Tampa Pirate Ship and Convention Center

9 Things You Never Knew About Tampa

When people think of Tampa, views of NASA shuttles and a skyline full of lightning come to mind. This city has some quirkier claims to fame as well. From pirates to prohibition, Tampa keeps you guessing.

For the Love of Pirates

Tampa has a long-standing history with famous pirates of both real-life and mythical and lore, such as Jose Gaspar, Henry Ross, and Henry Castor. With a tourist bureau that sports a pirate logo and a football team called the Buccaneers, it’s clear this history is taken seriously. In a fun tribute, residents dressed in pirate attire “hunt down” the mayor and steal the keys to the city each winter. One of the largest street parades in the country follows, complete with cannons and beads.

Pioneering Commercial Flight

On January 1, 1914, the first commercial flight took off from Tampa and landed in St. Petersburg, Florida. The aircraft was piloted by a boat mechanic named Tony Jannus, who died tragically in a plane crash three years later. An altitude of 15 feet was maintained throughout the flight, which contained one paying customer.

Joining Babe Ruth’s Legacy

Tampa used to house a stadium called Plant Field, which would host spring training baseball games. On April 4th of 1919, during a Red Sox and New York Giants game, Babe Ruth hit his longest ever homerun: 587 feet. The stadium was torn down several years later, but a plaque remains to commemorate the event. It’s also rumored that Babe Ruth signed his first baseball contract in the Tampa Bay Hotel dining room.

From Sticks of Fire

Tampa is derived from the Native Calusa tribe word meaning sticks of fire. Plant Park contains a sculpture with this name as homage to its origin. It’s uncertain why the Calusa chose this word in naming the region. Scholars suggest that it could be a reference to gathering firewood in the area, while others believe it comes from watching intense lightening storms in the region—which still occur today.

Walking the Epic Sidewalk

Tampa’s Bayshore Boulevard boasts the longest continuous sidewalk in the world. With four and a half miles of palm-lined bay views, it’s popular among runners and attracts tourists every year. It was first constructed in the early 1900s and was revamped in the 1930s as part of a depression era New Deal project. This walkway is home to the aforementioned pirate parade among many other annual events.

Uninhibited Prohibition

Leading up to prohibition, Tampa was considered the “wettest” city in the country. By 1893 there were 17 saloons in the city, which increased to 66 within 17 years. As laws changed to restrict alcohol consumption, Tampa adjusted. Unmarked packages containing spirits were sold to customers as part of a “mail order” program. When prohibition came into full effect, speakeasies popped up overnight in the city. Authorities turned a blind eye, and Tampa developed a reputation as an easy place to obtain liquor.

Tampa’s Cuban Sandwich

Tampa was one of the first American cities to have a substantial Cuban population. A sandwich containing ham, salami, Swiss cheese, pickles, mustard, and roasted pork was developed by Cuban immigrants and served primarily to cigar workers at a large Tampa factory. Originally called a mixto, the sandwich soon adopted the name Cuban instead.

Loud Musical History

In the 1980s, Tampa was considered the capital of death metal. Many well-known metal bands, such as Morbid Angel, Death, and Obituary, started in the area. Another band, known as Savatage, started here as well. Eventually moving away from its metal roots, this group became the Trans-Siberian Orchestra—one of the most popular rock opera groups of all time. This Tampa original has gone on to sell over nine million records.

Dali Dance Party

A unique staircase resides in Tampa’s Salvador Dali Museum. Inspired by the art of its namesake, one thousand and sixty-two glass triangles compose these steps. To test the structure’s stability, two local rugby teams were called in. Rather than simply walk the stairs, the men danced to disco music to complete the stress test.

Tampa is an interesting place, full of fascinating history. From culinary inventions to pirate parades, beautiful walkways to epic stairs, this is an amazing city with fun facts around every corner.

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