For the full stories, check out this episode of Fabled.
The city of Ybor is a district covering the historic Ybor neighborhood in Tampa, Florida. The area has is covered in rich architectural, culinary, cultural, and historical heritage that reflects its multi-ethnic background. Uniquely, Ybor was a thriving industrial community founded and inhabited almost exclusively by immigrants. It was founded in 1885 by a group of cigar manufacturers under the direction of Vicente Martinez-Ybor as a separate city yet attached to Tampa in 1887. The original population consisted mainly of Cuban and Spanish immigrants who worked in cigar factories. Shortly after that, Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe arrived. They brought a wealth of industry with them, including many retail outlets, farms and grocery stores, boxes, printers, and other companies dealing with cigars and their employees.
The district quickly grew in the 1890s and developed from a primitive outpost to a city of modern conveniences. Ybor City developed and prospered in the 1920s. At that time, the factories produced nearly half a billion of hand-rolled cigars each year and gave Tampa the nickname of Cigar City. The depression in the early 1930s led to a sharp decline in the worldwide demand for small cigars, and the Ybor City economic base suffered greatly. Another interesting fact about Ybor is that the city was mostly lawless for most of its early life. Immigrants lived by a code. There were no laws or enforcement. If someone killed someone, the only retribution to fear was that of their family. Killed a man? His brother, dad, or friend may come after you. Since these occurrences weren't well-documented, historians are left with a murky view of Ybor's real history. Today, Ybor is booming with restaurants, shops, and nightlife. Walking down the busy streets, it is reminiscent of New Orleans. It was explained to us that after a massive city fire, the buildings were rebuilt with brick by investors from New Orleans, hence the similar style. The memory of its history can still be seen. But the whole atmosphere of the place shifts when the sun goes down. The haunts roam the streets, and if you look closely, you may even catch a glimpse of something in the dark windows overhead. There are lots of ghostly stories to be told about Ybor City, but a few stand out. We went on two of the most popular ghost tours in Ybor so that I could bring you the most interesting of the tales.
The Chop House Restaurant
First is the Chop House. What's really fascinating about the restaurant is an object that sits outside the back doors. Tucked in a small niche is a large, black safe. We happened upon the safe while exploring, and I'll just tell you… it not only looks out of place but also quite intimidating. Our tour guide, Steve, explained to me that the safe is an incredibly haunted object. Legend has it that a fire once broke out there and people were not able to escape because the safe was blocking the door. Now, employees of the restaurant claim, there's an uneasy feeling hovering in the 2nd story kitchen.
Conchita is a ghost that's rumored to haunt an empty lot and a neighboring building of where the Trelles Clinic once stood. She fell in love and married the doctor who owned it when she was only 13 years old. Being fascinated with young girls, he soon fell for another young, beautiful girl and threw Conchita on the street. We discuss her intriguing story more inside the episode.
Don Vicente Hotel
Though the Don Vicente Hotel is no longer open for guests, it still remains one of the most mysterious buildings in Ybor. There, a nurse is rumored to roam the halls, still taking care of patients from when the building served as a hospital. Its story can be found in an episode of the Dead Files, named Hotel Hell.
The El Pasaje
Below the Don Vicente are a series of tunnels that connect a few of the neighboring buildings. One of them is the El Pasaje. The El Pasaje was built in 1888, also called the Cherokee Club. It was a gathering place for the elite. The bottom story was a private club, and the second floor was a private hotel for Mr. Ybor's guests. After Ybor dies, the second floor becomes a brothel filled with 11 to 13-year-old girls. As if that isn't bad enough, these girls had to win a beauty contest to become prostitutes there. People have reportedly snapped pictures of orbs and ghostly images on the walkway that wraps around the building. Its curved brick pillars and architecture is beautiful, but at night, there's something genuinely spooky about just walking past it.
The Cuban Club
Down the street from the El Pasaje is Ybor's most haunted building. Standing four stories high is the grand Cuban Club. There are numerous stories associated with this place. We were lucky enough to conduct our first ever ghost hunt there, alongside our guide Chrissy and a handful of others. A week later, we returned with a different guide and heard even more stories. We used a series of tools to help in our research: a thermal gun, an EVP app, EMF meters, divining rods, night vision, and more. It was amazing to have so much at our fingertips.
We explored every floor and were especially spooked in the theatre and in the basement. We even had a few strange, unexplainable things happen—flashlights turning on then off, elevator opening and closing by itself, cold thermal readings, and a ball in the basement moving without anyone near it.
Every floor has its own story and hauntings (more about that in the podcast episode). Rated as one of the most haunted buildings by the Travel Channel and made famous by an episode of Ghost Hunters called Club Dead, the Cuban Club is home to some very active ghosts.
Take the same tours we did!
Want to book your own Ybor City tour? We highly recommend these two. Fantasti guides, awesome storytellers, and a wonderful experience.