Spacious tunnels that may have been used for smuggling in Chinese-Cuban prostitutes during Prohibition have been discovered during construction in Florida.
There’s been talk about mysterious passageways underneath the suburb of Ybor City in Central Florida going back about 20 years, University of Southern Florida – St. Petersburg professor Emeritus of history Dr. Gary Mormino told DailyMail.com.
Mormino, 71, who has been researching the history of Ybor City for about 40 years, said the first tunnels of this kind were unearthed about two decades ago when work was being down below a Blue Ribbon grocery store.
‘That provoked the question, “Why would you build a tunnel in an area that has a water table of about one foot below sea level?”‘
While some have guessed the underground passages may have been used by bootleggers, Mormino said that doesn’t make sense, and it’s more likely they were used to bring in prostitutes or Chinese laborers from Cuba.
Spacious tunnels that may have been used for smuggling in Chinese-Cuban prostitutes during Prohibition have been discovered during construction in Tampa, Florida’s Ybor City
These latest tunnels were found earlier this week near the Old Florida Brewery, close to East 6th Avenue and Noccio Parkway, while construction was being done on a new office building.
Workers were tearing down a warehouse when they found the hidden passage, tall enough to stand up in with a rounded ceiling.
Mormino described them as, ‘nothing too remarkable to look at,’ flat on the bottom, and wide, making them unsuitable as a sewage system, and all the more interesting to those wondering why they exist.
History professor and researcher Dr. Gary Mormino described the tunnels to DailyMail.com as, ‘nothing too remarkable to look at,’ flat on the bottom, and wide, making them unsuitable as a sewage system, and all the more interesting to those wondering why they exist
‘At this point, I’m looking at ruling things out,’ he said. ‘I’m asking myself, “What were the tunnels not used for?”‘
While some are quick to guess they may have been used to transport bootlegged alcohol during the 1920s and early 1930s, Mormino said that doesn’t make any sense, either.
‘I interviewed a lot of people in the 1970s and ’80s who would have been involved in bootlegging of ’20s and ’30s and they’ve all said the only people who feared the police were those who weren’t involved in the rackets’ he said. ‘If you paid off the police, you were fine.’
University of Southern Florida – St. Petersburg professor Emeritus of history Dr. Gary Mormino told DailyMail.com the tunnels (pictured) were likely part of a criminal network, and that Ybor City officials would have had to be in on the construction
Mormino shared a story about one of his interview subjects named Sam, who said his father was an Italian bootlegger, who would receive a call once each month from the police telling him he had to come in and be arrested and pay his fines.
Once there, 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 newspaper would read, ‘Seven Italian bootleggers arrested,’ as part of a ruse intended to appease the public.
In fact, Mormino said Sam also told him he used to deliver crates of bootlegged alcohol to shops and when the police were they, they would open the door and help him carry the boxes in, praising him for being such an enterprising young man.
So, Mormino has determined, the tunnels probably weren’t used for bootlegging.
Instead, he said, it’s far more likely they were used for ‘white slavery related to bringing women across interstate lines for immoral purposes,’ along with smuggling in Chinese laborers and Chinese-Cuban prostitutes.
Mormino said Ybor City has had a large Chinese-Cuban population dating back to 1886.
‘Chinese people were brought to Cuba after slavery ended in late 19th century to replace slaves and work in the sugar industry,’ Mormino said.
The professor guessed that around that time, city of Tampa officials may have been in on creating the tunnels which would have otherwise been a massive and expensive undertaking for a criminal enterprise.
While some are quick to guess they may have been used to transport bootlegged alcohol during the 1920s and early 1930s, Mormino said that doesn’t make any sense, because police were so ‘in on it’ that tunnels wouldn’t have been necessary; In this undated photo federal authorities are shown unearthing a buried whiskey cache in the backyard of a Ybor City home
Mormino believes that local leaders may have extending the passages down to the port
‘Basically, corrupt politics likely allowed the criminal elements to use those tunnels as part of a vast, interconnected network,’ he said.
But, Mormino made sure to mention, that while it’s fun to guess about what may have gone on in those hidden passageways all those years ago, anything anyone has come up with is just a guess.
‘I don’t know if we’ll ever know the truth, to be honest,’ Mormino said. ‘It’s a rather elusive story now.
Mormino told DailyMail.com they were likely part of a criminal network, and that Ybor City officials would have had to be in on the construction; Ybor City’s 7th Avenue Historic Street is pictured in a file photo from November 28, 2016