Tales from the Graveyard: Buenos Aires’ Recoleta Cemetery

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Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires

Recoleta Cemetery is no ordinary cemetery. Consistently ranked as one of the top three attractions in Buenos Aires, it houses 4700 mausoleums and 30,000 souls. The cemetery was established in 1822 and its labyrinth of narrow passageways contain a treasure trove of elaborate marble crypts and stunning sculptures. Recoleta is the final resting place of many of Argentina’s who’s who, including the country’s most famous first lady Eva Perón. And, it’s loaded with stories—tragic, bizarre, disturbing, heartwarming tales of the dead. Dominique, our guide from Free Walking Tours Buenos Aires had me enthralled. I bring you a few choice tales from the graveyard…

 

The girl who died twice: Rufina Cambaceres (1883-1902)

 

It was at Rufina Cambaceres’ 19th birthday party when a friend told her that her mother was having an affair with Rufina’s boyfriend. Distraught, Rufina goes to her room where she is later found dead—a heart attack is suspected. She is placed in the family plot at Recoleta Cemetery. That night, the groundskeeper hears voices coming from the mausoleum. Investigation the next day finds the coffin moved several inches. When opened, scratches are found on the inside of the coffin and all over Rufina’s face and neck. The poor woman was mistaken for dead and tragically suffered a horrible second death trying to escape.

 

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The tomb of the girl who died twice: Rufina Cambaceres

 

The girl and her faithful companion: Liliana Crociati de Szaszak (1944 – 1970)

 

Liliana Crociati de Szaszak was in Innsbruck, Austria on her honeymoon when an avalanche swept over her hotel and she died of suffocation. Rumour has it that she and her dog  Sabú were so attached that he died in Buenos Aires at the same time. The life-size statue of Liliana, supposedly in her wedding dress, is strikingly beautiful. Interestingly, her beloved dog stands next to her; no one is quite sure what happened to her hubby.

 

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Liliana and her faithful companion in life and death

A grudge for eternity: Salvador Maria del Carril and Tiburcia Domínguez

 

An enormous mausoleum commemorates the life of Salvador María del Carril and his wife Tiburcia Domínguez. The weird thing is, the busts depicting the two have their backs to each other. The story goes that del Carril, an important figure in Argentinian politics, was outraged by his wife’s spending. He got so angry that he published a letter in major newspapers advising merchants that he’d no longer be paying for any of his wife’s expenditures. That didn’t go over well with Tiburcia who published her own letter describing what a horrible man her husband was and vowing she’d never speak to him again. Although they stayed together, she apparently kept her promise and didn’t speak to her husband for the remaining 20 years of his life. Tiburcia lived another 15 years, throwing lavish parties. Before she died in 1898, she requested that her bust look away from her husband. Ouch…holding a grudge for eternity can’t be good.

 

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The unhappy couple sit back to back for eternity

 

The body that was in transit for 24 years: Eva Perón (1919 – 1952)

 

The tomb of Eva (Evita) Perón, Argentina’s most beloved and controversial first lady, is the star attraction at Recoleta Cemetery, and the story of her journey to Recoleta is long, convoluted and macabre. This is an abbreviated version. Eva’s life was cut short by cancer at age 33.  Before a monument could be completed to display her body, her husband, President Juan Perón, was overthrown in a military coup and fled the country. The new regime wanted to erase all references to Peronism and this included “getting rid” of Eva’s embalmed body.  For almost 20 years, she was hidden away in places near and far—from a storage container labeled radio parts at a Buenos Aires military intelligence office, to a graveyard in Milan, Italy under an assumed name.

In 1971, Juan Perón, living in Spain, struck a deal with Argentina’s new leader to have his citizenship restored and the remains of Eva’s body brought to his residence in Madrid, which he shared with his third wife Isabel. Apparently, Peron had no place to put the coffin so he stored it in his dining room, frequently opening it to look at his well-preserved late wife.

Perón returned to power in Argentina in 1973 but left Eva’s remains in Madrid. In less than a year, he died of a heart attack and Isabel succeeded him. She was ill-equipped for the role but made a clever move to boost her popularity by repatriating Eva’s body. It was placed next to the deceased leader in a crypt in the presidential palace. This didn’t go over well with Eva’s family (the Duarte’s) who did not want her lying next to Isabel once Juan’s third wife passed away. A military junta solved that problem when Isabel was overthrown in 1976 and Eva’s body was quietly turned over to the Duarte family.

