TAMPA, FL – It’s season for witches – and ghosts, zombies and everything that happens in the night.
To add an extra dose of scare to the Halloween season, the Official Ybor Ghost Tour, named the # 1 ghost tour in the United States by City Traveler, added additional tours in October to meet continued high demand. during the Halloween season, including special tours at 10:30 p.m. October 25-31.
“This whole place has a unique character that you really can’t find in any other city,” said Lonnie Herman, founder of the Official Ybor Ghost Tour, adding that the city’s infamous past makes it ubiquitous.
“This town in 1885 was nothing but a lost hell in a swamp,” said tour guide Greg Milton. “There were 700 people here in 1885. The largest population was snakes, mosquitoes and alligators.”
Ybor City was built on the backs of Cuban and Italian immigrants who came to America in search of a better life. Many ended up working in one of the city’s many thriving cigar factories, settling in shotgun-style homes and hastily-built and overcrowded wood-frame buildings, where they perished in settlements. fires and the yellow fever epidemic in the 1900s.
At the height of the cigar industry, Ybor City produced around half a billion cigars a year for which immigrants were paid literally pennies to roll while wealthy factory owners built mansions on Davis and Bayshore Islands. Boulevard, according to Jeff “El Jefe” Hartzog, who works for the management company that runs the Cuban Club.
The largest fire in Tampa history occurred on March 1, 1908, at 1914 12th Ave., according to Tampa Fire Rescue. The fire started in the shingled roof of a boarding house and quickly spread to more than 17 blocks. Countless adults and children died in the blaze. Store owners swear they can still hear the laughter of the youngest victims of the fire.
During Prohibition in the 1920s, Ybor City became a notorious haunt for gangsters. Gaming Czar Charles Wall used political connections to set up a bolita gaming racket in Ybor City and opened the lavish sports hall, El Dorado Lounge, on 8th Avenue and 14th Street. It has become a haven for underworld figures and the scene of drive-by shootouts of Wall’s rival, Salvatore Trafficante Sr.
Plus, the top floors of El Dorado are said to be the “biggest bad name house outside of New Orleans.”
Between 1930 and 1959, Tampa witnessed more than 25 gang murders, most of them in Ybor City. Among them, on November 10, 1936, George “Saturday” Zarate, a drug dealer working for New York gangster Charles “Lucky” Luciano, was shot dead in front of El Dorado. A year later, Joe Vaglichi, whose brother was Al Capone’s bodyguard, died in a hail of bullets from another car driving past the playhouse.
The former Don Vicente Hotel in Ybor City, now the Casa Ybor residential and office building, has been called one of the most haunted buildings in America by Haunted Rooms and has been featured in one of the top rated episodes of The Travel Channel’s show, “The Dead Files”, in 2011.
Built in 1895, the structure served as a hotel, meeting place (El Bien Publico) and hospital.
Dr Jose Luis Avellena Jr. and his disembodied nurse are said to haunt Don Vicente’s basement. There are also reports of an appearance of a mad doctor who experimented on patients and then burned the bodies in the basement incinerator.
When the hotel was operating, room 305, in particular, was a reported hot spot for paranormal activity. A number of guests have reported seeing the appearance of a man at the foot of the bed. Other spooky events in the Don Vicente include flickering lights, squeaky footsteps, doors opening and closing, and faucets opening and closing.
Another infamous haunted place is the Cuban Club, built in 1917. The official Ybor City Ghost Tour is the only tour allowed in the building.
Among the hauntings of the historic club, one is attributed to Dr Cooley, chairman of the club’s board of directors, who was murdered by a club rival during a heated argument.
Visitors have also reported seeing a ghost named Jamie or Jimmy, an 8 or 9-year-old boy who allegedly drowned while swimming unsupervised in the Cuban Club’s indoor pool in the basement.
In 2009, the TV show “Ghost Hunters” visited the Cuban Club and claimed to have made contact with the boy.
“With a building that has been around for so long, there will always be intrigue, and that is the case here,” Hertzog said. “I heard elevators running on their own, footsteps, doors opening and closing, or pushing against me as I tried to close them, and many other strange and interesting things.”
“When I first started touring, I didn’t think much of it,” Milton said. “But after four years, I can tell you it’s real. I know ghosts are real.”
Among the stories Milton tells on his tour is that of a young actor playing a play he himself wrote on the Cuban Club stage when he forgot his lines.
Out of embarrassment or shame, he returned to the club after hours, draped a rope over the stage catwalk, put it around his neck, and jumped to his death.
During his tours, Milton said visitors saw flashes of light and orbs floating around the theater. He himself saw a faceless man sitting in the front row of the empty theater and an ethereal woman in period clothing with strange glowing orange eyes.
He said the club’s fourth floor is also haunted by a famous dancer who rejected the advances of an infatuated fan. One night, the man got drunk and pushed the dancer over the balcony to her death.
Another site that has reportedly been haunted is the former Florida Brewing Company at 1234 E. 5th Ave.
In 1896, Vicente Martinez-Ybor decided to try his hand at brewing beer and built his brewery on the site of the government source. Discovered in 1824, the spring supplied water to Fort Brooke. Later, a swimming pool and an ice factory were built on the site.
A ghost story dates back to the opening of the brewery. To celebrate, the brewery offered free beer and a fight broke out between two men who drank a little too much. A man of Cuban descent suffered serious head injuries during the scuffle and died. Visitors now claim to see a drunken man with a Hispanic accent hanging out around the building.
In 1999, law firm Swope Rodante spent millions to restore the old brewery, but the renovations have failed to deter the spirits that continue to haunt the building. Those who work in the building continue to report strange sightings.
The tour also stops at places like Rock Brothers Brewing at 1901 N. 15th St., and Cerealholic Cafe & Bar and Afterholic Speakeasy at 1909 N. 15th St., both of which have reported close encounters with the dead.
Cerealholic is located in a former church where owner Lisa Lawson claims she heard windows slam and things went missing and then mysteriously returned.
It allows visitors to have their own ghostly encounters every Thursday through Sunday at 4 p.m., 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. in October when the upstairs breakfast cereal-themed cafe bar and 1920s-style sweatshop downstairs host “The Haunted Tavern: A Dark Pop-Up Cocktail Experience.” Tickets cost $ 55 and include four cocktails. Click here.
Like Milton, Herman said he started out as a skeptic.
“Eventually I really became a believer in how haunted these buildings really are,” he said. “I have come face to face with some of these entities. I have talked with them, I have conversed with them, I have even sometimes made them laugh. I have also made them mad from time to time.”
While Herman does not guarantee that visitors will spot a ghost on tours, he said they will be entertained by interesting stories about Ybor City’s colorful history.
“People ask me all the time if they’re going to see a ghost. I can’t guarantee that. It’s up to the ghosts to decide,” Herman said.
But more than a few who have taken the tour say they have seen restless souls dressed in immigrant clothes or zoot and fedora costumes.
“There are no smoke and mirrors on my tour,” Herman said. “The ghosts seem to come out on their own.”
Since COVID-19 restrictions remain in effect and tour sizes are limited, early bookings are encouraged by visiting the website or calling 813-386-3905 24 hours a day.
Tours cost $ 25 for adults and $ 10 for children 8 to 12 years old. Special rates are available on Tuesdays. The tour is not open to children under 5 and children under 16 must be accompanied by an adult.
For schedules and reservations, click here.