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Historian: 'Tampa Outlaws' More Than Just Pirates & Gangsters

Jan 27, 2014

USF Special Collections librarian Andy Huse will speak about lesser-known Tampa "outlaws" Thursday night at the Florida Museum of Photographic Arts.
Credit USF Library

UPDATE 9 a.m. 1/27: Andy Huse will give an encore presentation of  "Tampa's Rebels and Revolutionaries: Looking Beyond the Pirates and Gangsters" Tuesday, January 28, at noon in the USF Tampa Library's Grace Allen Room.

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ORIGINAL POST 3:45 p.m. 1/22: If you hear the phrase "Tampa outlaw" and think of the pirate José Gaspar or the gangsters Santo Trafficante, Sr., and his son, Santo Jr., Andy Huse would like you to think again.

The USF Special Collections librarian says that there's been other far more colorful renegades in Tampa's past that people don't know a lot about - and he'll talk about them Thursday night when he presents "Tampa's Rebels and Revolutionaries: Looking Beyond the Pirates and Gangsters" at the Florida Museum of Photographic Arts in downtown Tampa.

This photo of women smoking cigars is part of "Gangsters, Pirates and Cigars: A Photographic History of Tampa 1879-1955," currently on display at the Florida Museum of Photographic Arts in downtown Tampa.
Credit Florida Museum of Photographic Arts

While the event is meant to go along with the current FMOPA exhibition, "Gangsters, Pirates and Cigars: A Photographic History of Tampa 1879-1955," Huse is definitely casting out a wider net with his speech.

"I wanted to delve a little deeper, it seems like gangsters and pirates have become kind of lazy shorthand  for Tampa," Huse says.

"I wouldn't characterize them as rebels, they (gangsters) were part of the establishment here," he continues.

"When they sold bolita (a Lotto-type game popular in Tampa in the late 1800's/early 1900's that was often rigged by gangsters) and sold illegal things, they took that money and they laundered it through the police department. The police department then gave it back to the gangsters, who then gave it to all the politicians so they could buy all of them off during the election cycle."

And don't even get Huse started about pirates - particularly the one this weekend's festival and parade are named after.

"You've got the fictitious pirate José Gaspar, who never existed," says Huse, who's written a number of books and articles on Florida and Tampa history. "The whole myth is really just very sloppily put together, so from a historian's point of view, it's not really believable."

"It's a totally made-up story and there's no documentation that said pirates were ever in Tampa at all, so for me, it's kind of a misnomer, everyone thinks that pirates are joined at the hip with Tampa and it's just not true," he says.

However, that doesn't mean he won't be among the crowd gathered on Bayshore Boulevard Saturday.

"I'll be there!" Huse says with a laugh. "I like a good party whether it's fiction or not."

Before that, however, his presentation will focus in on people he calls "true rebels," like Frederick Weightnovel and Jim Fair.

Huse says Weightnovel was a bit of a jack-of-all trades when it came to his rebellion.

"Everything from starting a Free Love society in Tampa in the 1880's," Huse says, "in addition to selling hair tonic, he was an abortion doctor, and it was said that if his ledger saw the light of day, all the elite in Tampa used his services, so the social fabric of Tampa would have been torn apart."

Closer to present day, Jim Fair made his mark in the 1960's and 70's.

"He was practically ran out of Tampa on a rail," Huse says. "When he resurfaced in Tallahassee, he was a folk hero there, but here he was considered anathema, he was from a good family and kind of gave it all up and ran something known as the "Salvation Navy" downtown, which is kind of another crazy story."

Huse is encouraging people who want to find out more about some of these lesser-known Tampa stories to attend his talk.

"If you've heard the stories about Charlie Wall (1920's crime lord) and José Martí (Cuban revolutionary who spoke a number of times in Ybor City), you want to dig a little deeper, you want to have some fun with it, certainly come on out and join us," Huse says.

Huse's presentation is at 6 p.m. Thursday, January 23 at the Florida Museum of Photographic Arts in downtown Tampa. The event is free for USF Library guests who make reservations by contacting Beverly Marks at the USF Library.