Herbert Hoover and the Gasparilla Pirate Festival

Invitation to Herbert Hoover from Senator Fletcher (FL) to attend the Karnival and Pirates Parade.
Invitation to Herbert Hoover from Senator Fletcher (FL) to attend the Karnival and Pirates Parade.

I cannot imagine Herbert Hoover, at any age or in any context, attending Mardi Gras or any such foofaraw. The man, the mien, and Mardi Gras beads just do not mix. My mind is not that plastic.  Evidently Florida Senator Duncan Upshaw Fletcher had a broader perspective. He wrote to Hoover on December 15, 1928, inviting him to attend the South Florida Fair at Tampa during the first week of February 1929.  Nothing unusual.

The second paragraph of Fletcher’s invitation veered toward the weird.  He referred to an enclosed invitation from the Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla inviting ‘Ye Herbert, House of Hoover’ to attend the Karnival and Pirates Parade on February 4-5, 1929.  The hand-drawn card, illustrated with a fierce pirate and done with ornate calligraphy read: ‘Hark Ye—Gasparilla, King of Ye Mystic Krewe—Requests, Yea—Demands the presence of Herbert Hoover—President-Elect of U.S.A. at the Great South Florida Fair.’  It closed: ‘Appear of fear ye extreme penalty. Your silence is consent. Ye Royal Capt. E. K. Nelson, Jr.’

Struck by the card’s artful audacity, I did some research.  The Gasparilla Pirate Festival has been an annual celebration in Tampa since 1904.  Billed as the largest pirate party in America, it has been described as Florida’s Mardi Gras.  The local Chamber of Commerce estimates that it draws more than 300,000 visitors and $20 million to Tampa each year.  Doubtless, this Karnival was not this big in 1929, but it was bold enough to get this invitation to Hoover.

As far as can be determined from the calendar and extant records, Hoover did not attend.  My sense of the man and his propriety remains intact.

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