelled until 1920.

12. The U.S. Coast Guard cutter Tampa cruised along several Gasparilla invasions before World War I. Tragically, it was struck by a German torpedo in 1918 and sank with 131 souls aboard.

13. The recent discovery of King Tut's tomb inspired Tutmania and an Egyptian-themed royal float at Gasparilla 1925.

14. Pirates borrowed a steep-hulled vessel for the 1926 invasion, so steep that when it ran aground in the Hillsborough River, it cut the underwater phone lines serving Hyde Park.

15. Shotguns were banned at Gasparilla 1927 after a pirate, indeed a future king, fired at an overhead blimp using his 12-gauge. The blimp limped back safely, but since then, only handguns are permitted.

16. Unable to scrap together $50 dues, Depression-era pirates started their own raggedy club in 1929, invading in a beat-up old boat alongside somewhat better-heeled ex-krewe mates. Mayor D.B. McKay prepared for both, relinquishing City Hall keys to the haves and handing over the poor house key to the have-nots.

17. The krewe lost much of its much memorabilia when the Tampa Yacht Club burned down in 1929.

18. Ringling Bros. performer Nellie Dutton painted herself and her elephant gold to make the 1930 Gasparilla parade shine.

19. Listeners of the first national radio broadcast of Gasparilla in 1931 could hear King Gasparilla XXII Gordon Gibbons say, "We are here not to plunder, but to play."

20. Eight mules pulled King Jimmy Wall and Queen Phyllis Turner's royal float in 1932. When they stopped for a camera crew, a mule lurched and sent the king and captain crashing into the queen. The dust settled, pirates pushed the float to the grandstand, and thus ended mule power.

21. Gasparilla took place at night just once, in 1933 during Prohibition, and heartthrob Rudy Vallee headlined the coronation ball.

22. NBC radio stations broadcast Gasparilla, themed the Modern Pirate, on the National Farm and Home Hour in 1934. Queen Louise Lykes Ferguson's float — she's the oldest living royal — was pulled by a tractor.

23. Jacksonville quit hosting the Florida State Fair in 1924, Tampa grabbed it and launched the Florida State Fair and Gasparilla Association.

24. Ye Mystic Krewe bought its very own pirate ship in 1937, a black-hulled, three-masted, 143-foot long, oak-beamed schooner that cost $3,150. Renamed Jose Gasparilla, it ferried the scalawags safely until 1952.

25. The merry pirate band numbered 306 in 1939.

26. World War II froze Gasparilla from 1941-47, diverting funds to buy war bonds, and leaving 33rd king and queen, James T. Swann Jr. and Queen Ruth Binnicker, on the throne, the only royals to marry during their reign.

27. In 1947, the Jose Gasparilla returned with its rowdy cargo, sailing beneath a mock air battle staged with fighter jets, B-29 bombers and featuring a Japanese "crash."

28. Pirates partner with the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce to form the Gasparilla Festival Association in 1948. Tax dollars were welcome, for their common goal of promoting Tampa.

29. Ye Mystic Krewe cut off city and county contributions in 1965 and since has sponsored Gasparilla from its own coffers.

30. The second pirate ship, three-masted barge Jose Gasparilla II, christened with a bottle of Jamaican rum in 1954 and designed to be propelled by two tugboats, leads the largest U.S. annual boat parade.

31. Visiting Brits, the Earl of Hillsborough and his wife, added true royal flair to Gasparilla 1956, waving to the masses on the parade route then sticking around to crown the faux royalty. The county is named for his great-great-grandfather.

32. Roy Rogers and Dale Evans ditched Trigger and Buttermilk to ride in a convertible as the 1959 grand marshals, and thrilled many boys and girls of the era.

33. The Today show featured footage of Gasparilla's 60th anniversary 1964 parade.

34. In the "if you can't join 'em, then beat 'em" category, the coed Krewe of Venus formed in 1965 with help from a New Orleans club of the same name. The first new krewe takes credit for introducing bead tossing to delirious throngs of trinket seekers.

