Thursday, May 23, 2019

HGB Ep. 298 - Haunted Ybor City

The Moment in Oddity - The Bloody Pit

The Hoosac Tunnel took twenty-four years to complete at a cost of $21 million. It is a railroad tunnel that stretches nearly 5 miles in western Massachusetts. Many people have nicknamed the tunnel, The Bloody Pit. Construction was started in 1851 and you can imagine at that time that cutting through a mountain was quite the feat. Techniques that are used today for tunnel drilling were created at this time and in 1975 the tunnel was made an Historic Civil Engineering Landmark. Workers would pay a hefty price in creating this marvel. One hundred ninety-six of them would die from accidents. One accident trapped thirteen men who lived long enough to make a raft to keep from drowning when the pumps failed and water rose in the shaft in which they were trapped. They eventually suffocated. Another accident left two men dead after an explosion. A third man that was with the other two men, Kelly Ringo, escaped the explosion even though he was the one to actually set it off on accident. A little over a year later, Ringo was working in the tunnel again. He was found later strangled to death. No one was ever caught in connection to his murder. Legend claims that the two men who died in the blast he triggered had come back to exact their revenge. And it's easy to believe because there are many supernatural things that happen here from lanterns swaying on their own to disembodied voices to shadow figures. The ghosts of two men killed in a construction accident coming back to get the man who caused it, certainly is odd!

This Month in History - Balloon Bomb Killed Six Near Bly
Suggested by: Shelley Emary

In the month of May, on the 5th, in 1945, six people were killed by a balloon bomb near Bly, Oregon. It was a beautiful day, the perfect day for a picnic. Reverend Mitchell and his wife decided to head to a wooded area along Leonard Creek to do just that. They invited five kids from their Sunday school class to join them. The Reverend dropped everyone at the picnic spot and then drove away to park the car. The Reverend describes what happened as he got out of the car, "As I got out of the car to bring the lunch, the others were not far away and called to me they had found something that looked like a balloon," Mitchell said. "I heard of Japanese balloons so I shouted a warning not to touch it. But just then there was a big explosion." Balloon bombs were constructed by the Japanese during World War II and they made as many as 9,000 of them. At least 285 of them made it all the way to the west coast of America. The balloons were made of paper and inflated with hydrogen. Each balloon carried a variety of bombs. Mitchell ran to where he had dropped his pregnant wife and the children. There was a crater a foot deep and 3 feet wide and everyone was dead. The victime were his pregnant wife; Dick Patzke, 14; Jay Gifford, 13; Edward Engen, 13; Joan Patzke, 13; and Sherman Shoemaker, 11. This was the only enemy-inflicted attack that caused casualties on the U.S. mainland during World War II. Be careful! Some bombs were never found and could still be out there and as proof of that, one was found in British Columbia in the Monashee Mountains in 2014.

Haunted Ybor City

When people claim that a town was the wildest in the west, we have certain images that come to mind. We envision gunfights in the street, brothels, saloons, cowboy hats and spurs. But what about a city that was dubbed the "Wild West of the South?" Change those cowboy hats to gangster fedoras and the spurs to cigars and you get Ybor City. This neighborhood just outside of Tampa, Florida has an amazing history, which has led to some interesting haunts. Join me as I explore the history and hauntings of Ybor City.

A small group of us took the Ybor City Ghost Tour a couple of weekends ago and our minds were blown about the history going on in this town. When you drive down the main drag, 7th Avenue, it becomes clear that this truly is Cigar City, but then you notice something else peculiar. There are Mardi Gras beads hanging from trees and littering the roofs of the businesses. That is because this city is built to reflect the French Quarter in New Orleans and in many ways, it does. Bars dot the landscape and the roads are built from brick. But rather than having the scent of stale beer and urine in the air, there is the sweet pungent smell of cigar smoke. And everybody smokes big stogies here, including that seventy-something woman we just passed, sitting outside of one of the haunted locations here. A must here is to watch a cigar being hand rolled. This street was named as one of the "10 Great Streets in America" in 2008. Another nod to New Orleans is the street trolley that runs up and down the street.

 Ybor City was founded by a group of cigar manufacturers looking for a place to relocate. They were originally located in Key West, a place that presented higher costs and transportation issues. Tampa was still near enough to Cuba to keep the price of the Cuban tobacco low and it also had the plus of new railroad lines being built throughout the state of Florida to facilitate transportation of the cigars to the rest of the United States. There was also the plus of lots of land. Key West was small and land poor, but in Tampa, workers could actually buy land and build their own homes. So workers migrated from Key West to Tampa. The leader of this group of cigar manufacturers was Vincente Martinez-Ybor and he built his workers homes and sold them for basically cost. The area was founded in 1885 and named for Ybor. The success of the city led Tampa to annex it in 1887. This was the state's first industrial town.

