Jose Gaspar, namesake of Tampa's signature annual celebration

Hillsborough County is full of inspiring, iconic, and interesting places and events, and there are remarkable people behind them. In this occasional series we explore namesakes of some of the county's well-known buildings, parks, roads, and happenings.

Who was Jose Gaspar?

Jose Gaspar allegedly was a pirate of Spanish descent who pillaged vessels along Florida's West Coast and held people captive at an island hideaway in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Perhaps it doesn't matter if he actually existed, a matter of perennial debate. As namesake of Tampa's annual Gasparilla pirate "invasion," parade, and related events, the swashbuckling seaman has attained legendary status.

Why name an annual celebration for a (perhaps) make-believe pirate?

The first Gasparilla took place in 1904. Borrowed from New Orleans' Mardi Gras and tinged with an edgy nautical flavor, the idea was to keep visitors around and residents enthused through the area's May Day celebration. Embracing the Jose Gaspar persona seemed like a great concept for the event.

About Hillsborough County's Gasparilla festivities this year

Gasparilla festivities begin with the Children's Gasparilla Extravaganza. The following week is the signature Gasparilla Pirate Invasion and Parade, when a mock sailing vessel ferries hundreds of costumed pirates across Hillsborough Bay to "invade" downtown Tampa, followed by a boisterous procession along Bayshore Boulevard. In ensuing weeks, there are Gasparilla-themed events including the Knights of Sant ῾Yago Illuminated Knight Parade, the Gasparilla Distance Classic, the Gasparilla Festival of the Arts, the Gasparilla International Film Festival, and the Gasparilla Music Festival. Get details and dates about this year's events.

Last Modified: 1/30/2024, 2:32:29 PM

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