Long before Mayor Dick Greco was attempting to become the oldest Mayor in the history of Tampa, he was the youngest. Before he boasted of the experience he would bring to the mayoral position, he was the mayor with little experience. Before he was a political legend with his own statue, he had to defeat a political legend that was posthumously honored with a statue. Before he became Mayor Dick Greco, he had to defeat Mayor Nick Nuccio in the 1967 mayoral election, one of the hottest elections the city of Tampa has ever seen, an election that billed the young, handsome upstart against the old political legend. It was a heavyweight battle that changed the history of the city of Tampa forever. And it was a battle that started in 1963 when Mayor Dick Greco was known as City Councilman Dick Greco.
January 10, 2011, marked the 150th anniversary of Florida’s secession from the United States. Florida followed South Carolina and Mississippi and was the third state to leave the Union. The Civil War began three months later when Southern forces fired on Union-held Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor. The opening shots of the war were almost directed at Fort Pickens in Pensacola Harbor, but President Abraham Lincoln decided to resupply the South Carolina fort instead.
During the 1940s, Tampa was embroiled in political corruption. Organized crime and political patronage were rampant. So, with the aid of a few close friends, Albert Knapp began publishing an underground newspaper. The mimeographed paper featured open letters mysteriously signed "Abispo Verdi" in a squiggly hand. Knapp certified each letter using a green stamp pad as "official" with the impression of an anopheles mosquito poised to strike. Albert selected the name Abispo Verdi to mimic the popular radio show, The Green Hornet. He wrote his manifestos in a broken English dialect using Spanish and Italian words that confused grammar and spelling. Each manifesto focused on a particular local scandal and illuminated dirty tricks and chicanery, often in verse and always in ingenuous and humorous terms, with names changed slightly: Raul became Baul (meaning footlocker); Spoto became Spots; Spicola became SpiCocaCola.
For many people, the history of Ybor City ends after the first few decades of the twentieth century, the cigar-making community's golden era. Following a series of devastating changes–the rise of mechanization and the decline of the hand-rolled cigar industry, World War II, government-driven urban renewal, and the separation of the district from downtown and south Tampa by an elevated highway and toll road–the once-vibrant community gradually emptied of residents and businesses. Stalwarts like the Columbia Restaurant continued, but Ybor grew to resemble a ghost town mostly until a new form of life filtered in.
By 1939, Tampa’s cigar industry was clearly in trouble. Between 1929 and 1939, 17 factories closed, and Tampa’s cigar manufacturers employed about 5,000 fewer people than they did ten years earlier. A 1939 Tampa Times article cited “less than 20 plants which could be called ‘major.’” But in 1935, none of that mattered. In 1935, what mattered was the Cigar Industry Golden Jubilee. Over four days, the citizens of Tampa were invited to revere the industry that made the town famous.
In 1887- 188, Tampa experienced the worst of the Yellow Fever epidemic!
Death is not always gentle or timely. As you visit Oaklawn Cemetery, Tampa's c.1850 public burying ground at Morgan and Harrison Streets, it is a jarring fact that many of the early Tampans interred in that peaceful spot died in violent and painful conditions, and many at a young age. Most of Tampa's founding families lost members in that fashion.
In 1886, Tampa was a city in transition. A small outpost on the west coast of Florida, Tampa was a community of less than 800 residents in 1880. The arrival of Henry Plant’s South Florida Railway and the establishment of the cigar industry transformed Tampa into an ethnically diverse urban center in the New South. By 1900, over 5,000 people called Tampa home.
Maria Messina Greco delivered over 12,000 babies during her career as a midwife. She graduated from the University of Palermo, Italy, where she attained a degree in midwifery. She came to Tampa in 1906 as one of the first university-trained midwives in the area. She delivered babies throughout Tampa until retiring in the late 1930s.
AN INCIDENT DURING THE CIGAR WORKERS STRIKE OF 1901:AN EXCERPT FROM THE MEMOIR OF LUIS BARCIA GUILABERT
Thus begins one of the most startling and fascinating memoirs I have ever encountered. I did not know the man or even heard of him, but his words were so hot and piercing that I could not put the manuscript down. He wrote in Castilian and his son-in-law had them translated into English. The English are somewhat strained, so I procured a copy of the original Castilian memoir from Barcia's grandson, John Diaz, Jr. In that typed copy, many of the letters were fused into smudges that were difficult to read. But the task was well worth the effort, for, by the turn of the century, Tampa emerged almost unrecognizable from the ashes of a cigar industry bound in strikes and turmoil. In it, we glimpse a century of society's evolution in a few pages.
In the factories, social clubs, and neighborhoods of Ybor City, several distinct ethnic groups evolved into a "Latin" community. Several factors aided this slow but eventual transition.
As we got further and further away, it (the Earth) diminished in size. Finally, it shrank to the size of a marble, the most beautiful you can imagine. That beautiful, warm, living object looked so fragile, so delicate, that if you touched it with a finger, it would crumble and fall apart. Seeing this has to change a man.
James B. Irwin, Apollo 15
I didn’t expect to be Queen. I was so proud and happy to be chosen for such a beautiful club -Marian Italiano Greco
Sometimes, just sometimes, one encounters a fascinating account of a forgotten piece of time. While exploring the St. Petersburg Museum of History’s archives, the prolific writings of Major E.A Hitchcock, a little-known but distinguished soldier, were brought to life.
Sadly, during the 19th and 20th centuries, child labor was prevalent in our country. Our children worked in mills, mines, and factories 12 or more hours a day, six days a week. Americans knew the practice existed, but whether they knew the issue's scope or depth is still being determined. But it happened, and no one seemed to care.
Who was Gasparilla? The answer to that depends on who you ask. It is one of the first things people want to know when they come to our town for the annual Gasparilla Invasion and Festival. There have been many theories over the years, and someone back in time penned the following poetic explanation.
La Rosa Blanca
(The White Rose)
I cultivate a white rose, in July as in January.
For the sincere friend who gives me his open hand.
And for the cruel one who tears out the heart that gives me life, I cultivate neither thistle nor weed, I cultivate a white rose.
Jose Martí, 1853-1895)