I recently came into possession of nearly 20 postcards all addressed to a Mr. Rogelio Sierra of Ybor City, Florida.
What intrigued me about this particular set was that these cards, sent from 1908-1911 were sent from all over the world and in many different languages.
A few of the cards were signed by what seemed to be a code. “Affectionately Yours, 4298” and “Dear 4598, I received your correspondence….”
I began to translate the non-English cards (Thanks to my bilingual friends and Google Translate). There were quite a few references to “The Globe” and mentions of the senders’ pleasure that Mr. Sierra was joining the Berlin branch of said Globe.
Naturally, my mind working the way it does, it made the logical conclusion that I was now in possession of Top Secret spy correspondence.
I decided to look into Mr. Sierra and his international ring of friends a little closer.
Rogelio Sierra was born in Havana, Cuba in September of 1882 to Ramon and Maricella Sierra, who had immigrated from Spain as young adults.
In 1897 Ramon Sierra made the decision to leave Havana for a newly founded “company town” in a burrough of Tampa, Florida. Ybor City was founded by a group of cigar manufacturers in 1886 who had moved their cigar operations to the area. Ramon is listed as a “cigar packer” in the city directories and censuses. Rogelio and the rest of his family followed in 1899.
Ybor City provided home ownership opportunities and a wonderful, vibrant community for the cigar workers and their families. Rogelio and his family would have lived in a casita similar to one of these.
While by all accounts, the Sierra family was a vibrant and loving family, wealthy it appears they were not. So how did Rogelio come to have friends and correspondents from all over the world?
I decided to take a look at the senders.
Wilfred W. Wright from Leeds, England. Surely, old Wilfred was going to turn out to be some James Bond sort right? Not exactly. Wilfred was a single man born in 1862 to Sam and Frances Wright. He worked as a Toy Manufacturer’s agent before joining the family biz of making confections. That’s right, he was a candy maker. So far we have Cuban Cigars and English candies.
Not exactly the route I thought I would be going with this one.
What connected Rogelio the Cuban American to Wilfred the English candy maker? Not to mention the Philippino gentleman, the German bookseller, the Colombian, Argentinian, Frenchman and Mexican?
I finally figuered out the common thread that ran between each one of these people. They were dreamers. They knew there was more to the world than the small little section they inhabited. Most of them did not have the means to travel. They lived in modest homes on modest incomes. They didn’t have the Internet of course. They didn’t even have access to “worldly” people for the most part. What they did have was “The Globe”. A postcard penpal club that was formed to share the world with its members. Each member was given a membership number and each number had a list of specific interests that the senders could take into consideration when choosing which card to send them. Rogelio liked maps and city views.
While it turns out I didn’t stumble across an international intrigue ring, I have to say I think what I did find is even better. A group of men who discovered a way to see the world regardless of the fact that their circumstances didn’t alot them to do it in person at that point in their lives.
And Rogelio? He did get to see the world. He died in Portugal in 1958. Something tells me he wouldn’t have had it any other way. That makes him a pretty cool guy to me.