The pirates of Gasparilla are best known as colorful characters on flamboyant floats with a bounty of beads. But off the parade route, the real treasures of the Krewes are some of its members. We profiled one such pirate, Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla's Dennis Carlton.
The 7th-generation Floridian is a cattle rancher and an esteemed conservationist. There's no punchcard or set schedule for his profession.
"In spring and summer, it starts at daylight and ends at dark. Literally," Carlton said.
But each January, the cowboy goes west, trading Dover's pastures for Bayshore Boulevard's parade route.
He's a longtime pirate, in Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla.
"I guess it's a tradition. My father was, my wife's father, grandfather were in the Krewe," he said.
Carlton's been a member of the founding Krewe of the parade for more than 30 years.
"I don't know many other places, other than New Orleans, that would have a parade like this that basically shuts the city down and is captured for that matter on an annual basis," Carlton said.
While the hand-made costumes and feathered hats are a far cry from his normal uniform, Carlton still gets a kick out of each and every invasion.
"It's a bit like being Santa Claus with the kids. It's interesting the passion people will have for a bead or a coin," Carlton laughed.
It's a spirit that awakens each Gasparilla season. But it turns out, Tampa's pirates already have their treasure: a celebration dating back for a more than a century.
"It's just a great tradition and a great time," Carlton said.