Ghosts of Ybor City come to life in a new self-guided audio tour of Tampa's historic district.
Secret City Walks introduces listeners to the people and places that shaped Ybor's rich past. James Tokley, Tampa's poet laureate, narrates in his deep, smooth voice, describing the tour as how "my city got its soul.''
Julia Gorzka, a marketing and communications consultant, and City Council member Linda Saul-Sena put together the walking tour to give locals and tourists a better understanding and appreciation of Ybor.
"A lot of people, when they think of Ybor, they just think of drinking,'' Gorzka, founder of Brand Tampa, an online social network. "There's so much more. It's one of the most special neighborhoods in the entire country. We wanted to make it accessible.''
Saul-Sena and artist friend Marilyn Mars researched and wrote the tour, originally called the Ybor City Ghost Walk, in 1996. The actor-led tours lasted a few years but stopped after Saul-Sena and Mars got too busy with their careers.
The idea sat until about a year ago, around the Super Bowl, when Gorzka got to thinking about ways to reach tourists using new technology.
"What do we do to keep them in Tampa other than drinking and eating?'' she said. "It's not an easy place to just show up and figure out what to do.''
Secret City Walks began in December can be purchased as a download on iTunes for $9.99 or as a CD on Amazon for $14.98.
The walk starts at Centro Ybor and lasts about an hour, depending on how long you stop for cafe con leche or a cigar, which is highly recommended.
The tour covers 11 points of interest, including Marti Park, the old Ferlita Bakery and the original Bank of Ybor City. A different character tells the story behind each place, sometimes in a thick accent reminiscent of the past.
There's Louis Shine, a Jewish merchant from Romania who came to Ybor in the 1890s to escape persecution in eastern Europe.
There's Victoriano Manteiga, a lector who read newspapers and novels to cigar factory workers and founded the newspaper, La Gaceta, which is still published.
There's Rosalita, a prostitute who was impregnated by her uncle in Cuba and sent to Tampa to have the baby and was forced to fend for herself.
The tours target locals looking for a new twist on date night or a pub crawl. They also cater to conventioneers or people on cruises with a few hours to fill. If successful, the tours could expand to other cities.