Ybor's cigar factory was the largest brick building in Florida. Immigrants came from everywhere to work here. The city took on a European atmosphere as these immigrants arrived from Germany, Romania, Italy and Spain. And, of course, many Cubans arrived too. Each group had their own club and all array of ethnic holidays were observed. These different groups brought their own specialties and soon shops were popping up all over Ybor City, as well as restaurants. German lithographers invented the cigar label. This made Ybor City pretty special. The ethnic clubs provided social outlets as well as healthcare for their members and workers were happy as they were not beholden to a company. This sounds like a company town, but it wasn't since the workers could own their own property. And what also makes this area great is that so many of these buildings - the factories, social clubs and balconied storefronts - still exist today.

So Ybor City sounds like a great place to work and live, but this area was called the Wild West of the South for a reason. There was no law here. When Prohibition was enacted throughout America, Ybor City completely ignored it. The taps here continued to run. Tunnels were built under the city and these were not constructed to facility the sewage system. These tunnels helped crime run rampant. They were used for transporting illegal goods or to help criminals escape when nightspots were raided. The lawlessness attracted the mob and gangsters. Speakeasies popped up everywhere, along with brothels and murder and mayhem were rampant. Organized crime ran a gambling game called Bolita, which is Spanish for little ball.  This is a game of chance like a lottery. A bag is filled with small numbered balls and one is pulled at random and this is the winning number. A notorious gangster named Charlie Wall ran many of the Bolita games and he used the proceeds to fund his criminal projects. As the 1930s rolled into the 1940s, residents of Ybor City took to calling it the "Era of Blood." The city continued to deteriorate and the buildings were abandoned. In the 1980s, the neighborhood took on new life as an artist colony developed in Ybor City. Soon bars and restaurants and stores moved in and the nightlife has been alive ever since. Also alive here, as remnants of the crazy past, are spirits.

Fun Fact: This is the only place where you actually can stand in Cuba while still being in America. There is a park dedicated to Cuban poet and revolutionary Jose Marti in Ybor City and it is owned by Cuba. The United States does not maintain it, so volunteers in the Cuban community take care of it. 

King Corona Cigars Cafe and Bar

Our first stop is the King Corona Cigars Cafe and Bar. The outside patio area along the street is dotted with tables and people sit here sipping wine or a craft beer and puffing on cigars. The cafe and bar were founded in 1998 by Don and Brenda Barco and they both have run it through all these years until Don passed away this past March 2019. The building has housed other businesses previously though. I believe the original store was a dress shop opened by Raul Vega and he ran that for sixty years. The twelve years following that, it was a women's upscale store called La Nica Fashions. And then the building was empty for two years until Don bought it. His family had been in the cigar business for five generations. The building needed a lot of renovations and Don enlisted some friends to help him. This is when they would discover that there was something other than dust left behind.

Joe Howden was one of those friends helping Don and he was there late one night by himself. He couldn't shake the feeling that he was not really by himself. He grabbed a hammer and walked towards the back of the building where he saw a very large man standing there. Joe didn't want a confrontation, so he held the hammer in front of his body and backed up towards the front door, hoping to run away. It turned out that he wouldn't have to run because the large man just evaporated into thin air. This large man was not the only spirit here. Another friend helping renovate was named Sarah. She was painting the walls when she saw a young girl at the back of the store. The girl just stared at Sarah and Sarah could see that she was wearing a period dress. Sarah said "Hello" but got no response. As she approached the girl, she disappeared. Patrons and workers have experienced disembodied voices and strange, unidentifiable sounds.

Mediums who have visited the cafe have seen the large man spirit and claim that it belongs to Raul Vega. One medium, named Joanne, walked to the back of the store and claimed to see a lot of blood everywhere as though someone had been killed here. She also claimed to see the spirit of a young girl cowering in a back storeroom and that this child spirit was terrified of something. The energy was so negative around her that Joanne ran from the room and would not go back inside. A few years later, another medium named Sheila joined writer Dave Lapham at the cafe. She saw the same pools of blood in the back of the store and Dave had told her nothing about the place. And she saw the little girl ghost cowering in the corner too.

