TAMPA, Fla. (AP) - Cannons boomed and pirates galore swarmed downtown Tampa on Tuesday in a prelude to this weekend's Gasparilla Pirate Fest, expected to draw up to 500,000 revelers to the shores of the bay.
The day's event was a demand by the costumed pirates, led by Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla, that Mayor Jane Castor turn over a key to the city so that the pirate "invasion" may be averted. Of course, just as mayors have done for more than a century, Castor refused.
"Will you grant our request, or will you cause wrath when instead you protest?" Krewe Captain Truett Gardner demanded amid loud pirate cheers outside City Hall.
"Absolutely not!" Castor replied.
"The wonderful fair city of Tampa is going to fight to the death!" the mayor vowed. "We're keeping this key."
And so it was decided: The "invasion" and parade will occur Saturday as planned.
Gasparilla Pirate Fest has been held in Tampa almost every year since 1904. It is named for the mythical pirate Jose Gaspar, who legend has it plundered ships and captured hostages in the Gulf of Mexico from the 1780s until around 1821.
There's not much evidence Gaspar actually existed. The account of his supposedly colorful life first surfaced in the early 1900s in an advertising brochure for the Gasparilla Inn, then located south of Tampa in Boca Grande at the end of a rail line and in need of an exciting promotion.
The "Last of the Buccaneers," as Gaspar was called, lives on today in the name of Tampa Bay's NFL team.
Castor said Gasparilla organizers expect as many as a half-million people to attend the parade and related events, including a music festival in the evening. About 150 pirate-themed floats, many firing cannons, will be in the parade, which begins after the "invasion" with a 165-foot-mast (50-meter) ship carrying dozens of pirates.
Beads and other trinkets are tossed Mardi Gras-style to the throng, many of whom will be consuming alcohol and generally engaged in much revelry.
"Gasparilla is just a celebration of Tampa," Gardner, the Krewe captain, said. "It's unique. It's fun."
The event has not been without controversy.
In 1991, when Tampa played host to Super Bowl XXV, the NFL pressured the Krewe to admit Black members. Instead, Krewe members refused and canceled the parade. Later that year the Krewe reversed its stance, and the parade went forward the next year.
There have been many more Krewes admitted to the event since then and a second parade staged later by the Krewe of Sant'Yago in the historic Hispanic district of Ybor City.
"Nobody wants to see the pirates take over the city," Castor told the pirates, whom she dubbed "scalawags." "We will see you Saturday morning."