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Gasparilla is Tampa’s signature event, celebrated annually since 1904 and hosted by Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla. Each year, a merry band of pirates invades the city, culminating in a celebratory parade down Tampa’s famed Bayshore Boulevard.
Just after the turn of the 20th century, Tampa’s flourishing economy and evolving skyline signaled a burgeoning city on the rise. Local leaders wanted to promote the city’s annual May Day celebration, growing it to a multi-day festival. In the Spring of 1904, Tampa Tribune Society Editor Mary Louise Dodge was helping to plan the event theme when George Hardee suggested the legend of Gasparilla. Soon after, Hardee formed a krewe of 50 men, and the Tampa Tribune began publishing a series of letters from Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla. Each letter detailed a pirate invasion by King Gasparilla and his court. When the May Day Festivities arrived, Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla pirates appeared on horseback throughout the city, to the delight of locals. Officials soon decided that Gasparilla would be an annual part of the festivities.
On the last Saturday of January, more than 300,000 pirate-garbed onlookers gather for the Seminole Hard Rock Gasparilla Pirate Festival. The day begins as hundreds of vessels form a flotilla following the famed Jose Gasparilla II, the world’s only fully-rigged pirate ship, to invade the city of Tampa and reclaim its key from the Mayor. With the key securely in hand, Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla leads a celebration of more than 100 floats down Tampa’s famed Bayshore Boulevard and into downtown Tampa. The festival is recognized nationwide as Tampa’s signature event and is the third-largest parade in the United States.