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Category: Urban legends

536. familia de viñas

Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires, De Viñas

Raúl Barón Biza (1899-1964) was many things: writer, cynic, millionaire, politician, lover, pornographer & a victim of suicide. Many online sources dig into his fascinating life, but for this post we’ll limit ourselves to his first love, her tragedy & her burial.

Barón Biza met his first wife, the Swiss actress Myriam Stefford (née Rosa Martha Rossi Hoffmann) during a trip to Europe, & they married on 28 Aug 1930. Myriam grew bored with her new life running a large cattle ranch, so she began taking flight classes. In mid-August 1931 she announced that she was going to visit all 14 provinces in Argentina by airplane. Below is an excerpt of an interview with Luis Pozzo Ardizzi of the high society magazine Caras y Caretas:

— You’re thinking of using an airplane as your method of transportation?
— Of course! I’m training now to begin a quick trip around this country that I love so much.
— Will this be a groundbreaking trip?
— I don’t know –she says smiling– that will be for you to decide. I’m thinking about flying over all 14 provinces. And I’ll do it in my small B.F.W. airplane, with an 80 horsepower Siemens engine.
— You realize that someone else has already flown over all 14 provinces?
— I do. And with time on my side, I’ll do it as well.
— In how many days?
— She answers, smiling: If I can… in three…
— Does your airplane have a unique name?
— A modest name, because I’m starting this trip modestly. I call my airplane “Chingolo”. I want Chingolo to spread its wings for a breathtaking flight…
— Once finished, are you considering another big trip?
— Yes. I will try to show that a small plane, made for tourism, can do some interesting things.
— …?
— I’d like to try to reach North America…
— That’s a risky undertaking.
— It will be. But I’ve got enough enthusiasm to give it a go.
And after this last sentence, the charming movie star who has mastered all types of sport bids us goodbye to resume her training.
(Caras y Caretas 1715, 15 Aug 1931, pg. 18)

That “modest trip” ended tragically on August 26th, two days before Stefford’s first wedding anniversary. Chingolo II (the first had mechanical problems & had to be replaced with another plane) fell from the skies for reasons that were never known near Marayes in San Juan province. For Barón Biza the news was horrific; for the national media, who loved the aviatrix, it was catastrophic, as reflected in La Nación the next day:

La Nación, Chingolo II, Myriam Stefford

La Nación, Chingolo II, Myriam Stefford

La Nación, Chingolo II, Myriam Stefford

Three days after the accident, Stefford (who was never mentioned as “the wife of Barón Biza”, something rare for the time) & her instructor Luis Fuchs were buried in Recoleta Cemetery. The actress/aviatrix was laid to rest in a mausoleum which then belonged to Wilfrid Barón, the father of Barón Biza. The structure was later sold to the Fabre family, & next to its current owner, the De Viñas family.

La Nación, Recoleta Cemetery, Myriam Stefford

Myriam didn’t stay in Recoleta long, since Raúl Barón Biza immediately ordered the construction of the largest sepulchre in the country: a monstrous vault 82 m tall placed in the countryside of Los Cerrillos, near Alta Gracia in Córdoba province. His friend, the engineer Fausto Regino Newton, designed the concrete monument whose meaning remains unclear to many: Is it the profile of a plane’s wing, as is often said? Is it an obelisk, taller than the one in Buenos Aires as many people from Córdoba proudly claim? Or is it an Egyptian symbol of resurrection? Whatever its significance, Myriam Stefford moved there on 22 Nov 1935 & was placed under several meters of cement… that’s when legends began to circulate. It’s said that she was buried with her jewels, among them a 45-carat diamond named the “Cruz del Sur”, with Barón Biza laying traps to prevent anyone from profaning the tomb—including placing explosives—& on the very top a beacon whose light could be seen for several kilometers.

