“Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla” (YMKG) was Tampa’s first krewe, and its members have long organized many of the events of Gasparilla and played the part of Gaspar’s pirates in the main parade. Its membership is made up mostly of civic leaders and businessmen from Tampa who are dedicated to enriching the vitality and imagination of Tampa and surrounding communities.
Inspired by the legend of Pirate Jose Gaspar, an obscure Spanish pirate who supposedly operated in Southwest Florida in the early 1800s, members uphold their mascot Gaspar as a “hearty old swashbuckler with courtly manners and possibly, just possibly, mischievous habits.” However, he morphed into the “apocryphal legend” of Gasparilla.
The first Gasparilla parade was held in May 1904, when Tampa Tribune society editor Miss Louise Frances Dodge and Tampa’s director of customs George Hardee utilized the legend of the dashing pirate to give Tampa’s relatively sedate May Day celebration a new theme with local connections. The first “invasion” was by forty members of YMKG in pirate costumes rented from New Orleans. They arrived via horseback to “surprise the populace with a mock pirate attack on Tampa.” The first sea-based invasion was in 1911.
It wasn’t until 1937 that the Krewe owned its first vessel, the Jose Gasparilla I. However, in 1954, they commissioned the Jose Gasparilla II; the world’s only fully rigged pirate ship that they utilize every year to lead a hodgepodge flotilla; 15 official boats and close to 1,000 small vessels across Hillsborough Bay. Joining them are Knights, Conquistadors, Gauchos, Sirens, Shamrocks, Rumrunners and Rough Riders — a total of 60 Krewes, each with a distinct theme, costume and rituals.
Drunk on power, they will strong arm the mayor and seize the key to the city, then celebrate the victory by tossing endless beads to the frenzied crowd from floats rolling along Bayshore Boulevard, all the way to downtown Tampa.
Include the marching bands and dignitaries and there are approximately 10,000 participants in the festival. Add in the crowd of cheering onlookers from the streets and Tampa has the third largest parade in the United States; attracting one half million attendees annually.
“Gasparilla stands for free, fun and diverse,” said Don Barnes, executive director of Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla. “And unique. The only other pirate festival is in the Caymans, and they stole the idea from us.”
In addition to hosting the YMKG Invasion & Parade of Pirates, the Krewe also hosts their annual Gasparilla Children’s Parade and participates in community and charity events through special appearances in the Tampa Bay area. Members visit hospitals, assisted living centers, children’s venues and schools, in full pirate attire, engaging the community in the spirit and fun of Gasparilla events. The Krewe also supports the Salvation Army at their collection stations during the Holiday season.
By Alison Brown
Schedule of Events for 2018
January 20, 2018, at 3:30 p.m. – McDonald’s Gasparilla Children’s Parade & Fireworks Extravaganza
January 27, 2018, at 11:00 a.m. – Seminole Hard Rock Gasparilla Invasion & Parade
February 10, 2018, at 6:30 p.m. – Krewe of the Knights of Sant ‘Yago Illuminated Knight Parade
March 3, 2018, at 4:30 p.m. – Gasparilla Outward Bound Voyage
March 17, 2018 at 7:00 p.m. – Rough Riders’ St. Patrick’s Day Parade