Don Vincente de Ybor Historic Inn

Casa Ybor is the former Don Vincente de Ybor Historic Inn, which was established in 1895. The man who founded Ybor City built this building and did it in the Mediterranean style. Today, it offers retail, residential and office spaces, but it is best remembered as the Don Vincente de Ybor Inn and that is what it was when Dead Files visited. Originally, this was a real estate office, Ybor Land and Improvement Company, a planning and development office for the community and then it transformed into El Bien Publico Clinic, a medical clinic, in 1903. It would change names to The Gonzalez Clinic after the El Bien Publico closed in 1973. This would run until 1980. The building sat empty for 18 years and then Jack Shiver bought it in 1998 and fully refurbished the interior into a beautiful period decorated inn. It took two years and two million dollars. The beautiful staircase was restored as was the hand carved wooden bar and the brass and blush pink light fixtures. Persian rugs, beautiful French chandeliers and antiques were added. One of which was an imposing grandfather clock that was the grand prize winner at the 1915 Panama Pacific Exhibition in San Francisco. The basement had been a speakeasy at one time and was renovated to be a large gathering place. The Inn closed in May of 2015 and is now Casa Ybor. Darryl Shaw had bought the building for $2.2 million in 2014, so he probably decided it was worth more to have it as offices. It still was not open and was being renovated when we went by it.

During the clinic time, this was really a celebrated hospital. There was a man named Jose Luis Avellanal who had been born in Tampa in 1903. His father had founded the first clinic in the building. One of his father's first patients was a young boy that Jose had shot in the eye. Jose was a really bad kid and he was going to grow into a really bad guy. He would develop what he called an electric chair when he was young and confinced a neighborhood boy to help him test it. Needless to say, this would be another patient for his father. His father put him in solitary confinement hoping it would straighten him up, but he just escaped and stole his dad's car. He was shipped off to military school. He moved around when he became an adult with a stop in tennessee where he was charged with possession of drugs and kidnapping a woman. When he returned to Ybor City, he claimed that he was a doctor, but many feel the diploma was fake. He set up shop at El Pasaje Hotel where he conducted bizarre and macabre experiments. He told people he could raise the dead and even tried to publish articles on resurrecting the dead. Apparently, he was bringing dead cats back to life. At least, that was his claim. He also experimented with cryogenics. He practised as a plastic surgeon and gynocologist, so I can only imagine what kind of a horror show that was. He also established Southern University, which was really only a diploma mill and he was charged with fraud. He visited Mexico and returned claiming that he had been given the title of lieutenant general and he was often seen in full uniform around town. He eventually died in 1982. An interesting note, as if the rest of this wasn't, is that Jose wrote a suicide note. In it, he claimed to have had 500 sexual relationships. The note was nine pages of rambling and disturbing narcissism. 

Locals have called this location, Hotel Hell. Dead Files on the Travel Channel featured this in the first season and Amy really didn't like the place. The first entity she experiences is a nurse who worked in the clinic. She sees the spirit going back and forth over and over in what seems to be a residual manner as she continues to do her work in the afterlife. The nurse's name is thought to be Tabby.

There were 16 rooms in all and the two main haunted rooms in the inn were Room 303 and Room 305. The water is said to come on by itself and footsteps are heard. Outside of Room 305, Amy thought she saw the body of someone lying face up. When she entered the room, she felt a very negative energy and she felt sick. She felt like a murder-suicide had happened in the room. But this incident did not happen while this was an inn. Did it happen in the clinic? The front desk clerk, Ray, and he said a woman told him that she saw a ghost that stared at her in Room 305.

Tessa is the daughter of Jack Shiver and she helped run the inn. She was scared of the basement and always took the stairs two at a time when she was going up. She told Steve about a terrifying experience she had one day in the restroom down in the basement around 2:30 in the afternoon. She looked up into the mirror and saw a woman in a Spanish veil standing behind her. She could see right through the woman. She fell backward screaming in terror, spilling her purse and all its contents everywhere.

Jack Shiver himself had experiences too. He was down working in the basement and he saw a light and then a very small lady. There are no windows in the basement. The woman looked back at him and he thought she was a Spanish woman too. He could see through her, so he knew she wasn't human.

The basement had served as a speakeasy at one time and Amy could see that there were many people there. She had to leave the area after she was overwhelmed by at least twenty entities. She said that it felt as though many of them had killed somebody at some point. Some had crushed faces and they were vibrating. It all sounded very weird. She could sense the tunnels coming to the basement. Remember that Ybor City had these tunnels everywhere. So was this facilitating bringing in alcohol during Prohibition? Keep in mind that anything went in this city, so they really didn't need to hide stuff in tunnels. These tunnels could have helped Jose to move bodies as well. Did that happen? Amy thinks that perhaps her visions of people in the walls down in the basement was actually a morgue.

