The list of occupants of Recoleta Cemetery reads like a Who’s Who of Argentine history & society. The elite, an aspiring middle class, friends, enemies & those who contributed to the general welfare of Argentina all share space in a miniature city of mausoleums & monuments.
During a visit, you’ll stroll past Presidents & politicians (some naughty, some nice), Nobel Prize winners, literary greats, entertainers, scientists, military leaders, sports figures & even some who died tragically. The cemetery’s most famous resident, Eva María Duarte de Perón —simply Evita to her devotées— even had a bizarre post-mortem journey before finally resting in peace in Recoleta.
This article appeared in the online edition of the Kennesaw State University official student newspaper. Although this Georgia university publication has received awards & praise, there are a few major errors in this article that warrant some fact-checking & revision…
Cemetery built in Buenos Aires due to yellow fever to sell with Covid
In 1871, Buenos Aires experienced a serious health crisis. Struck by yellow fever, the Argentine capital saw the only two cemeteries in the city at the time overflowing at the very start of the epidemic.
Faced with death figures rising to 700 a day, authorities saw no other solution than to hastily open a new cemetery – that of Chacarita, which ended up receiving most of the 18,000 victims. of disease. At the time, Buenos Aires had no more than 180,000 inhabitants.
Comment: City historians generally estimate the number of yellow fever victims as 14,000, or 10% of the population of Buenos Aires, with burials taking place first in the Southern Cemetery & later in Chacarita Cemetery.
Today, 150 years later, expanded and with new areas intended only for those killed by the coronavirus, Chacarita cemetery is once again on the edge. The employees, members of the park and cemetery workers union, have asked the Ministry of Labor to be vaccinated as soon as possible, otherwise they will participate in a nationwide strike and stop collecting bodies and taking them to their graves.
“We were classified as essential from the first moment because we had to keep working to keep the flow of burials going. Now, at the time of vaccination, we are not considered essential and we go to the end of the line,” says Folha Salvador Valente, from Soecra (Union of Cemeteries Workers and Employees of the Argentine Republic).
“It’s not fair, we are much more exposed than the general population, we are on the front lines, as doctors, and we have already lost many colleagues.”
Comment: The SOECRA union secretary is Salvador Valente. Folha is a Portuguese word that means “leaf”, “sheet of paper” or “page”. Oh, I know where this is going…
A first request for priority vaccination and additional protective equipment, made in January, was refused by the government. For this reason, cemetery workers returned to register the same demand this week, now with the threat of a strike. If it is a national problem, it is in the metropolitan area of Buenos Aires, epicenter of the pandemic in Argentina, that the situation is most serious.
The traditional cemetery of Recoleta has been crowded for some time and today it functions more as an open-air museum, as it no longer receives new burials. There is also a more popular cemetery in the Flores neighborhood – another opening up an exclusive area for the dead by Covid – which, like Chacarita, is saturated.
Comment: Completely false that Recoleta Cemetery no longer receives new burials. It is still a functioning cemetery.
La Chacarita is the largest in the city in activity and one of the most emblematic of the Argentine capital. He buried the idol of the tango Carlos Gardel, the writer Roberto Arlt, the plastic artist Antonio Berni and the composer Enrique Santos Discépolo, among other celebrities.
The cemetery also housed the body of Juan Domingo Perón for many years, until his grave was attacked, and the hands of the former president uprooted and stolen, in 1987. The reason for the crime and the fate of the Perón’s hands remain unknown, in another mysterious story of local politics.
“Chacarita is an Argentinian heritage. It is the cemetery that is home to popular culture icons, football players, tangueiros, actors, in addition to Perón to a certain extent. [após o sequestro das mãos, o resto do corpo foi levado a uma propriedade particular da família]“If the Recoleta cemetery is that of the aristocratic elite of the 19th century, that of Chacarita is that of popular culture,” says historian Felipe Pigna.
Comment: More random Portuguese! So this article was lifted from the Brazilian newspaper Folha de São Paulo. But why use a Brazil source for an article about Argentina? Odd to say the least.
