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Florida city uncovers mysterious network of secret tunnels – as terrifying clues about their origins fuel wild theories


Tthe discovery of a mysterious network of hidden tunnels under a city ​​in Florida has given rise to wild theories about their origins.

The passageways beneath Ybor City, a suburb near downtown Tampa, remained hidden for decades until a series of discoveries revealed the underground network.

Historians have since widely speculated about their uses, ranging from moving moonshine, human trafficking and cash smuggling to simply «as sewage».

The most recent tunnels were found in 2018 near the Old Florida Brewery, near East 6th Avenue and Noccio Parkway, while construction was underway on a new office building.

The workers were demolishing the warehouse when they found a hidden passageway tall enough for him to stand there with a rounded ceiling.

Expansive tunnels that may have been used to smuggle Chinese-Cuban prostitutes during Prohibition were discovered during construction in Tampa, Florida’s Ybor City.

History professor and researcher Dr.  Gary Mormino described the tunnels to DailyMail.com as

History professor and researcher Dr. Gary Mormino described the tunnels to DailyMail.com as «nothing too remarkable to look at», flat at the bottom and wide, making them unsuitable as a sewer system, and all the more interesting to those wondering why they exist

Several of the tunnels are brick and only a few feet high and a few feet wide—just enough for adults to crouch or crawl through. Layered brickworks indicate that they were built by skilled workers.

According to Emeritus Professor of History Dr. Gary Mormin from the University of Southern Florida – St. Petersburg Professor of History Emeritus Dr. Gary Mormino The mysterious passageways beneath the suburb of Ybor City in Central Florida were talked about about 20 years ago.

Professor Dr.  Gary Mormino said the tunnels were likely part of a criminal network and that Ybor City officials would have known

Professor Dr. Gary Mormino said the tunnels were likely part of a criminal network and that Ybor City officials would have known

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Mormino, 77, who has been researching Ybor City’s history for about 40 years, said the first tunnels of this kind were discovered about two decades ago when work was being done below the Blue Ribbon grocery store.

«That raised the question, ‘Why would you build a tunnel in an area that has a water table about one foot below sea level?'» he previously told DailyMail.com.

While some have speculated that the underground passages may have been used by smugglers, Mormino said that doesn’t make sense and it’s more likely that they were used to bring in prostitutes or Chinese workers from Cuba.

Mormino described them as «nothing too remarkable to look at», flat at the bottom and wide, making them unsuitable as a sewer system, and all the more interesting to those who wonder why they exist.

Dr. Mormin’s work attempted to «rule out» the use of tunnels as well as establish their purpose.

«I ask myself, ‘What were the tunnels for?'» he said.

While some are quick to speculate that they may have been used to transport bootleg alcohol during the 1920s and early 1930s, Mormino said that doesn’t make any sense either.

In this undated photo, federal authorities are shown uncovering a buried stash of whiskey in the backyard of a home in Ybor City.

In this undated photo, federal authorities are shown uncovering a buried cache of whiskey in the backyard of a home in Ybor City.

Mormino told DailyMail.com that they were likely part of a criminal network and that Ybor City officials would have to be involved in the construction;  Ybor City's historic 7th Avenue is shown in this Nov. 28, 2016, file photo

Mormino told DailyMail.com that they were likely part of a criminal network and that Ybor City officials would have to be involved in the construction; Ybor City’s historic 7th Avenue is shown in this Nov. 28, 2016, file photo

«In the 1970s and 1980s, I interviewed many people who were involved in bootlegging in the 1920s and 1930s, and they all said that the only people who were afraid of the police were those who were not involved in racketeering,» he said . “If you paid the police, you were fine.

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Mormino shared a story about one of his interviewees named Sam who said his father was an Italian smuggler who would get a call once a month from the police saying he had to come in and be arrested and pay fines.

Once at the station Sam said the police would ask his father what name he wanted to be arrested under ‘this time’ and the next day the front page of the paper would say ‘Seven Italian smugglers arrested,” as part of a ploy to reassure the public.

In fact, Mormino told him that Sam had also told him that he was delivering crates of bootleg liquor to stores and when the police were there they opened the door and helped him carry the crates and praised him for being such an enterprising young man.

So Mormino decided that the tunnels were probably not used for smuggling.

The walls of the tunnel are made of several layers of masonry

The walls of the tunnel are made of several layers of masonry

The tunnels are large enough for an adult to crawl or crouch through

The tunnels are large enough for an adult to crawl or crouch through

Instead, he said, it was much more likely that they were used for «white slavery related to the transfer of women across interstate lines for immoral purposes,» along with the smuggling of Chinese laborers and Sino-Cuban prostitutes.

Ybor City has had a large Chinese-Cuban population since 1886, Mormino said.

«The Chinese were brought to Cuba after slavery ended in the late 1800s to replace slaves and work in the sugar industry,» Mormino said.

Founded in the 1880s by cigar magnate Vicente Marinez-Ybor, Ybor City became the center of the American tobacco industry. Immigrants from Cuba, Spain and Italy packed millions of cigars in the city’s factories.

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Mormino estimated that at the turn of the 20th century, Tampa city officials may have been involved in creating tunnels that would otherwise have been a massive and expensive undertaking for a criminal enterprise.

Using imaging techniques, scientists have mapped the direction and depth of some tunnels

Using imaging techniques, scientists have mapped the direction and depth of some tunnels

Another image shows one tunnel leading away from an industrial building

Another image shows one tunnel leading away from an industrial building

Mormino believes local leaders can extend passageways down to the harbor.

«Essentially, corrupt politics likely allowed criminal elements to use these tunnels as part of a vast, interconnected network,» he said.

But Mormino made sure that while it was fun to speculate about what might have been going on in those hidden passages all those years ago, anything anyone came up with was just a guess.

«To be honest, I don’t know if we’ll ever know the truth,» Mormino said. ‘Yours now a rather elusive story.

Dr. Lori Collins of USF’s Center for Digital Heritage said the tunnels are «quite substantial.»

Rodney Kite-Powell of the Tampa Bay History Center added that the tunnel found under the Blue Ribbon store may have been related to the former Ybor Cigar Factory.

He said it could have been used to transport money, adding: «Maybe it was a way to move cash around in the very early years… because it was kind of illegal.»

A 2020 report by the University of South Florida stated that several historians believe the tunnels were actually sewers.



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