News, Jazz, NPR
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations
Arts / Culture

A Tour of the Haunted Cuban Club

Back in the early 20th Century, members of Ybor City's Cuban Club paid dues and had access to a medical clinic, a pharmacy, a theater, bowling lanes, a gym and a pool- all in the same building. It was the hangout. 

But today, this same building is said to be the hangout- for spirits. So much so that the Cuban Club has been rated as one of the top ten most haunted buildings in the nation by the Travel Channel.  

“One can make a case, if one accepts the paranormal, that this place has some activity going on," said Joe Howden, with Ybor City Ghost Tours.

The yellow-brick building stands three stories high on the corner of Palm Avenue and 14th street with a small double-sided staircase. Between two tall columns just above the door is the sign, Círculo Cubano- the Cuban circle. The stained-glass window above shows off the Cuban flag. The social clubs of the early 20th century had a distinct architecture.  

“They’re showing off. The Cuban Club wants their building to be nicer than the Italians, the Italians want their building nicer than the Germans, and so on and so forth," Howden said. 

Howden explained that spirits have an attachment with a place. They like to stick around. 

“What you really are, is energy sewn together by consciousness, you come from somewhere," he said. "We’ll say another dimension for ease. You come here, you pick up a body like a Hertz rent-a-car,  you use it for a period of time and then you return, discarding the automobile that you were in." 

Howden believes there are a few people who can't let go.

"There are some who can't transition and if you think about it in your life, you’ve probably known someone who’s in a toxic relationship," he said, "and from the outside you say, 'well, why doesn’t he leave her?' or 'why doesn’t she leave him?' Attachment.” 

And according to Howden, the Cuban Club was easy to get attached to.

“The Cuban Club is such a great place because I think there’s a lot of attachment here that might be out of love.” 

There have been quite a few deaths in this building. Back in the 1920's, an actor committed suicide on stage in the theater. A board member shot another after an argument and an 8 year-old-boy drowned in the pool down where the cantina is now.  

Syfy channel's Ghost Hunters came here in 2009 and tried to interact with that 8 year-old-boy, named Jimmy. They used a flashlight to communicate with him. 

A tour participant from earlier this month captured this photo. Can you see Jimmy by the stairs?
Credit Patty Summers / Ybor City Ghost Tours

Edit | Remove

"Since then, I've had several people on my tours use flashlights and he's responded through flashlights. Or let's put it this way, flashlights have come on and off," Howden said. 

He added, Jimmy has also spoken, in a whisper. Howden thinks those whispers are harder to rationalize. 

"The rational mind would say it was probably a voice coming from out the sidewalk or radio in an automobile, 'that’s what it was, yeah yeah, that’s what it was,'" he said,  "sure, but when someone very close to you, standing very near you says, ‘come play with me, will you come play with me?' That’ll get your attention.” 

Now, I didn't hear Jimmy when I was down in the cantina. Howden walked me through all four floors of the building after hours earlier this week and I didn't see anything out of the ordinary either. But when I replayed the tape back in the studio, there was a little something. 

We were talking as we walked into the lobby from the theater. I fumbled with the microphone while reaching into my bag. I asked a question and as Howden answered, there was another source of noise.  

Was it a third voice saying, 'hi' or just a glitch in the recording equipment? Listen for yourself. 

A Tour of the Haunted Cuban Club
Listen to the isolated clip here.

WUSF 89.7 depends on donors for the funding it takes to provide you the most trusted source of news and information here in town, across our state, and around the world. Support WUSF now by giving monthly, or make a one-time donation online at WUSF.org/ways-to-support.