For the researcher, it is important to preserve the cemetery both as a place of functioning and as a memory of the porteños. “As much as the current pandemic is causing great suffering to the city, we must remember the nightmare of yellow fever and how frightened the people were. At that time, it was not known that the disease was transmitted by a mosquito. There was an important crisis policy and even the president [Domingo Faustino] Sarmiento left town, “Pugna recalls.” Buenos Aires was in charge of a commission of notables, doctors, politicians, who were also dying.
The historian recalls that at that time, the so-called “death train” also circulated in the city, a locomotive of a wagon that crossed the Argentine capital to pick up the dead from their homes.
Valente, from the cemetery workers union, recalls that today they collect corpses from their homes and accompany them to the grave. “Due to the current protocol, only a loved one can be present at the funeral, in addition to one of our employees. In other words, our role in this pandemic is essential,” he recalls. “There are private funeral homes that had to close because all the employees were infected. We are working overtime and at our limit. We want the vaccine so that we don’t have to interrupt our work.
In response, the government claims to be assessing demand, but Argentina suffers from a vaccine shortage. The main government contract with the Russian laboratory Gamaleia has been delayed and deliveries of the Sputnik V immunizer are taking too long. Likewise, drugs purchased from AstraZeneca and Chinese Sinopharm arrive in smaller quantities than promised.
So far Argentina has only vaccinated 15% of the population with one dose and 2% with both.
Glaring errors aside, cemetery workers should be considered frontline workers just like health care providers. They provide an essential service in normal times & even more so during a pandemic.
Opening with over four minutes of historical videos of violent confrontations & death scenes set to the Argentine national anthem, Tierra de los Padres (Fatherland) soon switches to the walkways of Recoleta Cemetery. Director Nicolás Prividera uses this final resting place to explore not-so-traditional points of view of Argentina’s complicated history. Whatever opinion leaders had on particular issues during their lifetime, they often ended up in Recoleta Cemetery almost side by side… friends & foes alike.
The second scene sets the tone for the rest of the movie: everyday people —not trained actors— read excerpts written by historical figures buried in Recoleta Cemetery, often at the site of their burial. Prividera explains his concept:
El cementerio de la Recoleta es el más antiguo de Buenos Aires. En 1881, en coincidencia con la formación del estado moderno, se lo transformó en una necrópolis: una simbólica ciudad dentro de la ciudad en la que los mausoleos de los “padres fundadores” trazan un recorrido por la historia oficial. Sin embargo, esta historia también puede ser leída desde la perspectiva de los vencidos…
Recoleta Cemetery is the oldest in Buenos Aires. In 1881, coinciding with the formation of the modern state, it was transformed into a necropolis: a symbolic city within the city in which the mausoleums of the “founding fathers” trace a journey through official history. However, this history can also be read from the perspective of the defeated…
After great debates of Argentine history are spoken aloud, their readers fade away & are replaced by shots of specific sculptures, cemetery caretakers cleaning & repairing mausoleums or the occasional tourist:
Ideologies at odds are presented more or less in chronological order: civilization vs. barbarie as defined by Domingo Faustino Sarmiento· internal conflict as a means for glory in South America according to Juan Bautista Alberdi· immigrants viewed as immoral & anormal by the Liga Patriótica Argentina·Eva Perón dividing people into those who hate, those who are indifferent & those who love ·Aramburu at the hands of the Montoneros · Rodolfo Walsh confronting the military junta· and many others.
As this excellent review by Guido Pellegrini states, the director’s political stance is made clear by his selection of texts & images. Anti-elite & wholeheartedly Peronista, Prividera makes no attempt to balance opinions or explain historical context. This bias can be confusing & mislead viewers who have little idea of Argentina’s many historical twists & turns… something we make an effort to explain in this blog & in our PDF guide. No small task but ultimately worthwhile to gain an understanding of Recoleta Cemetery.
