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Not really. The first time we visited the world-famous La Recoleta cemetery in Buenos Aires, it was a beautiful, sunny spring morning (since we were there in late September, right on the cusp of winter into spring for that latitude). My first impression: this is the creepiest place I’ve ever seen. But as we wandered around, gobsmacked by the incredibly ornate mausoleums in every state of repair and disrepair, I began to feel more reflective. It doesn’t really matter how much money your family spends on an elaborate tomb – once you’re gone, you’re gone. And eventually, we all end up in the same state whether we’re in a stunning marble monument created by the best Italian sculptors of the day, or a pine box in the ground.  We’re all just . . . . (sorry) . . . dust in the wind.

On our first visit, we were on our own – but we felt we had to know some of the stories behind these monuments. After our visit up to Iguazu Falls and return to Buenos Aires, we went back to La Recoleta and took a guided tour. Here are some of the stories that moved us the most.

The Horror Story
Honestly, I want to take this one with a grain of salt. It’s the kind of story your crazy uncleimg_6450 might tell around the campfire to try and freak everyone out. But it’s so lurid that it’s probably true.

Once there was a teenage girl named Rufina Cambaceres who suffered from a type of epilepsy that could render her unconscious for hours at a time. On an evening in 1902, while preparing to go out with her mother, Rufina had a seizure. Many hours later, it appeared that she had finally died – and this was confirmed by at least two doctors. Rufina was laid to rest in La Recoleta.

As the weeks went by, there were rumors of strange noises coming from Rufina’s tomb, and cemetery workers found the lid to her coffin slightly ajar (are your hairs standing on end yet?). When they finally decided to investigate, they discovered scratch marks on the inside of the coffin lid and on her face. Apparently she had come to, panicked, and tried to claw her way out. When she couldn’t escape, she finally succumbed to a heart attack.

Poor Rufina’s mother was so overcome with guilt and grief that she laid her to rest in a fabulous new tomb – a stunningly elegant example of the Art Nouveau style of the period. At the door of the tomb stands a marble statue of Rufina. She’s standing outside with her hand on the latch, because her mother wanted her never to feel trapped again.

The Heiress

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Liliana Crociati de Szaszak died tragically in an avalanche in Innsbruck, Austria in 1970. She was only 26, and she was on her honeymoon. Her overcome parents laid her to rest in a lovely Gothic Revival tomb and commissioned a bronze statue of Liliana in her wedding dress. When her beloved dog died a few years later, his statue was added and he was also buried in the crypt, against cemetery rules (apparently it’s OK to inter pet ashes, but not pet bodies). A couple of levels down in the tomb, where Liliana’s casket rests, is a to-scale replica of her bedroom completely with Persian rugs and silk cushions.

Lillana had some company from a feral cat the day we were there. Visitors have petted the dog’s nose to a sheen.

The Woman With a Grudge
Tiburcia Dominguez de del Carril was the wife of Salvador M. del Carril, a prominent politician – and she was quite a shopaholic. Apparently her spending was so out of control that her husband finally took out an ad in the paper saying he was no longer responsible for her debts. She never forgave him, and although they stayed married until his death 30 years later, they never spoke to each other again. In her will, Tiburcia specified that she should be buried in her husband’s tomb but in a separate vault, and her marble likeness should face away from his. BURN.

The Pugilistimg_7436
In the 1920s, Luis Ángel Firpo was Argentina’s most famous prize fighter. In one of the sport’s most famous and controversial fights, Firpo challenged Jack Dempsey for the world heavyweight championship in 1923. He almost won when he knocked Dempsey out of the ring. Apparently Dempsey had a little more help getting back into the ring than was really legal, and there was some question about the speed of the count (the referee had counted four but it was more like 14). Despite the charges of a rigged match, Dempsey hung onto his title.

The Final Rest
For many of us, Eva “Evita” Perón needs no introduction, as the first lady of Argentina from 1946 until her untimely death from cancer in 1952. Depending on who you talk to, she was either a whore who slept her way to power and (together with her husband Juan Perón) destroyed the Argentina economy, or a saint and champion of the poor whose programs benefit Argentine citizens to this day (a fact). No one has a neutral opinion about Evita.

When she died in 1952, Evita’s body became a political football. It’s a long and fascinating story – just Google it – but the upshot is that the corpse traveled to Europe and back and got passed around quite a bit before finally ending up in the Duarte family tomb in La Recoleta (she was a Duarte before she was a Perón). Compared to the grandeur of many of the tombs here, this one is rather underwhelming; not at all what you’d expect. Eva’s final resting place is five meters down in a vault that’s supposedly designed to withstand a nuclear attack. At least, they CLAIM she’s there! Bwhahahahaha!
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La Recoleta is easily one of our favorite places in Buenos Aires. Here are some more pics of this beautiful, peaceful, and yes, haunting place.

22 Comments

  1. What an amazing post, you two. It seems we learn a bunch of cool stuff every time. A real-estate agent who specializes in used tombs? Who knew? Suppose there’s an MLS listing for those things? Location, location… My favorite is the epileptic girl and her pseudo demise. If that’s a true story, it really does shiver your spine. And the whole thing lends itself so well to your great photography. Well done, and keep ’em coming!
    M/B

    P.S. Thx again for yesterday’s adventure.

      • You’re right Susan, we will be making that trip in 2017. My dad was a sexton while I was growing up, so I absolutely love cemeteries. By wasn’t sure what to make of my affinity for stopping & wandering through graveyards when we first started dating. Now he just knows we’ll likely be seeing a cemetery or two in our travels. Mariah

  2. Mike Potts Reply

    Another literary home run and how appropriate for Halloween.  Great writing and great photos.  Well done on all fronts.  I’m impressed!

    Mike

    Sent from Samsung tablet.

  3. Great post! Looks like we are going to have a very hard time doing what we want in BA when we go…..seeing it is on New Years Eve! Apparently, according to Orlando, not too many people want to do anything on that day. Maybe we can at least hail a taxi and have him take us to the cemetery and back to the port at the very least. I have an email enquiry in to 2 tour businesses that Orlando suggested. Guy

    On Sun, Oct 30, 2016 at 4:16 PM, Latitude Adjustment wrote:

    > Latitude Adjustment: Two Wanderers in Panama posted: ” Not really. The > first time we visited the world-famous La Recoleta cemetery in Buenos > Aires, it was a beautiful, sunny spring morning (since we were there in > late September, right on the cusp of winter into spring for that latitude). > My first impression” >

  4. Oh, every time I read one of your posts, I say, “This is my favorite.” But, THIS post is truly my favorite by far. I love cemeteries and am always fascinated by the stories. These stories are fitting for Halloween. Thanks for sharing.

  5. candice chrestman Reply

    Wow! I got me some Halloween chills! Gorgeous pics and a great story! Thanks for sharing!

  6. Sue Leverton Reply

    What a wonderful trip. I love cemeteries…cremation sure lacks theatre.

  7. I have never thought of visiting a cemetery but La Recoleta is certainly a must visit…What stories you have got there…especially about Rufina..

  8. Oh..I’d like to share this post on twitter. Do you have a twitter account? Then I can mention you as the author of the post.

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