Finally, after 24 years in transit, Eva reached her final resting spot in the family crypt at Recoleta Cemetery. The tomb is unpretentious compared to others at Recoleta but crowds swarm around it. She’s safe now, two stories down, secured under two trapdoors and three plates of steel.

 

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Recoleta’s most famous tomb

 

The ugly duckling tomb: Gen Tomás Guido (1788 – 1866)

 

After all those disturbing stories, I’ll end with a nice one. The tomb of Tomás Guido, an important general in the Argentine War of Independence, is unlike any other at Recoleta. It is a rough-looking thing made of irregular shaped rocks. His son, poet and politician Carlos Guido y Spano, said: “Anyone can hire builders and artists. Out of respect for my father, I’m building this tomb myself, one rock at a time.”

In case you’re wondering, that green one next to the general’s belongs to Admiral Guillermo Brown, an Irish-born admiral and founder of Argentina’s navy.  His tomb is unique, featuring marine-inspired carvings. The green colour is in honour of his Irish heritage.

 

08 Brigadier General Tomas Guido, Admiral Guillermo Brown Founder of the Argentine Navy Recoleta Cemetery Buenos Aires

The rock pile and the green tomb have happier stories

Here are a few more photos from Recoleta Cemetery:

 

 

Categories: Argentina | Tags: , , , , | 18 Comments

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18 thoughts on “Tales from the Graveyard: Buenos Aires’ Recoleta Cemetery

  1. Your last photo makes me think of this cemetery as a City of the Dead in some fiction work. The stories you chose to include in this post remind me that the ways in which we are remembered are so often different from how people perceived us while alive.

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    • It really is very much a “City” of the Dead with the streets and mausoleums the size of houses. So true that some of these stories define how these folks are remembered (for better and for worse).

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Fabulous post, Caroline. Stories of people who once were…each of those stories are engaging. Love the spirit of Tiburcia though I do feel for her husband too! Hilarious photo of them sitting back to back. The other one I loved is that of the son building a rough tomb for his father. It is actually more charming than the rest, in my eyes. Cheers. xx

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m glad you liked the stories Dippy! Imagine sitting with your back to your husband for eternity…a bit drastic, I’d say but it does make a great story (it’s quite a bizarre mausoleum in all its overdone glory). I like the “nice” story too…I needed that.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: My 10 Perfect Moments in Argentina | Writes of Passage

  4. What eye-popping images Caroline, and what a wonderful post. You see the most interesting things in a graveyard, from the set up, to learning of folk’s life stories. Countless movies could be made, from a single trip, if observant people are watching.

    Ryan

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I’ve never been n a cemetery tour but I have to imagine that this is way more colorful than most. It seems like an interesting stop!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Even though I’ve visited Recoleta, I didn’t know any of these stories (or I’ve already forgotten them!). I was most fascinated by the fact that the cemetery was almost like its own city, with streets and houses … and cats! We loved roaming around in there, but these tales add a much more fun angle!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m glad you mentioned the city-like look Lexie! Recoleta Cemetery is indeed a wonderful place to roam around in. We spent another hour after our tour before we were kicked out for closing time. All the little “streets” are so cool (and the cats look well-fed)!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Brian Foster

    Sure is an interesting place to visit. Interesting stories to capture.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. You definitely picked the most intriguing stories, Caroline. The story of Rufina Cambaceres reminds me a little bit of an episode of an old TV series about a woman who was stuck in a coffin. I wasn’t aware either of the long way Eva Peron’s body took to finally return to Argentina. The only cemetery I’ve ever visited abroad was the Chinese Cemetery in Manila. It was interesting to see how long after their death some people can still captivate those who are still alive.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The Rufina story, and those like it, are dreadful aren’t they? Imagine being stuck in a coffin when you’re not dead. The Eva Peron story has so many twists and turns; I could have devoted an entire post just to it. She will be forever young and beautiful in the minds of Argentinians, making the story all the more captivating. Besides the stories, I’m intrigued by cemeteries and the rituals/traditions of death (not just the Christian variety). My most fascinating experience was in your country—Toraja, Sulawesi.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Impressive!!

    Liked by 1 person

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