Beating Ye Mystic Krewe

For most of us, February 10 is just another date in the month we endure as we wait impatiently for spring, but this date is special for my dear bride Betsy and me. On that day in 1965, Katie, our first child, was born.

The city of Tampa was abuzz with preparations for its annual Gasparilla Festival, scheduled, you guessed it, for early February. For us, this could present a big problem. It could block our efforts to cross the river and get Betsy to the hospital at the time of her greatest need. I’d better explain.

Tampa General Hospital sits on Davis Islands, an arrowhead-shaped piece of land separated from the city by the Hillsborough River. A drawbridge manages boat and street traffic fine for most of the year, but at Gasparilla time, the bridge is up for the pirate invasion.

The Gasparilla Festival derives from Jose Gaspar, a pirate who terrorized the coastal waters of West Florida during the late 18th and early 19th century. Gaspar and his band seized and robbed merchant ships off the Gulf Coast until 1821. The story goes that Gaspar and his band decided to seize one more ship before retiring with their ill-gotten riches. To their surprise, their prey turned out to be a U.S. Navy war ship in disguise. A bloody battle ensued, and that was the end of Jose Gaspar and his exploits, but his story remained alive.

In 1904, city leaders decided to celebrate this victory over evil by adopting Gaspar as the patron rogue of a new, city-wide celebration. Some civic leaders created “Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla,” who would make Gasparilla history by surprising Tampa residents with a mock pirate attack on the city.

In 1965 and nowadays, the mock pirate invasion includes a fully-rigged pirate ship, manned by Ye Mystic Krewe, which sneaks into the bay at the beginning of the festival to attack Tampa Bay. Joined by pleasure crafts, the ship docks at the Tampa Convention Center to be greeted by the mayor, who hands over the key to the city.

The drawbridge must be up during the excitement, of course. How does one get from the mainland to the hospital?

North of town, midterm exams dominated the minds of University of South Florida students in 1965, most of whom ignored the Gasparilla hoopla downtown. But not all. Betsy and I feared that her labor pains might coincide with Ye Mystic Krewe’s ride up the river.

I was in my final trimester at USF, carrying a full load of courses, working part-time at The Times, Tampa’s afternoon daily newspaper, and serving as editor of the campus weekly newspaper. And there was the matter of midterm exams. A lot of stuff was crowding my mind all at once. Steve Yates, faculty adviser, volunteered to take over the reins and get the paper out if our baby should arrive on deadline day.

The bridge was down on February 10, and Katie arrived safely. It was Wednesday, deadline day, and I got to make that sweet phone call to Steve.

Today, our baby is vice president of a banking firm and mother of two teenage girls, one of whom is about to enter a university. Katie missed that pirate attack by two days. That was close.

Happy birthday, Katie!


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