11 Dec Tampa Bay Myths, Lore, and Legends
Besides the food and drinks, one of the staple features of a tavern is the stories that you’ll hear. Many of them fact, some of them fiction, or a little in between. As your St. Pete neighborhood bar, we feel that it’s our duty to share with you a bit of the local lore.
St. Pete named…from a coin toss?
As you pass by 216 Central Avenue, you’ll spot a sign that says, “Detroit.” This marks the location of the Sunshine City’s first hotel, The Detroit Inn. So what does a city in Michigan have to do with St.Pete?
In 1875, a man by the name of John C. Williams moved to Florida from Detroit since the warmer climate was better for his asthma. Buying roughly 2,500 acres of land, Williams had a vision for a city, but needed more infrastructure. So who did he go to?
He sought the help of Peter Demens (born Pyotr Alexyvitch Dementyev), a Russian exile who owned the Orange Railway in Florida. Demens spent most of his younger years around St.Petersburg. According to him, he fled his country to avoid a military raid on his estate. According to historians, he left the motherland after getting tangled in an embezzlement scandal.
Demens brought a railway to what is now St. Pete, and Williams gave him some waterfront property in return. So how was the name of the city decided? Legend has it, that it was done by a coin toss. Winner gets to name the city and loser names the hotel.
You probably can guess who won that coin toss, but…did that really happen?
The coin toss is a great story. However, if you look to more reliable sources, the truth is not as exciting. In reality, one of Demens’ clerks declared the city to be named St. Petersburg at the Longwood postal office. Nonetheless, today we have Demens Landing and Williams Park.
It’s no coincidence that we have a pirate themed festival, and our NFL team is called the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Both come from the legend of Jose Gaspar aka Gasparilla. Although there are many different versions of this legend, there are some things that remain constant.
- He was born in Spain around 1756.
- Before becoming a pirate, he was part of the Spanish navy.
- He and his crew, aboard the Floridablanca, wreaked havoc along the Gulf Coast
- And finally, Gaspar met his fate in Charlotte Harbor in a battle against the USS Enterprise. As his ship was sinking, he tied an anchor around his waist and plunged into Davy Jones’ Locker.
The surviving crew of the Floridablanca were executed with only a few who managed to escape. One of these few survivors was a man by the name of Juan Gomez.
Well, at least according to him.
Although there’s no historical evidence of Gasparilla existing, Juan Gomez was actually a real person. He was also known for his many tall-tales. According to his own accounts, he saw Napoleon Bonaparte when he was a child, fought under the command of Zachary Taylor in the Battle of Lake Okeechobee, escaped getting executed from filibustering in Cuba, and then became a blockade runner during the Civil War. On top of this, he was constantly telling people different places and dates of his birth.
What’s actually confirmed about Gomez is that at some points in his life, he lived all over Florida including spots such as Tampa and Pass-a-Grille. He worked as a hunting and fishing guide telling these tales to his clients. His tales might not have been fact, but Gomez would definitely been an interesting person to sit down and have some beers with.
The Mini Lights
If you’re out near Child’s Park, Booker Creek, or Roser Park after sunset, the last thing you want to say is,“ Mini lights, mini lights, come out tonight,” three times in a row. That’s because, well, creatures referred to as the Mini Lights will come to get you.
There are a few variations of this local folklore, and some of the earliest accounts go back to nearly half a century. In most of them, there is a witch, who some say her name was Minnie, who had a varying number of servants to carry out her bidding. These minions have been described as little green men or even as just balls of light. If you say the phrase three times in a row, they’ll chase you down, beat you, and take you to the witch’s lair. Other stories say that they travel through St. Pete’s drainage system.
Sounds like Bloody Mary and Pennywise had kids.
Although the story has many versions, they all have the same message for children: stay out of the parks at night. Some have claimed to have seen the Mini Lights, and recently, the Vitale Brothers have worked on horror movie about the urban legend.
So what about the truth?
It’s the tales that get passed from generation, to generation, by word of mouth that gives a location its character. That’s not to say that there aren’t any 100% factual and interesting stories that have taken place in the Tampa Bay Area. St.Pete was where Jack Kerouac spent the last of his years, Keith Richards wrote the riff to “Satisfaction” while staying in Clearwater, and there’s plenty of other neat bits of history to be heard about.
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