Alta Gracia, Myriam Stefford

Alta Gracia, Myriam Stefford

Alta Gracia, Myriam Stefford

The truth is that the monument remains in place after all these years, after a second great tragedy in the life of Barón Biza: one afternoon in August 1964 in an act of rage, he threw acid on the face of his second wife, Clotilde Sabatini, & immediately afterwards shot himself in the head. He had sold the land where Stefford’s mausoleum sits in Alta Gracia many years earlier.

This is how it looks now, abandoned & alone. A project has been proposed to convert the area into a theme park about the enigmatic writer & his young wife who passed away prematurely. In the meantime, the “wing” attracts the curious, as well as architecture fans & film students… also a number of distraught people who have unfortunately committed suicide by jumping from the tallest window.

Alta Gracia, Myriam Stefford

Alta Gracia, Myriam Stefford

Originally, the monolith displayed the motor of Chingolo II along with many plaques but all have since been removed or stolen. The entrance to the monolith remained opened for many years, but vandalism & attempted profanation prompted officials to solder the door shut permanently. No one now climbs the hundreds of steps to reach the top; supposedly the last time was in 2008. The future of this forgotten monument remains uncertain.

Alta Gracia, Myriam Stefford, mausoleum

Alta Gracia, Myriam Stefford, mausoleum

Thanks to co-author Marcelo Metayer for contributing this post. The original version in Spanish (with additional text & photos) can be found on his blog: El Navegante Solitario.

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396. familia del carril ◊

Salvador María del Carril, Recoleta Cemetery

A gigantic mausoleum commemorates the life of Salvador María del Carril, an important figure in the early days of Argentine history. Born in San Juan in 1798, Del Carril studied law & moved to Buenos Aires to participate in national politics. He firmly supported President Rivadavia & encouraged General Juan Lavalle to shoot his childhood friend, Manuel Dorrego, thinking it would prevent civil war. It didn’t.

Salvador María del Carril, Recoleta Cemetery

Del Carril lived in Uruguay during the Rosas period & met his wife, Tiburcia, there… 25 years younger than him. His political life continued to grow in spite of being in exile. Good friends with Justo José de Urquiza, Del Carril was selected as his Vice-President and godfather of the general’s first-born son. In later years, Bartolomé Mitre appointed him to the Supreme Court. Del Carril passed away in 1883, & Tiburcia had this elaborate construction built to honor his memory.

Salvador María del Carril, Recoleta Cemetery

In spite of Del Carril’s decades of participation in Argentine politics, he is also well-known for having major marital problems. Tiburcia apparently liked to spend Del Carril’s fortune… to a point where he published a letter in several major newspapers claiming that he would no longer be responsible for his wife’s debts. That obviously didn’t go over well with Tiburcia:

Salvador María del Carril, Recoleta Cemetery

Rumor has it that before she passed away in 1898—fifteen years after her husband—Tiburcia requested that her bust look away from Del Carril for eternity. To this day, the unhappy couple have their backs to each other:

Salvador María del Carril, Recoleta Cemetery

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386. luz maría garcía velloso ◊

Luz María García Velloso, Recoleta Cemetery

Close to the entrance gate, the Art Nouveau effigy of Luz María García Velloso draws a lot of attention. Beautiful & in a highly visible location, it only seems natural that an urban legend would develop around her death.

Luz María García Velloso, Recoleta Cemetery

Supposedly a victim of leukemia at the age of 15, Luz María’s mom spent several  night vigils at the cemetery… actually sleeping inside the vault. Much later, men walking near Recoleta Cemetery reported an encounter with a young woman dressed completely in white. The most common version claims this woman would accompany them to a bar, get a chill then ask to borrow her date’s jacket. Next she would accidentally stain it with whatever they were drinking & take the jacket with her when they said goodnight.

The following day the man somehow contacts her mother to get the jacket back, & she explains that the young woman is already dead! In desperation, he goes to the cemetery & finds his jacket draped over the effigy. While none of the above has been confirmed, it makes for an interesting story… probably one of the most common urban legends in the world.

