Cigars On Parade
The state of Florida, a peninsula with water on three sides, has a long and storied nautical history that includes pirates. This past Saturday, January 28, Tampa had its annual Gasparilla Parade, a massive event that celebrates José Gaspar (also known by his nickname Gasparillo), a mythical buccaneer who supposedly sailed the high seas during the late 18th and early 19th centuries, including the west coast of Florida. He remains a popular figure in Tampa folklore.
Throughout the day Tampa is “invaded” as a pirate ship full of buccaneers sails across the Bay, firing their cannons, with hundreds of other boats following in its wake. The event culminates in the pirate ship’s captain approaching the mayor to demand the key to the city, which then leads to the pirates hosting a parade in victory of “conquering” the city. Along the way, pirates toss coins and beads to the public as trinkets from the parade of over 150 vehicles and floats.
As part of the parade, local businesses create lavish floats and among this year’s celebrants was cigarmaker J.C. Newman with a massive 40 feet long by 13 feet tall float made to resemble El Reloj, the company’s historic 112-year-old cigar factory located in Tampa, complete with its clocktower. Aboard was a cigar roller who made cigars by hand as the float made its way through the city. José Gaspar-brand cigars were handed out to those watching the parade.
According to J.C. Newman, this marks a grand return to the Gasparilla Parade as cigar industry floats have been absent for many years despite the fact that Tampa has just as long and storied a history with cigars as it does with pirates.
“Cigars and Gasparilla have been essential parts of Tampa’s identity for more than 100 years,” said Drew Newman, one of the owners of the company, who smoked a cigar as he rode on the float. “We wanted to bring them together by rolling José Gaspar cigars as well as being featured in the Gasparilla parade.” Longtime members of the original Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla (the organization behind the festival), Eric and Bobby Newman (president and executive vice president of J.C. Newman, respectively) were also aboard the El Reloj float, in full pirate gear.
To add to the scenery was Miss Tampa 2023, Tori Leto, who waved to the crowd from the J.C. Newman float. Leto, a fourth-generation Tampa native, told a reporter from WFLA that her great-grandparents actually met rolling cigars at the El Reloj factory. Also in attendance as grand marshal was WWE Hall of Famer and 16-time heavyweight champion Ric Flair.
The Gasparilla Pirate Festival began in 1904 when members of Tampa’s business community donned pirate attire and led a procession on horseback to the town’s May Day festival. Since then, the event has grown in popularity and today is reportedly the third largest parade in the U.S. with an average attendance of 300,000 people. It takes place the final Saturday of every January.