TAMPA, Fla. - "He was the king, undisputed, of Tampa's criminal underworld for roughly three decades. A Jacksonville newspaper in 1912 basically called Tampa the most wicked city in the United States," said Jessica Wells. The University of South Florida history graduate student stood before a small crowd.
Starting in a downtown park, people came to learn about Tampa's seedier past.
Charlie Wall, the infamous 1920's gangster, was the center of discussion during a free walking tour that was offered by the USF history department and the Tampa Downtown Partnership. Wall controlled gambling, liquor, drug smuggling and prostitution during his days in power. His power and reach extended deep into the walls of the old city hall.
"The corruption and voting fraud in this town were so bad that contemporaries of Wall's basically said that there was not a single honest election in Tampa or Hillsborough County for all of the decades that he was in power," Wells said.
The group visited the old Floridan Hotel; where Wall would reportedly work his deals in the elegant Sapphire Room. Those on the tour soaked it all in.
"I loved it. I think it adds to the charm, it adds to the local color. It adds to the kind of stories that you can tell around the table. I think it's part of the patina that we are learning is the delight of Tampa," said Nancy Stewart, who has lived in the downtown area for a few years.
Though long gone, the scrub area on the eastern edge of downtown, was an area where racial segregation pushed crime into neglected, isolated and easily exploited neighborhoods.
"Pool halls, prostitution, this is is the place in downtown where you would come if you wanted to sample the illicit nightlife," Wells told the crowd.
Though the subject matter may not be 'chamber of commerce' material, these USF grad students feel it's important to keep it alive in the community.
"I think it's important in general to know the history of your city. One of the reasons that we create these tours is to try to promote community engagement," explained Wells.
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