Born in Córdoba in 1860, José Figueroa Alcorta got an introduction to national politics by representing his native province in Congress. Popular among the oligarchy, Figueroa Alcorta become Vice-President under Manuel Quintana in 1904. After Quintana’s death two years later, he inherited the presidency & remained in office for one of the most important celebrations in Argentine history: the 1910 centennial. His photo is one of the most recognized during the festivities (below, left center), welcoming La Infanta Isabel from Spain (center):
After his presidential term ended, Figueroa Alcorta served as Ambassador to Spain then was elected to the Supreme Court in 1915. From 1929 until his death in 1931, he served as Chief Justice.
Trivia buffs will love the fact that Figueroa Alcorta was the only person in national history to serve in all three top government positions: Senator / head of Congress as Vice-President, President, & Chief Justice. Located in the northernmost corner of the cemetery, most visitors rarely visit this tomb or recognize his contribution to the nation.
As son of highly educated Swiss immigrants, there is little surprise that Carlos Pellegrini grew up with an advantage. Schooled by family members, his talent for language & expression would serve him well in the future.
After attending law school for two years, Pellegrini put his studies on hold to fight in the War of the Triple Alliance in Paraguay, returned to finish his degree & began a life in politics. Pellegrini served in both houses of Congress before becoming Vice-President under Miguel Juárez Celman in 1886.
Argentina faced troubled times during Pellegrini’s lifetime. Buenos Aires began receiving millions of European immigrants. As the population soared, so did national debt. Arrival of a large workforce helped the economy expand at first, but infrastructure demands led to an economic & social crisis. While Pelligrini was in office, foreign debt doubled, salaries dropped, unemployment grew & strikes were commonplace. The fact that President Juárez Celman continued the upper class tradition of electoral fraud made matters even worse.
The violent 1890 Revolution removed Juárez Celman from power, & Pellegrini became President. Although in office for only two years, conditions improved so much that Argentines attributed him with navigating the country through the storm.
Further contributions by Pelligrini include founding the Jockey Club, an elite social organization for horseracing fans which became a symbol of the oligarchy’s hold on the country. As its first President, references can be found everywhere on the vault. A bronze relief at eye level depicts the Jockey Club façade on Florida Street before it was burned to the ground in 1953 by Perón supporters. No doubt this hatred prevented Pellegrini’s tomb from being declared a National Historic Monument in 1946… that would have to wait until 1964:
Pellegrini also established the Banco de la Nación, helping strengthen Argentina’s fiscal policy & consolidate national debt. The main branch on Plaza de Mayo would later be constructed by Alejandro Bustillo:
Although without doubt a defender of the upper class, Pellegrini began to understand the need for incorporating other groups in the political process. In part, it was this realization that drove him away from former ally President Roca… also the fact that Pellegrini fought hard in Congress to get Roca’s foreign debt consolidation loan approved which Roca later withdrew without consulting Pellegrini. Passing away in 1906 at the age of 59, today he is remembered mainly for encouraging industrial progress & electoral reform.
As the only occupant of Recoleta Cemetery marked with signposts, Sarmiento is widely recognized as one of the most important figures in Argentine history:
Born in 1811 while Argentina struggled for independence, Domingo Sarmiento spent his early years voraciously reading & studying. It would set the tone for his life. By the age of 15, he founded a school in his native province of San Juan… all students were naturally older than he was at the time.
Due to civil war & local caudillo Facundo Quiroga, Sarmiento fled in exile to Chile in 1831 where he continued his educational activities. That period was spent between marriage, founding the Universidad de Chile, running a newspaper, & being sent on behalf of the Chilean government to the United States to study its primary education system.
Sarmiento returned to Argentina 20 years later as an authority in education. Anti-Rosas to the core, he later aligned with Bartolomé Mitre while serving as Senator. Accompanying General Wenceslao Paunero to the Cuyo region, Sarmiento governed his native province of San Juan then returned to the U.S. as Argentina’s ambassador. Unfortunately his adopted son was killed in the War of the Triple Alliance while he was away. Back home in 1868 & under no political party, Sarmiento was elected President with Adolfo Alsina as his running mate. After one term in the Casa Rosada, he continued to serve Argentina in number of governmental & educational posts.
