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(cross-answered in http://answers.gazebosim.org/question/8900/spawn-a-box-in-another-frame-than-world/#14360)

From experimentation, the -reference_frame option in spawn_model must be relative to a link in a model in the world. So in your case, the following modifications should work:

world.world:

...
<!-- Extra objects -->
<model name='unit_cylinder_1'>
    <pose>0 0 2 3.141592 0 1.57</pose>
    <link name='my_link'>
        ....
   </link>
...

And in your node args -reference_frame unit_cylinder_1::my_link