The name and foundation of Tampa’s traditional Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla Pirate Invasion and Parade come from legendary pirate Jose Gaspar, “last of the Buccaneers,” who terrorized the coastal waters of West Florida during the late 18th and early 19th century. As an aristocrat by birth and officer in the Spanish Navy, Gaspar was well educated, possessed courtly manners and had all the appearances of a fine gentleman. When Jose Gaspar died, he supposedly left an untold fortune in buried treasure somewhere along the Florida coast. Though that treasure has never been discovered, the story of the swashbuckling Gaspar was unearthed and his memory revived in 1904 when Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla was formed and adopted the pirate as patron rogue of their city-wide celebration. A statue of Jose Gaspar stands in the Regency Cove Mobile Home Park on Gandy Blvd. at Westshore.
Gasparilla began in 1904 when Miss Louise Francis Dodge, society editor of the Tampa Tribune, and George W. Hardee, then with the federal government in Tampa, conspired to promote the City of Tampa and its May Day celebration. Secret meetings gave birth to the first “Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla,” whose forty members planned to surprise the populace with a mock pirate attack on Tampa. With costumes rented from New Orleans, the first Krewe arrived on horseback and “captured the city”during the Festival Parade May 4, 1904. Tampa has upheld its tradition by celebrating Gasparilla every year with only ten exceptions since that infamous first invasion. Gasparilla originally was celebrated on the second Monday in February. In 1988 Gasparilla was moved to a Saturday to allow surrounding communities to take part in the celebration.
Today, Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla members uphold their mascot Gaspar as a “hearty old swashbuckler with courtly manners and possibly, just possibly, mischievous habits.” When not hosting their annual Children’s parade and Pirate Invasion and Parade, the Krewe promotes tourism by attending community events throughout the year; visits children in local hospitals, MacDonald’s training center, and the Veterans Hospital; raises money for the Salvation Army; and carries on its social tradition with the annual Debutante and Coronation Balls. Artifacts and memorabilia of Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla are on display annually at the H.B. Plant museum.
In 1911 a ship was used for the first time by YMKG to capture the City of Tampa, but it wasn’t until 1937 that the Krewe owned its first vessel, the Jose Gasparilla I. In 1954, YMKG commissioned the building of the world’s only fully rigged pirate ship, Jose Gasparilla II, which was christened during the Krewe’s 50 year anniversary. During the year she is usually docked at the Tarpon Weigh Station on Bayshore Blvd. for the public’s viewing pleasure. A replica of a West Indiaman used in the 18th century, the ship is constructed of steel at 165’ long by 35’ across the beam and 3 masts standing 100’ tall.