Luz María García Velloso, Recoleta Cemetery

Fortunately some factual information about the rest of the family—also buried here—is available. Luz María’s father, Enrique García Velloso, was of Basque descent & heavily involved in the arts at the beginning of the 20th century in Buenos Aires. He directed the first movie version of Amália by José Marmol in 1914. Two years later he wrote Mamá Culepina about the barracks following the troops of Lucio V. Mansilla.

Enrique García Velloso, Recoleta Cemetery

All this artistic activity led Enrique to be named the first President of the Casa del Teatro—an actors association/retirement organization based on Avenida Santa Fe. Still possessing a popular theater,  the fantastic Art Deco building was designed by Alejandro Virasoro… the same architect who built the Defferrari family vault.

Enrique’s cultural connections expressed their sorrow for the death of Luz María with poetic plaques on the left side of the family vault:

Luz María García Velloso, Recoleta Cemetery

Unfortunately the elaborate interior painting is missing these days, but the ceiling’s stained glass remains intact:

Luz María García Velloso, Recoleta Cemetery

Second to last photo courtesy of the Archivo General de la Nación. Like Art Nouveau? Learn about the architects of the era, their individual styles & what makes Art Nouveau in Buenos Aires so unique with a 33-page guide from our sister site, Endless Mile.

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343. ida ◊

Ida, Recoleta Cemetery

Ida rarely gets a visitor since she shares the same row as Eva Perón… nothing like being upstaged by the cemetery’s most well-known resident. Perhaps due to Ida’s proximity to Evita, an urban legend developed around her death based on the evocative statue of a young woman reaching for a fallen rose.

Unable to confirm any factual evidence, most guides claim Ida fell to death from an upper story balcony… hence the statue. Seems like someone had an overactive imagination, but the best part about this mausoleum is that it contains some of the most overlooked Art Nouveau in Recoleta Cemetery.

The door is difficult to appreciate given the narrow width of sidewalk in front but is quite an impressive work of art:

Ida, Recoleta Cemetery

Interior photos are difficult due to glass reflections & low light levels, but peeking inside is easy. The mosaics & carved marble tomb shouldn’t be missed:

Ida, Recoleta Cemetery

Ida, Recoleta Cemetery

After seeing Eva Perón, wander toward the wall instead of returning to the main walkway. Ida is on the right-hand side waiting for some attention too.

Like Art Nouveau? Learn about the architects of the era, their individual styles & what makes Art Nouveau in Buenos Aires so unique with a 33-page guide from our sister site, Endless Mile.

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312. liliana crociati de szaszak ◊

Liliana Crociati de Szaszak, Recoleta Cemetery

Poor Liliana. She’s filed under urban legends only because no one can get the story straight…

Part of 1960s high society, Liliana went on vacation in Austria when she was 26. She & her husband couldn’t return as planned because winter snow had been exceptionally heavy & roads were blocked. On an early February morning in 1970, an avalanche covered the hotel where she was staying. The force of the snow broke several windows & filled most of her room. Liliana was found on her bed covered in blankets but only lived a few hours after her rescue. Death was attributed to lack of oxygen & exposure to severe cold.

The statue of Liliana with elongated features always draws a crowd. Inscribed on the base is the name of her dog, Sabú. The greenery outside the vault & a modern Neogothic design also make the resting place of Liliana stand out:

Liliana Crociati de Szaszak, Recoleta Cemetery

Through the glass door, an oil portrait of Liliana hangs above the staircase… usually credited to one of Liliana’s friends in the School of Fine Arts:

Liliana Crociati de Szaszak, Recoleta Cemetery

The occasional cat likes to sit with Sabú in the tall grass:

Liliana Crociati de Szaszak, Recoleta Cemetery

So where does the mystery come in? There seem to be more versions of Liliana’s tragic death than even Rufina Cambacérès can claim.

No one mentions what happened to her husband. Did he die in the avalanche? If not, where is he now? Some people say that Sabú died in Buenos Aires on the same day as Liliana. Doubt it. Others say that Sabú passed away earlier but was Liliana’s favorite pet, hence his place with her for eternity. There are even tales of Sabú being added later to the statue… highly unlikely given the position of Liliana’s hands. And apparently to add more tragedy, some versions of the story say that Liliana was on her honeymoon & the garment she wears in the statue is her wedding dress.

