Tampa has spent two decades carving out its identity in the Florida landscape. It brings innovative minds via the University of South Florida, a tier one research university. Tourists flock to see the animals at Busch Gardens or swim the chlorinated oceans of Adventure Island. But before this, Tampa attracted people through its main export: hand-rolled Cuban cigars. The former military town transformed under the hand of Vincent Martinez Ybor from a backwater Southern town of 720 people to the most economically viable city of the south. Thye 1910 census showed the population swelled to 37,000 people. By the 1920s, Tampa was the cigar making capital of the United States...and of the world.
The catalyst of this transformation, for whom a section of Tampa was later named, was born in Spain. He emigrated to Cuba and settled in Havana. Here, he founded his first cigar factory. When civil unrest formed between the two countries and culminated in Cuba's break with Spain, he moved to Key West with later factories expanding into New York. His luck remained sour as labor disputes erupted in both locations; Ybor looked to areas where he would find a more agreeable population. Tampa, newly rediscovered with Henry Plant's installation of a railway, offered the opportunity. Here, Ybor found weather similar to that of Key West and Cuba. This was great for the cultivation of tobacco and his workers were comfortable in the surrounding environment.
In 1885, Ybor took advantage of the inexpensive land prices and purchased 40 acres east of Tampa. He agreed to give cigar factories free 10-year leases if they would relocate there. Tampa's leaders were encouraged by the growth and bought an additional 120 acres west of the Hillsborough River in order to build more factories. This area became the center of the West Tampa cigar industry, marked by the distinctive architecture of the factories. Many were Revival Romanesque in style, composed of bricks, and hosting open floor plans. These three-story buildings were oriented east to west in order to optimize the sunlight. North side windows were built larger to facilitate air flow produced by the sea breezes. At the peak of the industry, there were 200 factories in the city. However, the Great Depression, combined with a series of worker strikes, a fire that devastated Ybor City, and the rise of mechanized cigar making led to the decline of the local industry. Hand made cigars were a luxury that many could no longer afford. Today, only a hint of history remains of the cigar factories. Of the 200 that once stood, only 25 still exist. Of those, 9 have been locally designated as historic sites. Today, one factory, J.C. Newman, still makes cigars.
The 21st century has shown a new interest in the buildings. Several have been purchased and transformed -- one is owned by Spaghetti Warehouse, while another is a center for the Church of Scientology. The Historic Berriman-Morgan building on North Howard Avenue was refurbished by engineer Nicholas Jammal into the Tampa campus of Argosy University. Open floors once used by cigar makers became classrooms and offices. The original bricks and pipes peek out from the walls, and the slight smell of tobacco on the third floor is reminiscent of the building's prior life.
History of the building: Berriman-Morgan Cigar Factory
Note: This building is recognized by the National Register of Historic Places as a "Contributing Structure Within the West Tampa Historic District"
*Erected in 1903 as the Berriman Cigar Factory (headquarters in Illinois and New York; (1897 - 1910). Romanesque Revival style.
*Basement used to store tobacco (coolest place in building) and to sort tobacco leaves for quality control (now: Student lounge and library). The ground floor accommodated the factory's cigar banders, quality control workers, loading dock laborers and factory administrators (now administrative offices). The upper floors: cigarmakers, raw-leaf selectors, and workers who striped stems from the tobacco leaves (now: lecture room, classrooms, employee lounge and offices for administrators and faculty). The property retains a 25,000-gallon water tower that once served the factory's plumbing needs. Bathrooms beneath the towers (now conference rooms).
* In 1911, Berriman sold the property to Morgan Cigar Factory (1910-1962) for $11,000.
*Morgan's 1,000 workers produced more than 11 million cigars annually for what became one of the premiere cigar factories in Tampa. Manufacturer of La Flor de Berriman, Jose Vila, Don Cosme, La serenidad, La Evidencia, Marc Anthony, and Light It . Specialized in private labels and clubs brands.
*1914: Owner spent $8,500 to expand the building to boost space from 400 workers to 700 workers.
*After Morgan's: General Cigar Co. (1964-1970)
*Tobacco Warehouse facility (1971-1979)
*Spent 4 decades unused.
*1998-Present: Office space, educational facility
*2004: The building was designated in 2004 as a national and local historic landmark and renamed the Berriman-Morgan Cigar Factory. Nick Jamal bought the building from the city for $600,000, started restorations (utilized old photography of the building for authenticity).
