The first Gasparilla invasion in 1904 did not take place on the water – it took place on horseback. It's just one tidbit of Tampa history, courtesy of the Plant Museum at the University of Tampa.
Their annual exhibition on the pirate holiday is on display through February: "Gasparilla: A Tampa Tradition."
The original crown jewels of the first Gasparilla queen? The base of the crown— all cardboard!
“They painted it gold, and then they added corsage pins all the way around that have the pearl top,” said Susan Carter, Plant Museum Curator and Registrar. “So it was very, very simple compared to the crowns and jewels today.”
Carter has been part of the Plant Museum in Tampa since the 1980s. So, of course she can show us where this crown shows up in pictures, in the dining room of the former Tampa Bay Hotel in 1904 – the first Gasparilla ball.
“They cleared out all the tables and chairs and made it a ballroom,” said Carter.
The hotel, built at the turn of the 20th century, is now part Plant Museum and part University of Tampa. This is why it holds Gasparilla’s secrets and Carter uses secret spaces from 1891 construction to do so.
The Gasparilla archives are hidden in plain sight in a loft space of a museum display area.
“This is a loft space, we have to take attic stairs to get here.” Carter explained. “It’s behind a curtain in our exhibit room.”
There are 1,684 Gasaparilla artifacts, so they can’t display everything in their annual exhibit, but we get a look at a King’s jacket, an intricate ball invitation and a working mini cannon.
While Carter is resting the king’s jacket this year, lady’s ball gowns are front and center.
Two dresses on display in the museum space are by African American designer Anne Lowe, her earliest known works.
“Textiles have to be kept in a certain environment or they can disintegrate, and so many of the Anne Lowe examples throughout the country have disintegrated because they were done on silks or very fragile materials,” said Carter. “Fortunately, these were preserved and saved.”
Lowe would go on to fame as a designer, creating the wedding dress for Jackie Kennedy.
The museum’s other original Anne Lowe dress is on its way to be displayed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.
But, as Carter cares for the 1,684 pieces of this Gasparilla collection, you know she'll be waiting to slip it right back into the annual rotation of Gasparilla ephemera.