Grandson of the author of the Argentina national anthem, the tomb of Lucio Vicente López is one of few in Recoleta Cemetery paid for by public donations. Regular readers know that the majority of plots belong to families, so something extraordinary must have happened for López to be buried alone here. It’s quite a story.
Already a lawyer & recognized journalist, López began publishing books in the 1880’s. La Gran Aldea (1884) first appeared as a regular magazine section & presented porteños with a clever look at themselves & some of their more absurd customs. A personal favorite is the section where a politician derides the main character for wanting to study. The politicians prides himself on getting ahead without ever opening a book. Hilarious. Project Gutenberg has a complete copy available online for free. Of course there was commentary about Recoleta Cemetery (translation mine):
Mientras depositaban el cajón en la bóveda de la familia, yo me perdí en las calles del cementerio.
¡Cuánta vana pompa!
Cómo podía medirse allí, junto con los mamarrachos de la marmolería criolla, la imbecilidad y la soberbia humanas. Allí la tumba pomposa de un estanciero… muchas leguas de campo, muchas vacas; los cueros y las lanas han levantado ese mausoleo que no es ni el de Moreno, ni el de García, ni el de los guerreros, ni el de los grandes hombres de letras.
Allí la regia sepultura de un avaro, más allá la de un imbécil… la pompa siguiéndolos en la muerte….
While the casket was placed in the family vault, I got lost among the walkways of the cemetery.
So much pompous vanity!
How could one be measured there, a local parade of imbeciles & morons alongside the best of humanity. There, the pompous tomb of a ranch owner… many leagues of countryside, lots of cows; leather & wool constructed that mausoleum which does not belong to Moreno, García, the soldiers, or the great academics.
Here the regal tomb of a miser, there another of an idiot… pomp following them in death…
As most members of the upper class, López soon became involved in politics. Shortly after the 1890 Revolution & under the government of Luis Saénz Peña, López was named Interventor Federal for the Province of Buenos Aires… basically a government inspector or auditor.
Although in the post for less than a year, López uncovered a case of corruption that he would pay dearly for. An unpaid government loan had been issued for a large lot of land… land that was later resold without payment of the original loan & whose resale also violated the loan’s terms. The person in question was Coronel Sarmiento (no relation to Domingo F.), personal secretary to General Luis María Campos then serving as Minister of War. López opened a case against Sarmiento, for which he was detained three months in a provincial prison, but in the end no charges of illicit gain were filed.
During these events, López & Sarmiento never saw each other. But afterwards, the only way to clear the air between them was a duel. In the 1890’s, duels were still an occasional event in Argentina but for the most part, they involved firing shots into the air as a way to restore both parties’ honor. Not so for López & Sarmiento. This was to be a duel to the death.
The godparents of both López & Sarmiento—bound to preside over the duel as tradition dictated—tried to dissuade López & Sarmiento. No need to spill blood. But in the end it went ahead as planned. Shots were fired at 12 paces & both missed. Guns were reloaded. In the second round, Sarmiento hit López in the abdomen, causing damage to his gallbladder & liver. López did not survive the night.
Most thought that the death of López was unnecessary & deprived Argentina one of its most respected authors at the age of 44. Old traditions definitely die hard.