Liliana Crociati de Szaszak, Recoleta Cemetery

Liliana Crociati de Szaszak, Recoleta Cemetery

What’s the real scoop? Someone in the family must still be alive to set the record straight. Otherwise, a look through 1970s microfilm of Buenos Aires newspapers might hold a few clues. At least avalanche.org corroborates part of the tragedy; from February 19-24, 1970 a series of avalanches in St. Sigmund im Sellrain near Innsbruck claimed four fatalities. One of those must have been Liliana.

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Update (21 Dec 2009): It’s amazing how an urban legend can quickly get out of control & lead to comments like those for this particular post. After being contacted by Sven Szaszak who claimed to be the son of Juan Szaszak after he remarried, I asked Sven if he could provide any photos of Juan & Liliana together or help in some other way. Immediately someone claiming to be another relative, Trixie, went on a rampage. That didn’t help. So Marcelo visited the newspaper archives in La Plata & found the following facts…

La Nación, 26 February 1970
Argentine tourists—Vienna, 25 (AP) Among the 16,000 tourists blocked by snow in the eastern Austrian provinces of Tirol & Vorarlberg are Juan Szaszak, 31 years old, of Hungarian origin but an Argentine citizen, who squads managed to rescue after 15 minutes of searching. His wife, 24 years old, was pulled from under the snow after one hour of hard labor. It is reported that in spite of her critical condition, doctors trust that they can save her:

Newspaper article, La Nación, Liliana Crociati de Szaszak

La Prensa, 26 February 1970
Difficult situation in Austria for two Argentines—Innsbruck, Austria, 25 (UP) An Argentine couple was buried by an avalanche which happened in the Tirol region but shortly after were rescued alive from the hotel room they occupied. Police informed that Mrs. Liliana Szaszak, 24 years old, is in critical condition. Her husband, Juan, 31 years old born in Hungary was not injured.

The couple slept in their third floor room at the Piz Buin hotel in the Zuers winter resort, 64 km west of Innsbruck, when the snow from the avalanche entered through the window & filled their room. Szaszak was rescued in less than 15 minutes, but his wife could only be found after searching for one hour & had to be revived with oxygen.

Another avalanche in the Austrian Alps caused the death of four people at the beginning of the week. Innsbruck police said that around 14,000 tourists were stranded in the area due to avalanches which have blocked roads & railways. Helicopters are taking supplies to some areas, but bad weather impedes rescue operations in small villages, where it has been confirmed that residents are without bread:

Newspaper article, La Prensa, Liliana Crociati de Szaszak

Obituary, La Nación
Liliana Crociati de Szaszak, RIP, passed away in Austria on 27 February 1970 with help of the holy religion & papal blessing (c. a. s. r. y b. p. are initials for “con los auxilios de la santa religión y bendición papal“) — Her husband, Juan Szaszak; her parents José Crociati & María Adriana Ana Balduino; her in-laws Juan Szaszak & Gabriela Persoczy; her brother-in-law Ladislao A. Szaszak; aunts & uncles, nieces & nephews; her cousins & other relatives invite those interested to accompany her remains to Chacarita Cemetery today at 10:00. Funeral home:  Paraná 1255, Casa Mirás:

Obituary, La Nación, Liliana Crociati de Szaszak

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Update (23 Jun 2017): Public records can reveal amazing things. Thanks to a reader who requested to remain anonymous, we now have family photos from a 1954 trip to Brazil to share. Since these are not private documents, I decided to publish them for anyone who is interested. Below are Liliana’s parents, Guiseppe Crociati & Maria Adriana Balduino de Crociati, as well as Liliana when she was 11. I’ve also emailed the tourism information office in Zuers to see if they have any information about the avalanche from local sources.

Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires, Giuseppe Crociati

Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires, Maria Adriana Balduino de Crociati

Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires, Liliana Crociati

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