*In April 2008 the rehabilitated building earned the City-County Planning Commission's prestigious Jan Abell Award.
*2010: Argosy moved in; has a 10 year lease on the property.
The Haunted History:
*Building oddities in demarcation; 10 years ago the DOT/Federal Government was going to cause the building to be torn down. These were fought; made the highway match the historic district of the area. Nick: I wanted the highway to become part of the neighborhood rather than destroy the neighborhood. I wanted to help fix the situation which was started in the 1960s when they first started building the highway. The caused greater segregation with the building of the highway."
*When the building was being restored, workers would talk of doors opening and tools missing. When we would go and check, the doors would be open but the tools were there.
*Lynching in West Tampa (not the building) but some of the workers from the building were present
*1912 Stairwell Stabbing: There was a murder that happened on the 2nd floor stairway. That stabbing was covered up as a heart attack. (This seems to be the origin story for Pedro or Pacco).
*Graveyard near building disturbed when I - 275 built; Don't know much about the cemetery but they did disturb a lot of people.
* Serial Killer of West Tampa; one person killed near building in 1991, body hidden in shed. Cold case and unsolved.
Information (taken from page 5, USA Crusader) http://www.usacrusader.com/pdf/2006/2006-06.pdf): The Tampa Police Department is currently investigating three homicides, which occurred in the West Tampa area in September 1991 and December 1991. They are asking members of the community who have any information to please come forward. On September 24, 1991, at approximately 11:00 pm, Denise Clark,
28 years of age, left Doretha’s Bar located at LaSalle Street and Rome Avenue. She left by herself and was walking southbound on Rome. As she approached Rome Avenue and Nassau Street, she was confronted by an unknown black male, 25-35 years of age, approximately 5’6”-5’8”, 130-140 pounds, thin build and “Don
King” style hair. Denise Clark was able to escape from her attacker after being stabbed several times. She collapsed a short distance from the attack and died at the scene. The listed suspect fled from the scene.
On December 18, 1991, at approximately 5:15 pm, Latrenda Marion, 25 years of age was discovered next to an abandoned building located at 1010 West Laurel Street. She was last seen on December 17, 1991, at approximately 11:30 pm, leaving the Gold Nugget Tavern located at Howard Avenue and Beach Street.
Latrenda Marion died as a result of being stabbed several times. On December 28, 1991, at approximately 5:12 pm, Faye Wilson, 40 years of age, was discovered in a shed of the abandoned Cigar
Company located at 1403 North Howard Avenue. She was last seen on December 27, 1991, at approximately 8:00 pm, leaving by herself from Doretha’s Bar located at LaSalle Street and Rome Avenue.
Faye Wilson died as a result of being stabbed several times.
*2nd floor psychology wing... front closes randomly all times and no particular time of day or day of the week. It will close by its self and more than once when opened back up and propped open. 3rd floor administration area near Jeff's office smells of cigars smoke mostly during around 3pm. I think that's went Pacco takes his break.. Pacco is the name of our resident spirit.
*Smell of cigar smoke in elevator too. Mostly on 3rd floor.
*"I used to work on the 3rd floor in the addition area -- while I was doing the historic preservation part of the building. It was an interesting feeling that I kept to myself....whenever I crossed the line between the addition and the original building, I would get a chilled feeling. I watched people when they crossed the line -- I saw the do the same. One time, I had another preservationist who owned another building (the sister to this one) who met me for the first time. As soon as she crossed the line, she crossed the line and said that the building was haunted. I was so relieved."
*The smell of cigar smoke on the 3rd floor is so strong. We'll see smoke -- but there is no origin. The longer we are in the building, the more tobacco we smell. Now, more people smell it, too."
*Feeling: When walking on back stair case there is a feeling that something is trying to push me down...just a feeling of uncertainty. I was alone at the time.
*After saying there were not likely any ghosts in the building, my phone switched to speaker and started dialing out. Nothing was by it. It did this 3x and I was trying to stop it. Never happened before. The phone number began with 601. I found that: Area codes 601 and 769 are the telephone area codes for central Mississippi. The main area code, 601, was one of the original area codes implemented in 1947, and covered the entire state of Mississippi. (Basement/Library). I was alone in my office talking to student assistant outside my office.
