Gasparilla fantasy becomes a reality
By SASHA TALCOTT
As a boy, G. Michael Harris loved Gasparilla. The night before the parade each year, his parents served paella, black beans, rice and other Cuban foods.
The next day, Harris' parents would pull him out of school so he could sit on the curb and collect the shotgun shells and coins the pirates dropped during the parade.
Now, after 38 years, Harris and his 11-year-old son, Sebastian, will don matching black velvet jackets with gold sequins, hats and swords and march in the parade that Harris has loved for a lifetime. He and other members of Clearwater's newly formed Ye Mystic Krewe of Santa Margarita plan to join the city of Clearwater's under-the-sea-themed float today.
"Gasparilla was our Macy's Day," said Harris, who serves on the krewe's Board of Directors. "It was the biggest event of the year. It was the biggest parade of the year. It was the highlight of the season."
Begun 11 months ago by a group of local men, the nonprofit organization has become Clearwater's official krewe. It boasts more than 100 members, including Mayor Brian Aungst and city Commissioners Hoyt Hamilton and Frank Hibbard.
Since then, the krewe has appeared in several other local parades and functions. Members marched in the Children's Gasparilla Parade and Clearwater's Christmas parade, and they plan to bring their float to the Sant'Yago Illuminated Knight Parade in Ybor City.
Unlike many other Tampa Bay area krewes, membership in Clearwater's krewe includes women and children. The krewe donates exclusively to Clearwater charities.
During the parade season, the krewe will host fundraisers, sell krewe shirts and ask local companies and residents to sponsor it, Harris said. The group has not yet selected which Clearwater charities to support.
Membership costs from $300 to $1,000 for single, family and corporate members and is open to all. Members also purchase elaborate costumes for the festivities, which can cost more than $1,500.
For Gasparilla this weekend, Clearwater's parks and recreation department rented the float, called Fantasy Ball. The krewe of Santa Margarita will walk alongside it, and a dance troupe from Tampa is scheduled to be on top. Clearwater has participated in Gasparilla off and on for years.
Commissioner Hamilton, a member of the krewe of Santa Margarita, said he supports the krewe through his family's Palm Pavilion restaurant on Clearwater Beach because it is so focused on local charity work. He said he would not march in the parade today because he will be busy with other city functions.
"It's a great thing," Hamilton said. "It's community oriented. It's not just about going out and partying and acting up in parades. It's committed to helping everybody."
The krewe takes its name from the Santa Margarita, a Spanish galleon that sank off the coast of Florida in the 17th century. Krewe members dress as Spanish royalty and carry rapiers, just as the original crew members did when they set off on their ill-fated voyage for Spain in the 1620s.
At parades, the krewe rides in a 65-foot-long pirate ship on wheels. Painted blue waves lap along the bottom of the three-masted ship.
Bill Fisher, a fifth generation Clearwater native who helped found the krewe, said he wanted to represent Clearwater in Tampa Bay's biggest festival. Plus he had no idea how to get into other krewes in the area.
Although the krewe will march with Clearwater this year, it hopes to have its own float next year, Fisher said. Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla, which organizes the parade, screens potential parade participants carefully, and the Clearwater krewe did not have its float built in time to apply, he said.
"It's quite an honor to be in it at all," Fisher said. "It's a huge deal."
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