Join us to reveal the dark history of this stormy town. The spirits here in Cigar City date back over 200 years, as the city has built up a rich history of confirmed hauntings and ghostly appearances by historical characters. Every ghost here has a fascinating story, and possibly a few relatives who are ghosts too; hauntings in Florida are often a family affair.
On your tour, you will stand in the very spots where horrid crimes were committed and hear the gruesome tales of unfinished business and emotional trauma that consigned these souls to live in limbo forever. Tampa Terrors will share the stories of those that didn’t live to tell their stories themselves.
Join our tour any night of the week to see eight mysterious locations across the shady Downtown streets and add the extended tour for a visit to four additional fascinating locations. Whichever you choose, you will have a deep insight into Tampa’s history and get an up-close and personal encounter with the most horribly haunted places of this corner of Florida.
No tour of Tampa is complete without looking at the history of the mob. Organized crime has had its hooks deep into Tampa almost as long as the city has been around. Tampa was a warm getaway when the other kind of heat was too much in Chicago or New York. Florida was the only place you could see a wise guy in shorts. So, where do Tampa hoods go when their collars might get felt? Cuba! The Caribbean connection is strong here too. Three cigar manufacturers received a deal they could not refuse, and they created the Ybor neighborhood from scratch. They abandoned Cuba and set up factory towns here, bringing a distinct Caribbean flavor to this Floridian town, even down to its ghosts!
Tampa is a family town.
You can’t help but bump into the name McKay if you spend any time in Tampa. The powerful dynasty has left their physical and spiritual footprints all over Tampa. Their multi-generational story has touched several of the most haunted places in Tampa.
James McKay Sr. was a broad-shouldered, six-foot-four Scotsman who emigrated to St Louis, Missouri, in 1846. He married a local girl and, based on a tip from a preacher, set off in a boat with all his worldly possessions (including a handful of slaves) to make his fortune in the new U.S. state of Florida. His boat promptly sank about 70 miles North of Tampa, right by the Chassahowitzka River’s swampy outlet. He had to repeatedly swim to shore dragging his passengers and possessions to dry land. They eventually made it to Tampa and settled in what was then a tiny town, setting up a lumber mill up the Hillsborough River staffed by his slaves.
Over the next 150 years, the McKay family played a pivotal role in making Tampa the town it is today. Their family legacy involves three Mayors, a bronze bust, running cattle to Cuba during the Civil War, and having a bay, and several streets bear the family name. They also have left behind a few ghosts along the way.
While you are on your Tampa Terrors haunted walking tour keep an eye out for the old City Hall to see the ghost of one member of this famous Tampa dynasty.
A deal with the Devil!
Other mayors of Tampa have ghost stories to share too. Tampa Terrors will tell you all about the City Mayor who married into the McKay family, their son Charlie, was the black sheep of the family. He rebelled against his privileged upbringing and chose a life of crime. Charlie ended up running illegal gambling in the city and butting heads with rival gangs. Legend has it he made a deal with the Devil to avoid assassination, but he got his eventual comeuppance after trying to do the right thing! He hasn’t gone to the bad place yet. His well-dressed ghost haunts the steps of the Le Méridien Tampa, a luxury hotel on North Florida Avenue that occupies a former court building. During the 1950s, he sang like a canary in front of a federal inquiry into organized crime in this very building.
The inquiry was prime time viewing on American T.V. in the 1950s, with a bigger audience than the Baseball world series. Characters that seemingly stepped out of the Hollywood casting room marked ‘gangsters and molls’ paraded into courtrooms across the country. However, the inquiry had little effect here in Tampa, or the rest of the U.S., except for Charlie, our black sheep gangster who testified in Miami, he was dead three days later! Tampa Terrors will take you to the steps his ghost haunts today, sightings aren’t guaranteed, but they have happened before!
The ghosts of organized crimes past.
One mobster in Tampa fled to Cuba before the organized crime inquiry. He ended up running Casinos in pre-revolutionary Cuba and had a strong connection to the underworld there. His contacts in Cuba made him a prime candidate for later coercion by the CIA to help assassinate Fidel Castro. An unsuccessful operation which may have caused the much more successful retaliation attempt on the life of John F. Kennedy by Castro.
Tampa has many ghosts of other mafia criminals, some with Junior or Senior at the ends of their names. Although Tampa was not a large city until recently, it has been big enough for more than one Organized Crime gang throughout its history. A fierce turf war in the 1940s had many casualties, some that have not quit this earthly realm yet.
The conflict was over a game that was called Bolita, an import of the Cuban cigar workers. The Cubans that ran the game sent all the money back to Cuba, which displeased local gangsters who wanted a piece of the action. The scene was set for a bloody turf war between the gangs that has created several ghosts around town.
The smoky history of Ybor
The atmospheric Ybor City district to the northeast of Downtown was Cigar Central for much of the 19th and 20th centuries. The tight-knit worker community was a wholesale transplant of a Cuban workforce to Tampa via Key West. A cigar factory owner in Cuba funded a rebellion that failed, forcing his migration to the Keys. A fruit trading friend later told him about Tampa and said the humidity would keep the tobacco soft. The city made him an offer he could not refuse, and Tampa got a new industry and a new neighborhood.
The workers brought their own culture, gambling games, traditions, and ghosts with them. A few decades after the neighborhood started, the terrifying story of Jose Luis Avellanal Jr. unraveled. A fraudster and fake doctor of Cuban heritage, he allegedly lured women to his hotel residence in Ybor City and murdered them, froze their bodies, and tried various loopy methods of reviving them. All unsuccessful. He haunts the basement of the Don Vicente Inn with several of the ghosts of his frozen solid victims. If you feel a cold draft on your walking tour with Tampa Terrors on a hot night in Ybor City, it might be the ghost of Jose Luis Avellanal Jr.
Tours set out every night, around sundown. Family-friendly and accessible for all. You will hear all about the history, hauntings, and horrors of Tampa. Join Tampa Terrors and take a wild ride through this Gulf-side city’s swampy history with some of Florida’s finest hauntings.
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