35. Pirates dress up to share their plunder with hospitalized pediatric patients the week prior to the parade, a tradition since 1969.

36. The Krewe of the Knights of Sant' Yago, mostly men of Latin heritage active with the Ybor City Chamber of Commerce, became the second krewe to partake in Gasparilla in 1973. Sant' Yago also took over the chamber's annual night parade through Ybor City.

37. End of an era: The new Crosstown Expressway ended Jose Gasparilla's voyages up the Hillsborough River through the Platt, Brorein and Kennedy Boulevard drawbridges in 1975. A year later, the Florida State Fair moved out to U.S. 301, and so ended the traditional parade ending.

38. A winking Bucco Bruce, the orange and white pirate logo of the then-new NFL team the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, would have stood out in a mostly red, white and blue Bicentennial Gasparilla 1976.

39. The pirates lend their name to the Gasparilla Distance Classic in 1978.

40. In 1980, the Great Arturo walked a wire 60 feet above the ship's deck packed with pirates. Had he fallen, he would have been cushioned by a thick layer of dudes.

41. In 1981, the Ski Bees preceded the Jose Gasparilla up Seddon Channel and former TV anchorman Arch Deal and his Fallen Arches parachuted into the invasion fracas.

42. In 1983, WFLA-Ch. 8 began broadcasting the Gasparilla festivities.

43. U.S. Sen. "Walkin" Lawton Chiles walked the entire parade route in 1984. In the rain. Without a coonskin cap since he wouldn't utter his notorious "he-coon" line for another 10 years.

44. A torrential rain nearly wiped out Gasparilla 1985. Invasion by sea went smoothly and the pirates headed to lunch in a tent at Bern's Steak House, arranged by Capt. Jim Ferman and King John Germany. They walked out to flooded streets to be soaked to the (skull and) bone. School bands stayed on their buses; dignitaries kept the tops of their cars up. Some said it was Gaspar's ghost angry that the parade route was reversed that year.

45. Today show weatherman Willard Scott broadcast from Gasparilla 1986.

46. No more school days off, back to work everybody. More than 70 years of Gasparilla on Mondays ended in 1988 when the festivities moved to Saturdays after an economic study showed 51 percent of paradegoers came from outside the county.

47. A Salute to the Arts theme sparked an especially creative Gasparilla 1988, with a sparkling 84th coronation ball at the brand-new Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center.

48. The 1989 ban on water balloons protected manatees who might ingest them, and any dignitaries (including a certain U.S. senator's wife) who might get beaned in the noggin.

49. Newly opened Universal Studios sent Woody Woodpecker and Andy Panda to be the 1989 grand marshals.

50. Corporate sponsors have reserved waterfront tents for catered parties since 1990, helping Gasparilla cover expenses and guaranteeing ringside seats far from the madding crowds.

51. Goodbye, Gasparilla; hello Bamboleo, the 1991 substitute for a cancelled Gasparilla. Ye Mystic Krewe balked at discrimination charges leveled prior to Super Bowl XXV at Tampa Stadium and walked away, rather than immediately recruit black members. The city ran the multicultural Bamboleo parade instead, led by the late Lee Roy Selmon as grand marshal.

52. Ye Mystic Krewe opens its ranks. Two black men join in 1992: the late Dr. Fred Reddy and Bob Monroe, then two more. Bylaws still ban women.

53. Charities selected by Gasparilla to operate beer stands between commercial vendors average $13,000 in parade sales in recent years. Church, school and other groups buy their supplies and keep all the proceeds.

54. Preston Farrior (a pirate at the time, later a king) jumped aboard the 1992 royal float to ask Queen Laura Ferman to marry him. A few weeks later, she cedes her throne to her sister Janice Ferman, the 79th Gasparilla queen, whose beau, Stephen Straske, up and pops the question. Lou Rawls rocked the coronation ball, but neither wedding.