The only other criticism would be a failure to respect architectural heritage. Recoleta Cemetery is almost 200 years old, & its mausoleums need remain for future generations to contemplate like Prividera has done. But he places his readers directly on the tombs of their author’s texts —sitting, standing or inserted among the statues. While his intentions are good, those type of takes should have never been permitted.
Tierra de los Padres can be seen for free in its entirety on YouTube.
Juan Bautista Mignaquy exemplified the entrepreneurial spirit of the early 20th century in Argentina. Seemingly with a hand in every pot, successful business ventures gave Mignaquy a great deal of influence… but surprisingly few people remember his contributions to a growing nation today.
Born in 1859 in the French Basque Country, a young Juan Bautista arrived alone in Buenos Aires at the age of 12 or 13 & began to work for Luis Logegaray, a fellow Basque who had established a successful wholesale & warehouse business. Following in his mentor’s footsteps, Mignaquy became part of Logegaray’s association & kept offices in downtown Buenos Aires for 70 years.
Much of his success would come from dedicated night study sessions, encouraged & supported by Logegaray. That hard work paid off when Mignaquy was accepted to the Colegio San José —founded by French Basque missionaries— and had classmates who would later go on to make names for the themselves as well: Luis María Drago, General Enrique Mosconi, Tomás Duggan & Jacobo Peuser to name a few.
After the death of Logegaray, Mignaquy went to Paris & lived there for two years with Logegaray’s widow; no doubt he saw her as an adopted mother. Besides maintaining the import & distribution business, Mignaquy would occupy several important positions on the local & national level, many noted by plaques which decorate his family mausoleum. He passed away in 1940 but is remembered by the Provincia de Buenos Aires bank where he sat on the directive board:
Mignaquy acted as President of the Buenos Aires stock market in 1902 & also had a top position in the El Comercio insurance company:
A reminder of Mignaquy’s French roots are present with a plaque from a prominent Basque organization:
He also acted as director of Cusenier, an importer of distilled French beverages & cider. He also imported the popular vermouth Cinzano from Italy:
As if those accomplishments were not enough, Mignaquy founded a trolley company that connected Retiro to the southern suburbs of Buenos Aires. In 1930, one of their trolleys fell into the Riachuelo when the conductor failed to see red lights in the fog that indicated Puente Bosch had been raised. Almost all 60 passengers on board died. You can imagine the city’s shock. A few tracks of that trolley line still exist, but the largest vestige of the Mignaquy trade empire sits abandoned in La Boca, waiting for restoration & for someone take advantage of its prime location… directly across from La Bombonera. At least this warehouse keeps his memory alive:
Two cases of copyright infringement related to the content of this blog & its corresponding PDF guide to Recoleta Cemetery have recently come to our attention. Although we have initiated claims as well as contacted the parties who used our material without permission, we doubt a resolution will be ruled in our favor. At least as owners of this blog & all the material herein, we can leave record of these cases… & hope we’ll never add to this list!
I rarely watch YouTube videos about Recoleta Cemetery, but a few months ago a random recommendation seemed interesting: a 26-minute video in English with excellent photography. While watching, I thought: wow, this guy has done his research. Then the voice-over commentary began to sound all too familiar. Ah yes, channel owner David Owens purchased the PDF guide in November 2017. My guide was not the only source material used, but in many places Mr. Owens quoted the guide’s text directly without any change. Also, the general organization of his video closely follows that of the PDF.
