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Gypsies in the park

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Each week we get on email, some of the history on Florida State Parks from the past 75 years. (It is the 75th anniversary of the Florida Park Service.) Recently I posted some history on Hillsborough River State Park, where you will also find the reconstructed Fort Foster. Here is some more history from Hillsborough River by Jim Stevenson, a retired ranger (and well-known among FPS folks.)

This is a perfect example of some of the things we may have to face while working in the park.

Invasion of the Gypsies

One day in 1967, I was enjoying the view from the fire tower at the entrance of Hillsborough River State Park. I could see the Two Rivers Ranch across US 301 and much of the park including the ranger station at the park entrance. A line of about 20 pickup trucks, each pulling a travel trailer, approached from the north and drove into the park stopping at the ranger station, which was located just 50 yards from the highway. US 301 was a two lane highway with no turn-off lane into the park and was a dangerous entrance. Park superintendent Tom Pellicer directed the caravan to the camping area without registering them at the entrance so as to avoid an accident as the line of vehicles was stopped in the south bound lane. He told them to return to register after they had parked their campers.

When they did not return to the ranger station we went to the camping area to register them. We soon learned that they were a band of Gypsies and no one on the park staff knew what we were in for. We were unable to find the owner of any vehicle or any camper. No one admitted to knowing anything or anybody. The situation was soon out of control. Boys were breaking light bulbs in the restrooms and shooting squirrels with their BB guns. Pellicer took a gun away from a kid and put it in the back of his pick-up truck. A gypsy woman stopped him on the other side of the camping area and while he was talking to her the kid took his gun out of the truck. They drove the wrong way on the one-way park drive and ignored the speed limit. I confronted one speeder after following him to the campground and was immediately surrounded by several men. I decided to leave. They had dogs in their trailers which they knew were not permitted in the camping area. When we saw a dog running loose we were never able to catch it.

We had no law enforcement authority back then so we had two options: bluff or call the Sheriff. The concessionaire called the ranger station in tears. She said the women and kids were stealing everything in the concession. I rushed to the concession, grabbed a teenager by the arm and shouted “You’re going to jail.” The women began reaching into their blouses and putting the shop lifted items on the counter. The bluff worked.

At 9:00 in the morning, after two days of constant problems, the superintendent ordered them out of the park by noon. Within minutes they were packed up and ready to go. Instead of leaving, they gathered around a fire and played music and danced until noon when they finally left the park.

They drove a few miles north to Crystal Springs, a private park in Pasco County. While camping there they stole a mobile home off a sales lot in Zephyrhills, and then stole a farmer’s hog, butchered it and had a feast in the campground. While a bread truck was making a delivery to the park, an attractive Gypsy woman distracted the driver while the kids entered the back of the truck and stole his supply of bread and pastries. The Sheriff finally escorted them out of the county.

Superintendent Pellicer informed other state parks to beware of the Gypsies. When they arrived at Tomoka State Park, Superintendent Johnny Johnson wouldn’t allow them to enter the park. While standing at the entrance, a old Gypsy woman danced around him waving something over his head to put a hex on him. I think she was successful.

Jim Stevenson, former Park Ranger

Current Location:
the hammock
Current Mood:
scared scared
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