TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – The oldest known cigars in the world are now on display at the J.C. Newman Cigar Co. in Tampa.
“What’s amazing about these cigars is that they pre-date the city of Tampa,” said Drew Newman, a fourth-generation cigar maker.
Deep in the cigar vault at the historic El Reloj building sit cigars discovered amid the wreckage of the SS Central America. The ship was traveling from Central America to the American East Coast in 1857 when it encountered a hurricane off the coast of Charleston, South Carolina.
The ship sank to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean, along with 425 passengers and over two tons worth of gold, personal belongings, and other artifacts.
“There are these moments when you get an absolute forensic sense of a particular moment, and the cigars to me represent that,” said Bob Evans, a scientist and historian who helped discover the wreckage in the early 1990s.
“The cigars, there’s something about an artifact, a historical artifact that’s compelling and counterintuitive. Cigars preserved in a trunk at the bottom of the ocean for 134 years. How counterintuitive is that?” he said.
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While docked in Havana, Cuba, a man named John Dement had purchased Cuban cigars before the ship departed for its journey up the East Coast. Dement survived the shipwreck, escaping by lifeboat. But his trunk of possessions was lost to the sea. Scientists discovered the trunk, his clothes, and the cigars amid the other wreckage.
“What’s amazing … you look at these cigars from 1857 and they’re rolled by hand, the same way my great-grandfather rolled them in 1895, and the same way we roll them upstairs at El Reloj in Tampa. It’s incredible,” Newman said.