*Item "falling" off shelf -- though it would actually to come off shelf to fall. Happened in front of the group. One person in the group said "there goes Pedro"...
*Two other people and I were talking about the changes at Argosy. A book on the book shelf tipped over and fell down.
11/1/18, post investigation note: so! Yesterday despite having attempted to get all ghost stories... a woman who has worked there for decades said when they first moved into the building ...they heard sounds of typing in a room that Jen? Was hot on saying something was there. The admissions officers on first floor over my head. Can we add this? And let her know there is a story about why she was insistent about the room.
A sensitive walked through the building and picked up the following items:
First floor: A sense of peace.
Basement: Feeling of heaviness; library with books: Might have been a group break room in the past. Closer to modern times: Someone had a heart attack but survived.
Student lounge: Possible connections with a speak easy or local mobs.
Backstairs: Sensation of being pushed; possible vortex.
She sensed that a woman had been killed and dragged somewhere else. The entities on the third floor saw her and tried to help her spirit.
A stabbing happened when the cigar factory was still a factory. Workers under Berriman were not happy with their working conditions (when Morgan took over the factory, conditions improved. He had two foremen, one was good with the workers and one was not).
Room 230: Workers are still moving through this area -- still working. Feelings of people moving through and rushing past.
Third floor: Room 301: Feelings of grief; sons have gone off to war. Also, a positive feeling -- philanthropy happened here.
SPIRITS investigation notes: A) Marina, B) Jen and C) Brandy
1)A) Outside, south side where the padlock door is, I had a feeling of being watched above from the South side. B) I felt someone watching us from the second floor window, which is in the back stairwell.
2) A) Library: Main room, I felt off balance, slight headache, but I lost that feeling when I went into the library itself. When I went back into the room, I felt it again. My heart was racing and my hand were shaking in that room.
A) Rhonda’s office: I again felt off kilter, shaking. B) Felt strange in the basement, but when I went into Rhonda’s office I had a clear thought that “it’s not here, it’s above you”. C) Library: I felt chilled and dizzy. At one point, I found a spot of very warm air in the middle of the room. This may be a paranormal hot spot by the desk. I also felt heat on the back of my hands -- a sensation like having energy drawn from me. =
3) In hallway walking back to student lounge area…when he was talking about flooring, I heard a noise in the student lounge as if someone was in there. I asked if anyone was in there and she said “no”.
4) Back stairwell: Equipment acting oddly
5) First floor hallway: cigar smell.
6) A) Second floor: Right before temp and EMF changes, I heard what I thought was someone shuffling behind you all. It was at the same time that Rhonda got the chills. When I went down to check, I heard a knock. I had goosebumps all over my body. Temp dropped to 72 degrees and went back up to 74. B) I kept hearing “It’s on the second floor”….that’s where we want to be. When we stepped out into the 2nd floor hallway from the elevator, I felt light-headed and dizzy, like I had a weight in my stomach. Going to that stairwell, I also felt like there was something there. C) I felt very dizzy on the stairs heading to the second floor. When we first stepped out from the stairwell onto the floor, I had "dim sight" -- I actually touched my face to make sure that I was not wearing my sunglasses (I was not). I have no idea how to account for this "dim vision" as it has not happened to me before.
7) A) There is something about the psychology hallway – weird vibes, but not sure why. C) I again felt dizzy and warm as soon as I stepped off the elevator into the lobby of the psychology wing. The floor does dip there but it was still odd.
8) A) Third floor break room, I felt off kilter. We asked questions, there were temperature fluctuations: 76.1 – 83.9.
9) A) 3rd floor: Smell of cigars B) Third floor: Tobacco smell. Third floor near elevator felt dizzy again. C) Tobacco smell.
10) A) Admissions office – pulled in that direction; like there is someone in there
11) B) Drawn to the courtyard but not sure why.
12) A) At the end of the investigation it sounded like someone trying to get in through the lobby doors. B) I felt a pain in my left side, a stabbing pain.
Areas to recheck:
2nd floor, psychology wing, back stairwell, library
Track down the cemetery.
Start up and work down.
So far, nothing unusual manifested. I initially thought that a green orb in a series of my photographs, which appeared to "move" from one shot to another, may have been proof of the ghost but retesting the area showed that this was natural phenomena. The bright light at the end of the hallway caused an internal light refraction.