It will be interesting to hear what happens after the offices open. Will people in Casa Ybor experience the same things as though who ran and visited the inn that was here before?

The Cuban Club

In 1902, the Cuban immigrants in Ybor City formed El Circulo Cubano, which means Circle of Cubans. The original Cuban Club was made of wood and burned down in 1916. The club was quickly rebuilt in the same spot at the corner of Palm Avenue and 14th Street and this time they used brick, but not any old brick. They used yellow brick because it was three times the price of red brick and they wanted to one-up the Spanish Club and show off their wealth. The style was neoclassical and the club was opulent, boasting a gym with the latest exercise equipment of the time, a running track, a basketball court, a bowling alley, a pharmacy, a library and a swimming pool. Now the pool was only 10 ft. x 10 ft. and 10 feet deep, so it was more like a spa, but it was the only pool in Ybor City. There is a theater here with the ceiling painted like the sky. There is a small balcony and a little ticket booth just outside the doors. The dressing rooms are off to one side backstage and are small. The Grand Ballroom had elaborate murals painted on the ceiling and Tommy Dorsey and Glenn Campbell played their Big Band tunes there. The building was decorated with imported tile floors, stained-glass windows and elaborately carved scraffito spandrells. The fortunes of the club waned in the 1960s, but the Cuban Club Foundation bought the building and have preserved it.

Our tour guide told us that there were 300 known ghosts here. I'm skeptic, so obviously I find that to be a stretch, but there definitely do seem to be a few spirits here. EMF detectors were handed out and they went off most of the time we were in the building. I personally feel that much of the issue was electrical. There was wiring in the columns, people didn't have their cell phones on airplane mode and who knows what the wiring was like throughout the building.

The first spirit is a little boy named Jaime who drowned in the pool. This reminded me of the Queen Mary and the little girl who drowned and haunts the pool there. The pool had been down in the basement, but it is no longer there. Ghost Hunters visited in 2009 and they communicated with Jaime via the flashlight experiment. But no right away. They tried for an hour with no luck and then it occurred to them  that maybe Jaime doesn't understand English. Once they started asking questions in Spanish, they started getting responses. A few years ago, the tour guide had a woman with the group who had an infant with her. While everybody was walking around the basement with their EMFs, she stood off to the side to cradle her baby to sleep. She snapped a few pictures of the room while she stood in the corner and when she got home, she discovered that one of the pictures had what looked like the head of a little boy peering over a counter. The guide showed us the picture and it does indeed seem to be the head of a young person looking over a counter. The picture is grainy, but I found it interesting. There was something interesting here with a ball in the basement as well. (EVP of Jaime caught by Yoselis Ramos in 2014 - Saying Hi?) Photo of possible ghost by stairs where pool used to be:

Photo by Patty Summers
There is a Lady in White here. She was a young girl who was the bell of the ball, around sixteen years of age. She had caught the eye of a gangster and he pursued her heavily. She wanted nothing to do with him and rejected his advances several times. This angered him and if he couldn't have her, nobody would. When he found her out on the balcony patio, he picked her up and threw her off the top of the club. Her brother stabbed the gangster to death outside the club that evening. The tour guide had a group of five nineteen and twenty year old girls he was touring through the Cuban Club. They were up on the fourth floor where the ballroom is and he counted six silhouettes. When they got downstairs, there were only five women again. He is positive that he saw a sixth figure with the girls. This woman is seen in a white dress and red heels and is often seen walking up and down the stairs.

The theater is haunted by a young man who wanted to be an actor and a director. It took him two years to write and develop his original play. In 1919, he rented the theater and had his family and all the Cubans in the city come to see his debut. Halfway through the play, he forgets the lines to his own play. He is laughed off the stage and he runs away. He still had the keys to the theater, so he returns at four in the morning. He walked up on the stage, put a rope over the center beam and tied a noose on the end. He stands on a chair with the noose around his neck and finishes the play. The young man then stepped off to his death. His spirit haunts the theater and usually shows up around 4am. He is most often heard reciting his lines in Spanish. In the 1920s a member of the board was killed by another member during a heated argument. That murdered board member's ghost is said to walk throughout the building. A piano has been heard playing by itself in the theater as well.

Ybor City is a great place to visit. If you are coming to Tampa, make time to visit this neighborhood and walk those brick streets. Are these locations in Ybor City haunted? That is for you to decide!

Show Notes:
Ybor City Ghost Tours:

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