Late in life, Sarmiento moved to Asunción for health reasons. He passed away on Sept 11, 1888, & that day is now commemorated as Teacher’s Day. The most accessible portrait of Sarmiento can be found on a 50 peso bill, but he was also the subject of one of the most publicized death portraits in Argentine history. Those portraits were commonly used to mark important events & released to the press. Sarmiento “posed” for this photo a few hours after his death surrounded by objects of daily use… including his chamber pot:
Sarmiento was then brought by boat to Buenos Aires & buried in Recoleta Cemetery. In a crypt designed by Italian sculptor Victor de Pol, the base of the obelisk contains two reliefs: one of Mercury (Roman god of communications) & Sarmiento with children holding books. The French phrase “on ne tue point les idées” was inscribed by Sarmiento on a stone in the Andes Mountains when he fled to Chile: “One never kills ideas”:
Plaques once covered the obelisk itself (as seen below) but were later placed on the side wall when they outnumbered available space. The bust has also been removed. Hidden behind a potted plant is a reminder that Sarmiento once participated in the Grand Lodge of Argentina:
A condor, native to the Andes Mountains & symbolic of Sarmiento’s contributions to Chile & Argentina, crowns the obelisk. At the bird’s feet is a bit of barely legible, cursive text. It reads Civilización y Barbarie, the title of Sarmiento’s definitive work against Quiroga:
Of course Sarmiento was no saint & displayed some negative traits of his time: racism & a bit of an addiction to power. But historians have naturally chosen to focus on the positive. This tomb was declared a National Historic Monument in 1946.
In the meantime, a site previously belonging to French nuns had been purchased for Alfonsín. The old was demolished & the ceremony for the new took place October 30th, the same day Alfonsín was elected in 1983. A bust of the former President by sculptor Luciano Garbati was officially revealed by family members & leading politicians of the UCR. Vice-President Julio Cobos spoke about political reform as did UCR leader, Gerardo Morales.
Many people claim that the bust does not resemble Alfonsín, but supposedly the sculptor used an older photograph—therefore a younger image of Alfonsín—as his model. In fact, it is the same image found on a commemorative stamp issued in May.
Born in Buenos Aires in 1822, not only did Luis Saénz Peña have to choose sides during the difficult period of national organization under Rosas, but he also had to choose a career. His parents wanted a doctor in the family while he had a preference for law. Saénz Peña did both. Some of his illustrious classmates in med school were Guillermo Rawson & José María Bosch while he was accompanied in law school by Bernardo de Irigoyen & Rufino de Elizalde.
Only after the expulsion of Rosas did Saénz Peña come into the public eye. In 1860 he formed part of the Convención de Buenos Aires, responsible for a new draft of the constitution & firmly believed that BA should form part of the Argentine Confederation.
Twenty years later, Saénz Peña held a variety of provincial & national posts—too many to mention here—with the most important being a representative/diputado in the National Congress, then head of the Supreme Court. After the 1890 Revolution, he sided with Roca & Pellegrini… & as a result later became involved in a family scandal.
During 1892 presidential elections, the liberal UCR party thought Bartolomé Mitre would be a sure win while conservatives under Roca’s influence thought it best to continue to support Pellegrini. Some conservatives broke away from Roca & presented Roque Saénz Peña—the son of Luis—as their candidate. Intimidated by the change Roque would bring, Mitre, Pellegrini & Roca formed an alliance to present Luis Saénz Peña as their alliance candidate. Tricky, tricky.
Of course Roque would not run against his own father, so Luis became President. His term is known for modernizing the nation, but eventually Saénz Peña lost Roca’s support, faced a series of uprisings & eventually resigned to let his Vice-President José Evaristo Uriburu take over in 1895.
Leaving public life for good, Luis Saénz Peña quietly passed away in 1907… three years before his son became President. The tomb has been neglected for a long time but remains interesting for its history & a Biblical quote in Latin above the door from Job 19:25:
Scio enim quod redemptor meus vivit et in novissimo die de terra surrecturus sum.
I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth.
Over the past four months, a lot of progress has been made for the future burial spot of former President Raúl Alfonsín. Engravings are finished as well as a plaque in place quoting one of Alfonsín’s most famous speeches. Although the stained glass dome is not of high quality, at least it adds a bit of color:
No official word as to when the transfer will take place. At least barricades have been removed from the UCR Pantheon where Alfonsín is currently buried, & everyone can now get a look at his casket: