PINELLAS COUNTY – In my childhood, Sunday mornings often meant breakfast at the Pelican Diner followed by a drive down Gulf Boulevard to the beach at Pass-A-Grille. Along the way, the towering, golden geodesic dome of the Aquatarium always captured my attention. Then, it was as important a landmark to me as was the Don CeSar, which I am often reminded I nicknamed “Darn Cigar” as a toddler.
Likewise, on Friday night pilgrimages to Haslam’s Books in downtown St. Petersburg, aging billboards advertising the wonders of Webb’s City offered a glimpse at an attraction I would never visit.
Sadly, both the Aquatarium and Webb’s City were in decline by the early ’70s. My memories of them are few and fleeting, though the impact each made on the area was significant.
A mixture of authentic and reproduction 1790s pirate artifacts are part of a private collection.
Anyone who has lived in Pinellas County for any length of time has heard the legend of Jose Gaspar, the aristocratic young Spanish naval officer who morphed into Gasparilla, the bloodthirsty Florida pirate. Since 1904, except in a few war years, our neighbors across the bay in Tampa have held an annual festival commemorating his exploits.
Gaspar, the story goes, was born into a blue-blooded family near Seville in 1756 and showed early signs of his larcenous future. At the age of 12, he was caught kidnapping a neighbor girl for ransom. The judge gave him the choice of going either to jail or to the Royal Spanish Naval Academy. He chose the academy.
A small man with the courage and tenacity of a Spanish bull, Gaspar had a spectacular naval career. He was named admiral of the Atlantic Fleet while still in his mid-20s.
Ever since our wedding in a small North Carolina coastal community, my wife and I have carried on an intermittent debate, arguing over which one of us is more Southern. She was born in Southport, N.C., and has lived in Charleston, S.C., and Athens and St. Mary’s, Ga. I’ve spent my whole life here in Pinellas County.
Reading Julia Reed’s “Queen of the Turtle Derby and Other Southern Phenomena” forced me to reappraise my own Southern attributes, and admittedly I came up short – by Reed’s standards.