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Month: October 2007

008. rufina cambacérès ◊

Rufina Cambacérès, Recoleta Cemetery

Wonderfully Art Nouveau & set in a prominent location, Rufina draws lots of attention. But the story of her bizarre death is also a well-known urban legend of Recoleta Cemetery.

The statue of Rufina depicts her at the age of her death: 19 years old. The Cambacérès family was upper class thanks to a large cattle fortune. Rufina’s father, Eugenio, was originally from France & became a semi-famous Argentine writer. He died in Paris when Rufina was only 4.

Fast forward to her 19th birthday in 1902. Rufina’s mother threw her a big party, & afterwards they were all supposed to go to the Teatro Colón to catch a show. But while getting ready, Rufina suddenly collapsed in her bedroom & doctors pronounced her mysteriously dead.

The following day she was buried in Recoleta Cemetery. Here’s where it gets interesting… a cemetery worker later reported that he found Rufina’s casket lid pushed aside & broken. Her mom feared the worse & thought Rufina had been accidentally buried alive. Another version of the story claims that Rufina somehow escaped from her tomb & made it to the front gate… only to die from a heart attack caused by fright.

Rufina Cambacérès, Recoleta Cemetery

What really happened? It’s impossible to find out 100 years later. Some claim that while preparing to go to the opera, Rufina’s best friend let a secret escape that killed her: Rufina’s boyfriend was also seeing her mother! Shocking. The casket damage could be attributed to robbery since Rufina would have been buried with her finest jewelry.

Something else about the story doesn’t fit. The original location of the Teatro Colón on Plaza de Mayo closed in 1888, & the new theater opened in 1908 twenty years later. So Rufina may have been preparing to see a performance, but it certainly was not at the Teatro Colón.

Whatever version of this urban legend you’d like to believe, some of it must be true. Notice how Rufina is depicted with her hand on the door. Is she trying to escape an awful fate? Be sure to look in the mausoleum’s side door for much more Art Nouveau flowery decoration. The marble casket & chandelier are particularly stunning:

Rufina Cambacérès, Recoleta Cemetery

Rufina Cambacérès, Recoleta Cemetery

Update (10 Dec 2012): Finally getting around to looking at the obituaries in the weekly social magazine Caras y Caretas. In the 07 Jun 1902 issue—immediately following Rufina’s death—the following article appeared:

Rufina Cambacérès, Caras y Caretas, obituary, necrológica

“Preparing to go to the opera, death surprised Rufina in her mansion on Avenida Montes de Oca, the day she turned 19 years old on May 31st. The beautiful miss was the direct & only descendant of Eugenio Cambaceres, the capable Argentine writer, author of ‘Los silbidos de un vago‘ which gained him such notoriety in his day. She was the most genuine, intellectual representation of the Cambaceres family & was preparing herself to become a worthy successor of a sizable inherited fortune, her aristocratic beauty & her refined spirit. An empty space was left in Argentine society that will be indelible since her life was a series of kind acts & respectful caring. She combined all the highest gifts of her family, who were the honor & glory of the French royal court during the Empire, & among us she exercised a positive social influence, in spite of her youth, since she possessed a high level of culture & a rare countenance. The wake of Miss Rufina Cambaceres was a sincere demonstration of sorrow from her good friends, who were as numerous as they were distinguished. This death has left an unforgettable impression, occuring under circumstances that make it even more tragic.”

Vean la primera foto más grande en Flickr.

006. corona

The narrow walkway in front of the Corona family plot makes it difficult to view a unique symbol in Recoleta Cemetery… an angel holding the trying square of a stonemason:

Corona, Recoleta Cemetery

Corona, Recoleta Cemetery

Easily recognized as a symbol of the Masonic order, most everyone is familiar with a compass overlapping a trying square enclosing the letter “G”:

Masonic symbol

In 2007, the Masonic order celebrated 150 years in Argentina. Even the country’s founding father was one… but then again, so was George Washington. A number of symbols denoting membership to this secret society are scattered around the cemetery, but this is one of the most obvious present. The Grand Lodge of Argentina is headquartered in Buenos Aires at Perón 1242 & occasionally offers guided visits:

Gran Logia de la Masonería Argentina

Gran Logia de la Masonería Argentina

Gran Logia de la Masonería Argentina

004. familia d’onofrio

Familia D'Onofrio, Recoleta Cemetery

No existe mucha información sobre quienes eran los D’Onofrios ni a que se dedicaron salvo que tenian algunos antepasados italianos e otros irlandeses. Lo más importante es el estilo Art Decó de su mausoleo familiar, creado por uno de los escultores más talentosos en Buenos Aires: Troiano Troiani.

Nacido en 1885 en Udine, Italia (la región con frontera de Austria y Slovenia), Troiani enmigró a la Argentina en 1910. Artistas italianos fueron invitados a participar en los festivos del centenario de Argentina, gracias en cierta medida a la inmigración fuerte de Italia desde los 1880s. Troiani se hizo un artista popular (ya olvidado hoy en día) en la década de los 30s y adornaba muchas obras públicas y privadas en esa época. Decoró casas en el barrio de Caballito, el ex-Ministerio de Obras Públicas en Avenida 9 de Julio, lámparas frente del Congreso Nacional, y muchas tumbas en este cementerio. Troiani falleció en 1963, pero dejó mucho para admirar en Buenos Aires.

Dentro del mausoleo D’Onofrio se encuentra una imagen inspirada en el arte Bizantino de la crucifixión y un vitral texturado:

Familia D'Onofrio, Recoleta Cemetery

Familia D'Onofrio, Recoleta Cemetery

Troiani stained glass

Alert box: Si hay algun interior que genera curiosidad o parece que va a salir bien en una foto, no te deje impedir una puerta cerrada. Las puertas hechas de vidrio suelen tener aperturas multiples bastante grande para meter la lente de una cámara digital. Si parece que no hay mucho para ver dentro de una bóveda, usá la cámara para espiar. Las ventanas laterales también son una opción para ver adentro.

003. adolfo bioy casares

Adolfo Bioy Casares, Recoleta Cemetery

A very close friend of literary great Jorge Luis Borges was Adolfo Bioy Casares, also a respected Argentine author. Often referred to as just Bioy, he devoted his life to writing since he inherited wealth from his family’s cattle-ranching fortune.

In contrast to the challenging prose of Borges, Bioy wrote in a fresh, easy-to-read style absent of ornamentation and linguistic acrobatics. His most famous novel is “The Invention of Morel,” a suspenseful story set on a mysterious island & widely regarded as his masterpiece. The stories of Bioy often take a surreal direction. One short story uncovers a mysterious passage to Uruguay while another is a black comedy about a man whose wife swaps bodies with a dog. If you want to explore modern Argentine literature, Bioy is a great place to start.

Bioy was married to Silvina Ocampo, the youngest sister of Victoria Ocampo. Silvina was also an accomplished short story writer whose macabre tales often centered around childhood. Bioy met Borges in 1932 at the home of Victoria Ocampo & became friends for decades. A whopping 1,600 page diary by Bioy about their friendship is now available in English.

Bioy and Silvina were known for having a very unconventional marriage in which both had a series of lovers… Silvina obviously followed her older sister’s example.

Although the exterior has little of interest, mid- to late afternoon is the best time for viewing or photographing the interior. Since this tomb faces west, the interior too dark to appreciate any other time of day.