USS Tampa: Gasparilla story lost to time

TAMPA, FL (WFLA) – Gasparilla has been a Tampa Tradition since 1904. One story associated with the pirate party has been virtually lost to history. Tampa author Nancy Turner is working to change that. Turner has done extensive research about the ship the USS Tampa.

“The city of Tampa and the ship fell in love with each other,” said Turner.

The ship was launched in 1912 as a Coast Guard vessel.

“That was a month after the Titanic sunk. So they sent her up there to identify where the icebergs were,” said Turner.

The ship spent the summer months charting the location of icebergs and then spent the winter months in Tampa.

“They used to get wined and dined. You know when that ship came in to town it was a big deal and the Rotary Club had parties for them and gave them a silver service,” said Turner.

In 1913, the ship started a new tradition, one that is still a major part of the Gasparilla invasion.

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“They started shooting their cannons off and anybody in hearing range knows that still goes on, but that was the first year they did that was 1913,” said Turner.

In 1914, the world went to war and when America joined the conflict the USS Tampa was called into service as an escort ship for the Navy.

“She was there for just a little over eleven months and she herself was sunk, but before then she escorted 18 convoys, 350 skips only lost two boats,” said Turner.

When the Tampa went down, a number of native sons were on board.

“The sad fact is on board there were 24 boys from Tampa. Three sets of brothers and two cousins,” said Turner.

Despite the history of the ship there are few reminders in town of her service. American Legion Post 5 at Dale Mabry Highway and Kennedy Boulevard honors the memory of the USS Tampa. There is a historical marker about the service of the USS Tampa in Gibraltar and a memorial at Arlington National Cemetery, but other than the American Legion post there are few reminders of the ship in Tampa. Nancy Turner has been working to change that and soon the ship will be honored with a new exhibit at the Tampa Bay History Center.

“This is Tampa’s story, not one person’s story, it’s everybody’s story,” said Turner.

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