As you gather on the beaches of Tampa by day, it can be hard to imagine what the city was like before it was one of the four largest metropolises in the state of Florida. But long ago, when Tampa was first established it was a humble village, isolated from the rest of Florida and as such, had a poor economy.
But one neighborhood not only changed the story of Tampa but has stood the test of time and remains a vibrant and unique gem. Ybor City is chock full of historical buildings and culture… and even some ghosts if you choose to believe in such things.
If you want to take a ghost story tour in Tampa check it out here.
History of Ybor City
Whether you have been a long time resident of Tampa, or you are planning a vacation to the area, you may not realize the historical significance of the Ybor City area. Located just northeast of downtown, this area is unique due to the fact it was built and nearly entirely populated by immigrants of Cuban, Spanish, and Italian descent.
Originally one of the premier neighborhoods of the Tampa area founded in the 1880s, the city grew prosperous throughout the next 50 years until America’s Great Depression. Ybor City was founded by Vincente Martinez-Ybor who bought a parcel of land from Tampa in order to build a cigar factory.
Hand-rolled fine cigars were the primary industry of the Ybor City in its heyday, with 500 million cigars made in 1929, the peak of the town’s success prior to the depression when the demand for cigars decreased dramatically.
When the neighborhood was established, Ybor built many small houses to attract employees to come live and work in the cigar factories. Cigar rolling is a very specialized trade and soon the neighborhood grew to be one that was culturally diverse with beautiful architecture.
While time and age have destroyed some of the original structures, Ybor City is designated as a National Historic Landmark District. This unique neighborhood may have changed since its humble beginnings but this lively area is still a popular place to have a good time when you’re in the Tampa area. You’ll learn even more about Ybor City on your tour from your guide.
History of The Cuban Club in Tampa
One aspect that made Ybor City so unique in its time was the vast amount of mutual aid societies and clubs that were established. Typically for a sum of around 5% of a paycheck, you could belong to a club built and supported by average everyday citizens.
Members of each club and their families could receive services such as free libraries, sports teams, educational classes, and other social engagements and parties. Each club provided a place for its members to meet socially and gather to spend time together. Clubs were often split by ethnic divides within the community.
El Circulo Cubano de Tampa, otherwise known as The Cuban Club, was the club designated for light-skinned Cubans in Ybor City. The building that stands now was originally constructed in 1917 to replace another version of the club that burned down in the same place. It has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1972.
With a large ballroom space and a theatre, the building also at one time was home to a bowling alley, spa, restaurant, swimming pool, and rooms for other social events. There was even a medical clinic on site. Today, it is a multi-use rental facility that is available to rent for private functions and a location for our Historical Ghost Tour.
The Cuban Club, with its 4-story yellow brick structure designed with some Neoclassical design style elements, is a beacon of history in Ybor City and a stunning example of the neighborhood’s ability to prosper in difficult situations. And just like any place where many have gathered over the last 103 years, there are some spirits that call the Cuban Club home.
The Show Must Go On
Many actors have become disillusioned with their careers over time, but in the 1920s one actor took his feelings to a new extreme and died by suicide in the Cuban Club theatre, while on stage after forgetting his lines. Whether there was an audience present or not is up for debate, but while his Earthly body exited stage right, his spirit remains.
It is common in theatre spaces across the world to leave a “ghost light” on when the theatre would otherwise be completely dark. While this tradition of a bare bulb on a stand in center stage is said to be primarily for safety, there are many examples of how spirits have used these lights to communicate their presence to the living world.
An embarrassed and disgruntled actor could certainly haunt the space where he forgot that “the show must go on.” But what makes the situation worse, is that legend has it he was also the playwright. The Theatre at the Cuban Club is one of the most haunted spaces in Tampa, imagine how many individuals have spent time in there over its 100-year span?
Whether you will catch an unexplainable floating orb or see an image of an audience member in your photos later, you can be sure that if you believe in the unbelievable this space will not disappoint.
Little Jimmy, Ghost of the Cuban Club
One of the saddest ghost stories of the Cuban Club is the tale of Little Jimmy. As you tour the space today there is a Cantina, a three-tiered entertainment space perfect for large events and parties. But many years ago, the Cantina was the location of the Cuban Club’s swimming pool.
While history has young Jimmy as either an 8 or 9-year-old depending on who you ask, his fate remains the same. Jimmy went swimming in the pool unattended and tragically drowned. While ultimately the death was accidental, Jimmy’s spirit has never felt the need to leave the Cuban Club.
Little Jimmy is a playful spirit and has communicated with guests on ghost tours through their flashlights. If you find yourself with a flashlight inexplicably blinking on and off, don’t be frightened, that’s just how Jimmy offers his “hello.” Passerbys have also caught his little face peeking out the upstairs windows in photographs taken when the Cuban Club has been closed.
There are other playful ghost experiences that have been attributed to Jimmy including the elevators running with no one in them and doors refusing to shut. You can feel the youthful energy in these ghostly pranks. Ybor City’s positive energy is overwhelming with Jimmy. Many guests appreciate that the visits do not feel sinister and are the perfect first ghost encounter.
Other Ghostly Stories and Activity in the Cuban Club
Many of the ghosts that linger in the Cuban Club are nameless, their specific histories lost to time, but their spirits remain and are easily picked up with EMF monitors or thermal detectors if you prefer to go that route. Ghost hunters and popular television programs have found the Cuban Club to be an excellent site of metaphysical action.
It has been said that after an argument, one board member shot another in anger. Reportedly both of their spirits remain in the Cuban Club, both ghosts full of regret for their lives unfulfilled. Those who have made paranormal activities their personal hobbies have found great success at the Cuban Club.
There are tales of pianos playing themselves with sorrowful tunes and a woman in a white dress wandering the halls. As the Cuban Club has long been used as a wedding reception venue, it isn’t any wonder some spirits may choose to stay in the location of the best day of their lives for all eternity. You can see for yourself if you dare.
Your Experience Today
Whether you doubt in the paranormal experience and you’re simply interested in the history of Ybor City, or you fully anticipate the goosebumps and photographic evidence of life beyond the grave, the ghost tour pub crawl experience that Nightly Spirits will give you is unforgettable. Some visitors have mentioned hearing voices or whispers that cannot be explained away.
If you want the complete history and a great look at The Cuban Club, with all its storied past, both ghostly and straight forward, look no further than our ghost tour. The fun your guide provides will bring you a whole new perspective on the Tampa area you can’t get anywhere else. Check your pictures carefully just in case.
For a ghost tour of the Cuban Club in Ybor City like no other, look no further than Nightly Spirits for a memorable visit in the Tampa area. Walking around Ybor City is an enjoyable night on the town, with a touch of the spooky mingling with the historical nature, Nightly Spirits tour is sure to be a highlight of your time in Tampa!