The city delegation sailed to Spain 98 years ago
At the end of July 1924, 98 years ago, delegates from Florida (mostly from St. Augustine) arrived in Spain. They would participate in the first event in decades to come of exchanging gifts and souvenirs between Saint Augustine and Avilés, Spain.
Angel La Madrid Cuesta de Tampa and owner of the Cuesta-Rey cigar factory, orchestrated and led the official delegation of Americans to Avilés to renew and strengthen ties between Florida and Spain and, by extension, between the Spain and the United States. Aviles is the birthplace of the founder of Saint Augustine, Pedro Menendez de Aviles.
The Ayuntamiento (city council) of Avilés invited representatives to attend the reburial ceremony of Pedro Menendez de Avilés in August 1924 and to accept his outer coffin as a gift from Avilés to Saint Augustine. Florida Governor Cary Hardee named nine people as honorary commissioners. Angel Cuesta served as a Governor Hardee’s personal representative.
Angel Cuesta was one of many young men who left Spain in the late 1800s for Cuba, then still a Spanish colony. Like his fellow Spaniards, Cuesta moved to the United States and established a cigar factory. Cuesta-Rey cigars were once the official cigar of King Alfonso XIII of Spain. Cuesta received the title of “Supplier of Tobacco to the King and Court of Spain”.
Governor Hardee named Colonel WA MacWilliams, Judge Obe P. Goode, Senator AM Taylor, Frederick S. Vaill, Frank Nix, Edward G. Vail, Robert Scott, John B. Stetson Jr., and Cuesta as delegates.
Remember that in 1924 air travel was not available to cross the Atlantic Ocean. Delegates and their families had to sail to Spain.
Mrs. Obe Goode wrote to her son in St. Augustine that they spent five days and 22 hours on the water. The Goodes visited France, Switzerland and Italy before traveling to Madrid to meet the other delegates on July 30.
From Madrid they left for Avilés and the ceremonies. It was stated in 1924 that it was “the first time in history that an American city sent a delegation to a city in another country”. The United States Ambassador to Spain, Alexander Moore, met with the Americans in Avilés.
On August 8, Avilésinos greeted Florida visitors with decorated streets, a parade, waving handkerchiefs and flares. The parade and delegates passed through the Arch of Welcome which read (in Spanish, of course) “the people of Avilés (welcome) the representatives of Florida”.
Visitors to St. Augustine had left behind the scorching August weather of our city for the cooler weather of Avilés. Film made of the parade and other events shows the women wearing coats and still a breeze stiffening flags and banners. Historically, the daytime temperature of Avilés at this time of year is around 72-75 degrees.
Reading the weather information for Avilés online, I thought “what a change the weather of St. Augustine must have been for the Menendez settlers of northern Spain as they prepared to establish our town in beginning of September 1565”.
The day after the parade, Florida delegates participated in a procession to escort Menendez’s remains to their new location. The reburial took place three days later, on August 12. Frederick Vail recalled, “The serious aspect of our visit has now changed to cheerfulness.” The visitors were lavishly entertained.
After the ceremonies in Avilés, King Alfonso XIII invited the Florida delegation to lunch at his summer residence in Santander. Vaill commented that the king and queen were flirtatious. King Alfonso remarked to Vaill that there were cocktails for visitors. The king exclaimed: “Let me see. You come from an arid country! In 1924, prohibition was in effect in the United States.
Menendez’s outer coffin was shipped from Santander in October 1924, a tangible link to our city’s Spanish founder. Today, the coffin is on display at the Nombre de Dios Mission in St. Augustine.
Note: Frederick Vail’s typed memorabilia and photos of the event in Avilés are available in the Historical Society of St. Augustine’s annual journal, El Escribano, for 2011.
You can watch a 30 minute video (“Avilés 1924”) on YouTube of the events of 1924 in Aviles. Subtitles are in Spanish. It is fascinating to see a celebration like this a century ago.
Susan R. Parker holds a doctorate in colonial history.