Amidst all the news today about the U.S. and Cuba officially reopening diplomatic ties, it's easy to forget how close the nations once were. In fact, Miami itself was once a hotbed of diplomacy with Havana, thanks to a Cuban consulate located right in town on North Miami Avenue.
But don't expect that building to be part of any renewed thaw as old hatchets are buried. That's because the old Cuban consulate — a lovely building known as Villa Paula — is perhaps the most haunted building in Miami, all thanks to the ghost of a one-legged Cuban woman.
"It is said that her ghost permeates the house: shelves shake, sometime in the evenings a woman is seen in the hallway," Dr. Paul George of HistoryMiami tells New Times.
The story of Villa Paula goes back to the 1920s, when the Cuban government opened a consulate in modern-day Little Haiti. It was built entirely from materials imported from Cuba. The high ceilings, hand-painted tiles and columns designed by Cuban architect C. Freira echo other contemporary structures in Havana.
In 1926, Cuban Consul Domingo Millord moved in with his wife, Paula, a beautiful, young woman from Havana. The cause of her death is still unknown, but it might be linked to complications from a leg amputation. It was long rumored that she was buried in the backyard — though those most of those rumors have been debunked, according to an excellent piece on the residence in Biscayne Times from a few years back.
Either way, shortly after her death, the consulate closed. The building has been bought and sold a number of times over the decades since, falling into disrepair amidst numerous restorations.
Cliff Ensor, who bought the house in 1974, was said to have invited psychics to the home, one of whom supposedly pointed to five different ghosts in the building (one belonging to a maid searching for her baby). A Satanist was allegedly even brought into the house and started choking in one of the rooms.
Neighbors were spooked by the stories, crossing the street to avoid walking by the house. They’d cross themselves whenever they had to pass it. The stories made it difficult for the house to sell. Eventually, it was sold in an auction and then the buyer backed out after hearing the ghost stories.
In 2003, Martin Siskind bought Villa Paula and has renovated it, NBC 6 reports. Now, it stands conspicuously in Little Haiti, noticed only by passersby. Its current owners have tried restoring it and exhibiting expensive works of art by Cuban artists.
But weird occurrences have been reported by almost anyone who has stepped inside, and even the current owner says twice a year, flowers are mysteriously placed on a grave in the back.
“There was no foul play in Paula’s death. She died young and mysteriously,” George says. "These unexplained things happen in the house, and the idea has always been that it’s her ghost.”
According the Biscayne Times story in 2008, a black-haired woman would roam the hallways in a long dress. Only one foot was visible. There would be smells of coffee brewing and the smell of roses for no reason. Sometimes piano music would play and it’d sound like high heels were clacking on the back porch. Dishes, chandeliers would fall. The gate would slam shut suddenly, killing three cats in total. One owner reported a windowpane falling onto the spot where he had been sitting moments before.
Even though it was later revealed that Paula Milord was not in fact buried in the backyard, but rather at Woodlawn Cemetery, many believe she’s still the culprit for the unexplained happenings. But maybe it's reputation has grown simply because the original Cuban consulate is such an odd piece of Miami's relatively un-haunted history.
“There’s not a lot of haunted places in Miami,” George explains. “Miami is kind of young and we don’t have too many scary houses on top of the hills.”