As Ybor City celebrates the 200th anniversary of namesake’s birth, mausoleum reflects different birth year

Published September 2 2018
Updated September 3 2018

It is the 200th anniversary of the birth of Vicente Martinez-Ybor. Or is it 199?

Throughout the United States, obituaries announcing the Dec. 14, 1896 death of the founder of Ybor City listed his birthplace and birthdate as Valencia, Spain on Sept. 7, 1818.

Yborís mausoleum in downtown Tampaís St. Louis Cemetery tells a different story. His birth date carved into stone reads Sept. 7, 1819.

Uh oh.

On Friday from 5-8 p.m., the Ybor City State Museum is celebrating the 200th anniversary of the birth of the man who, by bringing the cigar industry here, turned Tampa from a small town into a thriving metropolis.

Yborís great grandson said the museum should not remove a candle from the cake.

"He was absolutely born in 1818," said 89-year-old Rafael Martinez-Ybor, who for four decades has been caretaker of his great grandfatherís mausoleum.

As the family story goes, he continued, the mason erred when he made the headstone. Yborís children meant to fix the date, but never did.

Every four or five years, the great grandson said, he has the mausoleum cleaned and repaired. But, he has long feared that changing 1819 to 1818 could crack the stone plate that is more than a century-old. Preserving the original, he said, means more important than a number.

A historic marker near the Ybor statue on Seventh Ave. in Ybor City bears the correct 1818 date, as does the plaque adorning Yborís bust on Historical Monument Trail located on downtown Tampaís Riverwalk.

But, because of the mausoleumís error, an online search found numerous publications and websites citing 1819.

Perhaps a marker should be installed next to the grave "to clear up the confusion," said Andy Huse, a member of the Hillsborough County Historical Advisory Council that oversees local historic markers.

Tampa historian Gary Mormino is "dubious of any dates, unless you were able to look at the baptismal records in Spain."

Still, he added, Ybor judged employees on the quality of their rolled cigars rather than the daily quantity produced.

"Time was not nearly as important as craftsmanship," Mormino said. That is "my way of saying Ybor would have been amused at our confusion over precise dates and times."

Of all the publications that published Yborís obituary, said the great grandson, the one he believes is of "great importance" is the Tobacco Leaf Journal. "That was the bible of the cigar industry, the encyclopedia of the cigar industry. In that article it says he was born on September 7, 1818."

It also says the Tampa mausoleum was a temporary home for the body and would then become a symbol of what he meant to the city. His body was to be permanently interned in Havana, where Ybor initially found success in the cigar industry.

"The family later decided to leave him close to Ybor City," the great grandson said. "That is where he belongs."

Contact Paul Guzzo at Follow @PGuzzoTimes.