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New app lets Ybor City visitors see and hear the story of Cuban revolutionary José Martí

Ybor City historian Gary Mormino wrote the script for the new Jos? Mart? Trail app.
Ybor City historian Gary Mormino wrote the script for the new Jos? Mart? Trail app.
Published Apr. 15, 2016

TAMPA — If you want to retrace the steps of 19th century Cuban revolutionary José Martí in Ybor City, you no longer have to rely on a few lines from faded historical markers.

Now you can hear the whole story on your smartphone.

"To understand his place in Cuban history," the narrator starts, "one needs to imagine an American who combined the intellectual, organizational and oratorical talents of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln."

The new José Martí Trail app will take smartphone users on an intimate tour of historic Ybor City. It has pre-recorded monologues for nine historic sites in Ybor City where Martí rallied support from Tampa's cigar workers to liberate Cuba from its Spanish occupiers.

The app was released Thursday and highlights where Martí gave stirring speeches at El Liceo Cubano; organized volunteer fighters; and recuperated after an assassination attempt in 1893. While the narrator speaks, Spanish guitar and sound effects play in the background.

"We kind of based it on 1930s radio programs,'' said the Florida Humanities Council's Jennifer Snyder.

"As we go through the stories, you're going to get explosions, you're going to hear people marching,'' she said. "We tried to bring it to life.''

The council worked with the Ybor City Chamber of Commerce, the Hillsborough County tourism agency Visit Tampa Bay, and the public relations firm Tucker/Hall to produce the app. The stories told in the José Martí Trail app are also part of the council's other app, Florida Stories, which tells the history of other cities in the state.

The Martí script was written by Ybor City historian Gary Mormino, professor emeritus at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg.

Mormino noted that Martí, who died at age 42 while fighting in Cuba in 1895, made two dozen trips to Tampa to raise money and recruit volunteers.

One of the more dramatic incidents recounted in the José Martí Trail app happened in 1893, when two men working for the Spanish tried to kill Martí by poisoning his wine.

"There's kind of a redemptive story,'' Mormino said at Thursday's launch of the app. "The plotters eventually came to his side and asked for his forgiveness.''

The app also tells the story of Martí's recovery under the care and roof of Paulina Pedroso, one of the revolution's most prominent women, on the site of what is now José Martí Park. That slice of Ybor City is the only plot of land in the United States still owned by Cuba.

The app's users will also be able to stand on the cast-iron steps of the old Vicente Martinez Ybor cigar factory and hear about the time Martí posed with cigar workers and declared: "I am happy to be among warriors.''

They'll also learn about Martí's rousing speech at El Liceo Cubano in 1891. He was hoisted on the crowd's shoulders and paraded through Ybor to the accompaniment of patriotic songs.

Bill Carlson, president of Tucker/Hall, came up with the idea of the José Martí Trail app after a visit to Cuba with a delegation including La Gaceta editor Patrick Manteiga, a supporter of the effort to bring a Cuban consulate to Tampa.

Carlson said Cuban officials have talked about including Tampa in tourism packages to Cuba aimed at Asian and European visitors, who are fascinated by Martí. He said such an app might help lure them to Tampa.

"It tells our rich history," Carlson told the crowd Thursday at the Ybor Visitor Center. "It tells the world that we're anchored in a long tradition, and it connects us to Cuba."

Visit Tampa Bay vice president of marketing Patrick Harrison said the app is the kind of lure that could make a difference as more visitors forgo traditional beach vacations to explore culture.

Snyder sees the app as a valuable tool for teachers, too. When they can't take the students on a field trip, the app brings the field trip to the students.

"We can now bring the history of Ybor into the classroom," she said.

Contact Philip Morgan at pmorgan@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3435.

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