The show must go on… even if you aren’t around to see it. Important funeral homes like Lazaro Costa offered rental carriages for grand processions to Recoleta Cemetery. The above photo appeared as an advertisement in the society magazine “Caras & Caretas” with the following text:
For 200 pesos, a good funeral service with four horses & a footman, including an imitation mahogany coffin, open casket service, liveried carriages, notices placed in newspapers, etc.
Although a friend sent me this photo & did not record the publication date, surely this is from the early 20th century. Assuming this could be from 1915, 200 pesos would be the equivalent of $83 USD, or $1,930 USD in today’s currency!
Every so often, I’m surprised by people’s interest in Recoleta Cemetery. Most appreciate its beauty as well as enjoy Argentina’s history condensed into four city blocks. And many people admire the cats… but no one loves them more than Blake.
Blake Kuhre contacted me several months ago about his plan to make a documentary telling the story of Recoleta Cemetery’s most famous living residents. Marcelo did some investigation as to their well-being & care several years ago, but Blake went even further. He actually managed to interview the woman who organizes & pays for keeping the cats healthy & happy. Access we couldn’t get in 2010!
Blake talks about his inspiration for the documentary:
Visitors from all over the world visit Recoleta Cemetery expecting to just pop in and see a few famous tombs, take in the gorgeous architecture, then check it off their list and move on to their next spot. But before they leave, so many are smitten with the dozens of friendly cats that have been part of Recoleta Cemetery for many years. How did they get there? Who’s taking care of them? How can I help? These were all questions we asked ourselves 7 years ago when we first visited, and it killed us to return home to the US, back to our day jobs, all the while wondering and wishing we had closure.
By contributing to our campaign, you’ll help help preserve the legacy of the Guardians of Recoleta for many years to come. We say “Guardians” because cats are very independent and no one actually “owns” them, the cats themselves are de facto guardians of the cemetery, our main character has been their Guardian for 20 years, and you’ll also become a Guardian by contributing to our campaign. Ideally, we’d like to see every cat adopted but the truth is even if this goal were achieved, people will still use Recoleta Cemetery as a dumping ground for their unwanted felines. Your donation will help get our documentary made and distributed, spread awareness to the situation and cause, champion pet adoption, TNR, and help us establish & partner with a Buenos Aires non-profit to ensure every cat will continue to receive care.
With three weeks left for the campaign, Blake’s project became a Kickstarter staff pick and was featured in the Film & Video category. 25% of funds have been raised as I write this… please help spread the word & contribute to make a permanent record of the guardians of Recoleta Cemetery. I’ll be donating as well as giving an exclusive tour of the cemetery for some lucky contributors.
Thanks for the support!
Update (03 Oct 2014): Very happy to report that Blake reached his goal, so the cat documentary will become a reality! We contributed USD 500 to the project & will soon be hosting Blake in Esquel. More behind-the-scenes production news soon…
Update (24 Nov 2014): With funding secure, Blake got to work scheduling interviews. I offered to fly to Buenos Aires, but he had a better idea… why not film my interview where I live? Brilliant. Blake spent one evening in Esquel, but I was able to show him a little of what makes Patagonia special. The scenery will be a good counterpoint to the cemetery & happy about my second video appearance!
It’s nice to know that our years of research & coverage of Recoleta Cemetery have not gone unnoticed. We were recently contacted by the British newspaper The Guardian, expressing a desire to include this blog in a new project that they hope will be:
“a hub for fresh ideas, thoughtful discussion and brilliant writing about urban life and the future of cities around the world.”
Any chance to spread the word about Recoleta Cemetery is more than welcome. Their recommendations were published on 27 Jan 2014, & we are honored to be considered a leading voice on Buenos Aires. Gracias!
Tucked away in the seemingly infinite rows of mausoleums in the southern corner of the cemetery, the little information online about Raimundo Wilmart is as surprising as his full name is long.
Born in 1850 in Jodoigne-Souveraine, a small town in the center of Belgium, Wilmart arrived in Argentina at the age of 22. He had a single purpose: to visit the Asociación Internacional del Trabajo (AIT). Recently formed, the industrial union followed European principles based on ideas put forth by Marx & Engels. In short, Raimundo Wilmart came to Argentina to see if scientific socialism was being put into practice in Argentina.
Wilmart had previously attended the 1872 AIT conference in The Hague where he was commissioned to travel to Argentina. Immediately after arrival, he scoped out the situation & wrote three letters to Marx. The Argentine AIT had 250 members at the time, but proletarian struggle failed to unite the group. Wilmart reported that the group constantly separated into national cliques, based on the immigrant’s country of origin. He even handed out free copies of Das Kapital but felt like no one ever read the book!
Disappointed, Wilmart planned to return to Europe but never did. After studying law in Córdoba, he moved up in social circles & became a judge in Mendoza. In 1899, Wilmart returned to Buenos Aires & joined the law school faculty. He even formed part of the committee which failed to approve the doctoral thesis of Socialist Alfredo Palacios… Wilmart made a 180º turn in his politics, supporting capitalism & failing to sympathize with factory workers.
Wilmart visited his homeland in 1909, returned to Argentina & died in Buenos Aires in 1937. Letters he received from Karl Marx were lost forever, burned by his daughter in fear of tarnishing her father’s reputation.
Recognized Argentine architects like Julián García Núñez & Alejandro Christophersen helped build Recoleta Cemetery and were buried there as well. But surprisingly few burial sites for major architects are known today. Perhaps they shared a similar fate as that of Julio Dormal…
Born in 1846 in Liège (Belgium), Jules Dormal Godet arrived in Argentina after studying architecture in Paris. Early business deals failed but after settling in Buenos Aires in 1870, Dormal’s timing & contacts could not have been better. Sarmiento hired him to design a new park—Parque 3 de Febrero—previously occupied by the estate of the President’s arch-enemy, Juan Manuel de Rosas.
Many more projects followed. In fact, Dormal was responsible for several landmarks still visible today in Buenos Aires. He designed the tomb to house the remains of General San Martín inside the cathedral (top photo above). After the assassination of architect Victor Meano, he continued construction of the National Congress:
Meano also left the Teatro Colón incomplete, so Dormal took over as well & designed much of the interior:
In following years, Dormal completed or executed from start to finish many of the aristocratic mansions in the northern sector of the city. The Palacio Pereda now houses the Brazilian embassy:
Unfortunately many of those grand houses have since been demolished. But the residence for Julio Peña still stands on Calle Florida, now occupied by the Sociedad Rural Argentina. Non-members can get a peek at the luxury inside by going for lunch at the restaurant:
Not limited to only Buenos Aires, Dormal also built several notable structures in other cities. Perhaps his most emblematic work outside the capital is the very afrancesado Casa de Gobierno in La Plata:
Dormal passed away in 1924 & was buried in Recoleta Cemetery inside the mausoleum belonging to his wife, Elena Sosa Díaz. But his remains were cremated in 1989 and, according to cemetery records, were likely placed inside the Dolmas Arévalo vault. Why? No one knows. However, neither the Sosa Díaz tomb nor that of Dolmas Arévalo exist today.
Hopefully Jules Dormal continues to rest in peace wherever he may be.
Photos of the Casa de Gobierno in La Plata courtesy of Marcelo Metayer.