It was a dark and stormy night . . . .
Well, not really. When we first visited the world-famous La Recoleta cemetery in Buenos Aires, it was a beautiful, sunny spring morning. Even so, my first impression was that La Recoleta was the creepiest place I’d 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, our earthly remains 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. It’s all just . . . . (sorry, Kansas) . . . dust in the wind.
We spent eight days in Buenos Aires in 2016 as part of a bigger trip to Argentina and Uruguay, and La Recoleta Cemetery was a big highlight. Here’s the official website with more information about visiting the cemetery.
These are the La Recoleta 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 uncle 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.
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 Lilliana’s 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.
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.
Firpo 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!
La Recoleta is easily one of our favorite places in Buenos Aires. Here are more pics of this beautiful, peaceful, and yes, haunting place.
(Mouse over images for captions, and you can also click through them in “slide show” format.)