55. EventFest has produced the Gasparilla Pirate Fest since 1993, growing it to be recognized as the third largest parade in the United States.

56. Not just the Boss, in 1996 he is elected King George M. Steinbrenner, ruler of Gasparilla and the New York Yankees.

57. King George Steinbrenner funds Ye Mystic Krewe's scholarship foundation in 1993 with a $500,000 pledge from the New York Yankees.

58. Annoying metal barricades are erected for crowd control starting in 1996. Happy are the cops, totally bummed are the hemmed-in bead catchers.

59. The Tampa Tribune made its own news in 1997 when its float caught fire, delaying the parade. King Steinbrenner's royal float was a mile ahead, otherwise, who knows who might have been fired.

60. Pirate/Mayor Dick Greco hosted officials from Tampa's sister cities, Barranquilla, Colombia, in 1973 and Oviedo, Spain, at the 1998 parades.

61. Gasparilla 2001 gets bumped up a week to coincide with Super Bowl XXXV. Crowd estimates purport 750,000 paradegoers and an economic impact of $300 million.

62. Tammy Wynette performed at the 1982 coronation ball, which has attracted a number of big-time entertainers over the years.

63. U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, who had been a passenger on a space shuttle, is among the thousands at a somber Gasparilla 2003 as news spreads of the explosion killing the seven astronauts aboard Columbia.

64. To the winner of a shipboard competition among the Gunners Guild goes the Israel Hands award for firing the most blanks before docking. Who was Izzy? A pirate shot in the knee by Blackbeard as a warning to keep his crew in line.

65. The seven-headed Dragon causes the biggest commotion aboard the Jose Gasparilla, a seven-barrel cannon built by Mack Trucks Inc. Hence the golden Mack bulldog emblem instead of a skull and crossbones.

66. Every gunner buys his own cannon, about $700 in doubloons each, as well as the 10-gauge blank shotgun shells, at a buck each.

67. Among Gunners' Guild duties: teaching pirates gun safety, required before being permitted to carry five- or six-shot .38 Specials.

68. Fireworks follow the Gasparilla Children's Parade, and since 2006, several nights of cannon-fired "Evening Salutes" at 6:30 p.m. sharp, courtesy of the Gunners' Guild.

69. Bird poop, known as the Guano Protection System, works wonders for keeping trespassers off the Jose Gasparilla when it moors at the Tarpon Weigh Station across from the Tampa Convention Center.

70. In 1978, Charlie Spicola borrowed the name of Teddy Roosevelt's troops to form the Rough Riders, a nod to the 1st U.S. Volunteer Cavalry Regiment that embarked from Tampa to fight in Cuba during the Spanish American War.

71. The first black krewe, the Buffalo Soldiers, Woods & Wanton chapter, participates in Gasparilla 1999, honoring the U.S. Cavalry unit created after the Civil War.

72. "A krewe with a different point of view," the Grand Krewe de Libertalia forms in 1991 to be an ethnically diverse addition to good ol' Gasparilla.

73. The first all-female krewe organized in 1992. Ye Loyal Krewe of Grace O'Malley is named for a real, 16th century Irish female pirate, not some pseudo pirate. The ladies dress in the latest 16th century designer fashions.

74. With six major krewes flourishing by 1992, Carl Hall of Ye Mystic Krewe of Neptune creates the Inter-Krewe Council. Today, more than 60 krewes synchronize calendars and often party together.

75. Gen. David Petraeus watched his first Gasparilla from the paradefront home of Jill and Scott Kelley in 2010. If he regrets that visit, he's never said so publicly.

76. Tampa Police Department officers will dispatch 40 bike officers, explosive ordnance detection dogs and two SkyWatch helicopters to scan for trouble at Gasparilla 2015. Mobile closed circuit TV cameras add more eyes on the crowd.

77. By tradition, pirates perch in the same spots aboard the Jose Gasparilla year after year, with the crow's nest highly sought. A third mast was just rigged in 2015, adding enhanced ratlines viewing.