After reporting this video to YouTube, they asked for additional specifics. I rewatched the video to take note of exact usage & could only make it through 18 minutes. It’s disheartening to see your own hard work & decades of investigation claimed by someone else. I sent the list below to YouTube to establish a claim, complete with phrases used, minute marks & corresponding pages of the PDF:
“branch of Franciscan monks” 01:36 (page 07)
“grassy plots with simple tombstones… a number of early modest tombs” 02:38 (page 09)
Exact statistics (55000 square kilometres, 4700 tombs, 350000 departed) 03:48 (page 07) – no one ever agrees on these numbers & the tomb count comes from my own investigation
“1946 tombstone” + “fading relief of her father” 6:00 (page 18)
“crucifix placed above a small altar with recently deceased in caskets beneath” 07:25 (page 10)
“metal grate in the floor” 09:07 (page 10)
“network of lookout stations connected by telegraph to major forts in what was indigenous territory” 11:53 (page 24)
“battles against Brazil… forged from a cannon from one of his ships” 12:58 (page 53)
“actually buried in the church beside the cemetery” 13:54 (page 52)
“founded War College in 1900” 15:14 (page 42)
“made life better in Buenos Aires by improving city sanitation” 16:55 (page 20)
“to help establish US teaching” 17:05 (page 29)
“record of 32 wins out of 38 title matches” 17:43 (page 29)
These direct quotes demonstrate that Mr. Owens did not use my guide as a resource for a derivative work but rather lifted whatever text he needed to produce the video. In several other instances, my text had been slightly reworded yet I recognized it as mine. Initially I also thought some of the photos used had also come from this blog or from my Flickr account, but fortunately all images appear to be Mr. Owens own material.
Regardless, what shocked me most was no mention of this blog nor the PDF guide. No credit where credit is due… as if Mr. Owens became an expert on this particular cemetery overnight. I wonder if he is being paid by YouTube & what percentage belongs to me.
In 2011, Sergio López Martínez asked if I would participate in a massive national project to catalog Argentina’s architectural heritage. Of course I agreed. His particular interest was in a set of photographs on a separate blog which I’d taken of the interior of the Confitería del Molino. At the time, the building had been closed to the general public & was in real danger of disintegrating into rubble. But for one week in 2004, the city government commandeered the former café & pastry shop to allow visitors inside. I sent him the photos I had, & they appeared in the series… along with a thank you credit + an invite to the formal release of the first book:
If I hadn’t been planning a move to Esquel, I would have used those connections to participate in more projects. But I left for Patagonia & couldn’t even get a hard copy of the volume with my photos. Years have passed —now I’m living in Sevilla— but find online the two-part book series pictured above: Monumentos Históricos Nacionales de la República Argentina (Ciudad de Buenos Aires). An update of a previous publication, Sergio wrote the section for Recoleta Cemetery as well as took most of the photos. On further examination, two photos looked very familiar… but he takes full credit:
In both cases, a lack of concern for fellow researchers/investigators is evident. I have been paid for many images as well as written for several publications. I have also freely given the rights to use my images on request… it all depends on who asks & for what purpose they would be used. This blog has been online since 2007 & takes no small effort to maintain. PDF sales each year fund its upkeep & provide the most complete online resource about Recoleta Cemetery in any language. Please consider that when using information or images from an independent webpage: ask for permission, offer compensation or give credit where due! This list will grow as needed but with a little respect, that won’t be necessary.
Although not fans of Phil Rosenthal, we’re very pleased he took time to visit Recoleta Cemetery. As part of the Netflix series “Somebody Feed Phil”, episode 3 of the second season took him to Buenos Aires. The cemetery even becomes the main image of the city on Rosenthal’s website:
This travel & food show often takes a break to show some of the city they are featuring. In between eating all manner of choripan with Allie Lazar & a Perón-worshipping steak feast —roughly after the 10:30 mark— Rosenthal strolls inside the main entrance gate of Recoleta Cemetery:
As he ponders the cemetery’s beautiful character, he also visits the mausoleum of Eva Perón. No singing of musical songs fortunately:
Next, someone off-camera recounts an abbreviated version of the tragic story of Rufina Cambacérès… which he finds particularly depressing:
Finally, Rosenthal himself tells viewers about the trials & tribulations of the Del Carril family. Hoping his wife does not wish to turn away from him when they pass away, the visit to Recoleta Cemetery ends.
First aired in July 2018, we would have liked more screen time for Recoleta Cemetery. Naturally. But in a program about food, two minutes of a 55-minute program is very generous & serves to introduce more people to this fascinating place. Thanks, Phil!