Tampa has always been a city between two worlds, the American South and the Latin World of the Caribbean. From the arrival of Cuban cigarmakers aboard the SS Hutchinson in the 1880’s to the construction of the Selmon Expressway in the 1970’s, change and movement have defined the quotidian lifestyle of the average Tampan. This lack of surety in tomorrow has led to the rise of numerous superstitious beliefs in Tampa. Tampa residents in general have long claimed Tocobaga Indian burial mounds ward off dangerous hurricanes. On a smaller scale, superstition in everyday ritual shaped each community in Tampa, especially in the richly diverse neighborhoods of East Tampa.

el reloj clock tower

A melting pot of cultures, the Latin communities of Ybor City and West Tampa became melting pots of superstitious belief. Ybor City boys and girls believed if they let their father’s cigar match burn completely, they would soon be married to their true love. In West Tampa, two-dollar bills were believed to bring bad luck, leading many residents to rip off a corner.[1] Common amongst both communities was La Charada, a system for predicting the winning numbers of bolita lottery games based off dream interpretation. For Cuban households in Tampa, a visitor always had to leave the same way he came in so that he could take any bad luck with him. In Ybor City, old Afro-Cuban women were known to tie dimes on a string around their ankles to avoid financial bad luck. It should come as no surprise, then, to know that the cigar factories of Ybor City and West Tampa became sites of superstition.



Of Tampa’s hundreds of cigar factories, El Reloj stands as a monolith, larger and more illustrious than its brethren. This factory building was constructed by E. Regensburg Cigar Co. as their main manufacturing hub from 1910 to 1951. With a length of over 300ft and a height of almost 115ft, the massive clocktower cigar factory is hard to miss. The cigar factory once housed over 1200 workers with dozens more working in adjacent housing doing piecemeal work from home. The factory nurtured a small community of grocery stores and coffee mills which flourished into a neighborhood of thousands of Cuban and Spanish families tangled in the tangential business of the cigar industry. Each day, hundreds of cigarmakers would rise to the chiming of the clocktower’s bell at 6 o’clock. The bell also served to call wayward husbands and children back home in the evening.

Despite its ostensible importance to the community’s circadian rhythm, the clocktower had its share of problems. When J.C. Newman Cigar Co. bought the building in 1953, the age of the clocktower was beginning to show. As the population of cigarmakers dwindled after the Cuban Embargo in 1962, many came to see the timeless landmark as an eyesore. A Tampa police officer remarked that its inactivity in the 1960’s was a result of negligence. Stanford Newman claims a mother once asked him to turn off the bell because it was keeping her newborn child awake at night. One urban legend claims this woman was Tampa Mayor Dick Greco’s mother. Regardless, the next day a line of cigarmakers had formed to complain about the bell’s absence. Concerning the clock mechanism itself, an electrician named Wallace Jaka electrified the mechanism for the Newmans in 1956. This proved a poor decision in the “Lightning Capital of the World.” When lightning struck the factory, the mechanism died and remained inactive for many years.

wishing hour at el reloj 2023

Whatever the case for its inactivity, the clocktower was frequently out of order between J.C. Newman Cigar Co.’s move to Ybor City in 1953 and the clocktower’s restoration by Boyd Clocks in 2002. Perhaps due to this inactivity, many cigarmakers in the surrounding community began wishing upon the clocktower. It is here that the “Wishing Hour” was developed. Every morning, cigarmakers began wishing upon the clock at 9:15am in the hopes that all their dreams would come true. Because the clocktower was often frozen at 9:15am, the tradition gained massive popularity. Even today, J.C. Newman Cigar Co. honors the “Wishing Hour” every September 15th at 9:15am. A peculiar superstition, this is just another part of the special legacy of “Cigar City” seen in J.C. Newman Cigar Co.



[1] Perez, R; Perez, A L.; and Federal Works Agency. Work Projects Administration. Federal Writers’ Project. Florida., “Superstitions” (1930). Tampa WPA Office Papers. 18.

World’s Oldest Cigars

World’s Oldest Cigars

J.C. Newman Unveils The World’s Oldest Cigars Hand rolled in 1857, the cigars were recovered from the S.S. Central America shipwreckTampa, Fla. – Today, J.C. Newman Cigar Co. is unveiling a new exhibit featuring the oldest known cigars in the world at its historic El...