The Previous Life of the José Gaspar - The William Bisbee
indebted to Captain William H. Davis, commander of the William Bisbee
on her last trip from Rockland, Maine to Tampa, Captain G.A. Hanson,
commander of Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla of Tampa, the records of
the U.S. Customs office and logbooks of the vessel for information
regarding this vessel.
Published May 16, 1904
Published May 20, 1904
1904, while in route from Virginia to
Mutiny on the Bisbee
In March, 1915, according to her log, the Bisbee was made ready for sea at Rockland, Maine, when the crew requested shore leave and were refused. They mutinied and refused to work. The sails were hoisted by the captain, mate and cook, who manned the ship. The wind blew a gale in the night as the vessel was rounding Cape Cod. It was necessary to shorten sail quickly but proved impossible for three men to do so. The mate prevailed upon the crew to assist, which they did to save their lives, thus averting a serious disaster.
Mother Nature vs. the Bisbee
On March 2, 3, and 4, 1927, while on a voyage from New York to West Point, Virginia, she encountered a northeast gale. Sail was shortened. Spanker and all sails were reefed. She ran before the wind. At 10:30pm the port anchor was dropped about 20 miles southeast of Hog Island. All of her anchor chain was dropped about 20 miles southeast of Hog Island. All of her anchor chain (about 75 fathoms) was run out. A tremendous sea was running throughout the night. At 1:00am the anchor chain parted and she drifted helplessly in the gale. Her distress signals were seen by the steamers Halifax, Allegheny and Philadelphia. The Allegheny wirelessed the revenue cutter Manning to take the vessel in tow. The Philadelphia tried to tow the vessel but parted two tow lines. While trying to get a line aboard, the steamer collided with the jib boom, carrying it away together with the bowsprit and all head gear and put the windlass out of commission. The Philadelphia then stood by until the Manning hove alongside about 11:00pm. Early in the morning of March 4, the Manning succeeded in getting a line on board and took the vessel in tow proceeding to Cape Henry where she was anchored at Lynhaven Roads where repairs were made. The steward, while assisting the sailors in handling the lines, fell overboard and drowned.
The William Bisbee Becomes the José Gaspar
The Bisbee continued to operate in the coastwide trade until 1932 when she was sold to Captain Charles Taylor of Eastport who operated her in the offshore trade until 1936 when she was sold to Victor B. Bendix, a ship and freight broker who bought her in the interest of Tampa's Gasparilla Festival. The Bisbee hoisted sail and headed south toward Tampa, smashing into another ship off Ambrose Light near New York harbor. She reported in at the Tampa Customs House on Nov. 21, 1936. Bendix resold her "as is" for $3,150 to Captain G.A. Hanson of Tampa who was commander of Ye Mystic Krewe. She was soon transformed into the pirate ship, José Gaspar. This began a new chapter in the history of the William Bisbee.
|The William Bisbee in Tampa before undergoing renovations and conversion into the Jose Gaspar, mid 1930s.||
Photo from State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, http://floridamemory.com/items/show/149084
State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, http://floridamemory.com/items/show/155374
State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, http://floridamemory.com/items/show/155376
Notice the patch repair work on the bow hull.
State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, http://floridamemory.com/items/show/155375
Gasparilla Ship History
The Gasparilla celebration had started in 1904 with pirates mounted on horses invading the city. In 1905, there was a triumphant parade of all the city's automobiles – all sixty of them. In 1911, for the first time, a ship was used to invade the city. Very quickly, the celebrations, which were initially an entertainment for the city’s elite, evolved to become grandiose festivities for popular consumption.
Left: The Gasparilla ship in 1914.
From 1922 (left, Lafayette St. Bridge) to 1924 (right), the C. H. Hackley was used as the Gasparilla pirate ship
The C.H. Hackley was built in 1868 at Milwaukee, Wisconsin and was listed under sail vessels but later may have added steam to help in propulsion as the stack in the forward in the photo below may suggest. She was abandoned around 1916 but apparently, according to the Burgert Brothers photos above, went into service as the Jose Gaspar in the early 1920s. The smokestack would have been removed, as all the Gasparilla ships were towed by a tugboat.
Before World War II,
the Gasparilla festival had taken place every year with but two
interruptions, directly related to financial and political crises. The
festival was not organized from 1907 to 1909 as a result of “the Rich
Man’s Panic” which brought a downturn in the nation’s economy. During
1918-19, following American entry into World War I, the festival was also
not celebrated. In spite of these two lapses, the Gasparilla celebration
became more elaborate every year.
This 1925 photo shows a
three-masted galleon was being
Above: The William Bisbee, as the José Gaspar, sails up the Hillsborough River through the Lafayette St. Bridge, 1938
Below: The José Gaspar approaching the Platt St. Bridge, 1938
See an actual movie film of this 1938 invasion which shows the celebrations and the William Bisbee as the José Gaspar sailing up the Hillsborough River.
Go to http://www.wpafilmlibrary.com and do a search of the complete database for this number: 253658-1 The result will appear as you see at left. Then click the "i" button under the video (shown at left in the red square) to open a larger video window and details about the film.
The old ship served the Krewe well but by 1942 during World War II, dry rot had set in on her. Late in 1946, she was overhauled at a cost of $7,500. In midsummer of 1947, the foremast was splintered by lightning while the vessel was waiting for repairs in a Tampa shipyard. The following December, two steamships rammed her in Ybor Channel and she began to leak. The leaks were caulked and the Gaspar carried the Krewe through the 1952 Gasparilla invasion.
The End of the Road for the Bisbee as the José Gaspar
In February 1952, the Bisbee saw her final voyage as the José Gaspar. She was declared unseaworthy and was sold to become a dine-and-dance boat, towed up the Hillsborough River, jabbed a mast into a raised drawbridge, was freed after much exertion, and tied to the bank on the east side of the river next to a chain store parking lot. The plans to fit her as a restaurant-pleasure boat were soon abandoned. Ye Mystic Krewe had to borrow ships until 1954 when the new José Gasparilla was christened with a bottle of Jamaican rum.
Gasparilla ship was the world's only fully rigged
pirate ship to be built in modern times and is a replica of a West Indiaman used in the 18th century. She
is constructed of steel at 165' long by 35' across the beam, with 3 steel
masts standing 100' tall. The ship sailed up the river for last time in
1975, as the new Crosstown Bridge is too low for its 100-foot masts.
During the year she was docked at the
Tarpon Weigh Station on Bayshore Blvd. for public viewing enjoyment, then
later at the Tampa Convention Center.
In the past, Gasparilla has been celebrated on the second Monday in
A break in tradition came in 1988 with the move to a Saturday festival.
The change allows surrounding communities to take part in the celebration.
In 2002, the festival was moved to the last Saturday in January. In
addition to the traditional invasion and parade, the Gasparilla
celebration encompasses a full week's worth of activities held throughout