78. In 1989, the U.S. Postal Service's float stopped just three blocks past the starting point. Quick to spot an easy target, several young men began chanting, "UPS, UPS."

79. According to a 2007 study, the combined economic impact of the Children's Gasparilla Extravaganza and Gasparilla Pirate Fest is a whopping $22 million. Survey says more than 1 million people attend at least one Gasparilla-named event.

80. Include Hare Krishna devotees among the groups seeking nirvana at Gasparilla.

81. Eliminating glass bottles at the parade, cut average tonnage of trash to be picked up afterward from a high of 92 tons to present level of 6 to 8 tons.

82. The Make-A-Wish Foundation arranged a sailing adventure aboard the Jose Gasparilla for a 9-year-old with brain cancer in 2014. Ye Mystic Krewe plans to fulfill future wishes for youngsters with life-threatening illnesses.

83. With 100 cases of beer on board, Ye Mystic Krewe instituted "Rookies Night" in 2009 for newbies to learn their way around the Jose Gasparilla, especially the location of the head.

84. "Respect is key; responsibility matters" has been the Gasparilla mantra since 2010, an award-winning, behavior-changing, arrest-reducing program.

85. Piratee genealogists list at least seven father-son royal dynasties, including DeLaVerne, Farrior, Ferman, Fogerty, Pittman, Stallings and Warren.

86. Gaspar's Grenadiers, Ye Mystic Krewe's outreach pirates, made more than 40 charitable appearances in 2014, from veterans parades to Salvation Army benefits.

87. More than 1 billion viewers wondered what in the world was Gasparilla when a pirate-laden float opened the 2014 Bollywood awards ceremony staged by the International Indian Film Academy at Raymond James Stadium.

88. Band members and other Gasparilla participants walk and/or stagger an average of 5 miles on parade day.

89. Miraculously, no serious ailments have occurred on the Jose Gasparilla. Well, there was one tough pirate who passed a kidney stone as the ship rocked and reeled.

90. Tampa General Hospital can claim six recent Gasparilla kings on its governing board, including John Brabson Jr., Fred Dobbins, Hal Mullis Jr., David Straz, Joe Taggart and Jim Warren III.

91. A Learning Channel film crew captured a gastric Gasparilla moment in 2001 while shooting Trauma: Life in the E.R. at Tampa General Hospital. Not for-the-squeamish footage showed doctors removing a piece of Italian sausage from a celebrant's windpipe.

92. Gasparilla Sidewalk Arts Festival drew upon the pirates lure for its name in 1970. These days, it draws more than 250,000 viewers to Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park.

93. Often called an annual excuse for drinking in public, revelers get a break in 2012 when having an open container becomes a citation, instead of an arrest.

94. After combining Gasparilla and Super Bowl on the same weekend in 2001, Tampa's host committee wised up. The two monster events were separated by a week when the city hosted again in 2009.

95. A tribute to two St. Petersburg police officers killed five days prior opened the Gasparilla 2011 parade, the lights on the silent patrol cars of Thomas Baitinger and Jeffrey Yaslowitz blinked.

96. In 2002, in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, 30 firefighters from New York city's Engine 16, Ladder 7 joined the Gasparilla parade, along with 27 wives and 68 children.

97. President Barack Obama did not make it to Gasparilla 2014, but an information booth on the parade route pitched Obamacare to an estimated 1,750 people. There were a few takers, possibly motivated by fear of flying bead injuries.

98. In 1999, internationally syndicated TV producer Burt Wolf featured the invasion on Travel Channel and PBS shows, dubbed in Spanish, Mandarin, Cantonese, Japanese and French, reaching 200 million viewers worldwide.

99. Anybody can throw beads, but New York Yankees rightfielder Darryl Strawberry tossed plastic softballs from the team float at Gasparilla 1998, extra practice that helped win the World Series that year.

100. Following the 37th invasion in 1950, a beaming Mayor Curtis Hixon called it "Tampa's greatest day of joy … but also the city's most important medium of good will."