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AfterLife Posts

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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535. blair jollands music video

Buenos Aires, Recoleta Cemetery, Blair Jollands

Buenos Aires, Recoleta Cemetery, Blair Jollands

Buenos Aires, Recoleta Cemetery, Blair Jollands

Blair Jollands recently filmed the music video for “I’ll Remember You” in Buenos Aires, using Recoleta Cemetery & the Jardín Japonés as shoot locations. Could this be the first time the cemetery has been used in a music video?

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534. jorge larco

Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires, Jorge Larco

Born in 1897 in Buenos Aires, Jorge Larco left with his family at the age of six to live in Madrid where he began studying art. He was certainly influenced by works being produced by the Generación del 98 at the time & even studied under Julio Romero de Torres. After a visit to México to receive instruction from Roberto Montenegro, Larco returned to Buenos Aires in 1916. Two years later he began teaching at the Fine Arts school… where he remained until he was 54 years old.

His style of art tended toward elongated figures as seen from these examples from the 1930s: Boxeador, a self-portrait & a sketch of María Luisa

Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires, Jorge Larco, Boxeador, 1930

Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires, Jorge Larco, self-portrait

Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires, Jorge Larco, María Luisa en el sur, 1931

Larco passed away in 1967, but made sure his tomb stood out with twin burning funeral lamps & the entire structure wrapped with large metal poppies:

Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires, Jorge Larco

But the inside contains even more fantastic—if hard to appreciate—art. Two stained glass panels are difficult to visualize from the outside, but if the glass door happens to be open, peek in. Apologies for the poor quality photographs, but it’s the best we could do. One panel appears to be Mary kneeling at the foot of Jesus after descending from the cross. Another panel appears to be a monk reading the bible… St. Jerome is often portrayed with a beard, a book & a skull (among other symbols), but this could be St. Augustine as well. Any ideas?

Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires, Jorge Larco, stained glass

Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires, Jorge Larco, stained glass

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533. josefa v. de pujol

Buenos Aires, Recoleta Cemetery, Juan Gregorio Pujol

Built initially for his wife, Juan Gregorio Pujol found his way here too after passing away in 1861. Born in the province of Corrientes in 1817—just after Argentina earned its independence—much of Pujol’s life coincided with the new nation’s struggles.

Buenos Aires, Recoleta Cemetery, Juan Gregorio Pujol

Buenos Aires, Recoleta Cemetery, Juan Gregorio Pujol

Pujol graduated from the University of Córdoba with a law degree in 1838. After returning to Corrientes, Pujol obtained various government positions until named Governor in 1852. He worked with Justo José de Urquiza & Santiago Derqui to write a constitution that would be acceptable to Buenos Aires… always seen as problematic due to the region’s overwhelming economic power. Pujol did much to promote education & favor local trade in Corrientes, including aligning the province with Paraguay’s dictator, Francisco Solano López. Anything to avoid siding with Buenos Aires! In the end, Pujol had severe disagreements with Carlos Tejedor & Bartolomé Mitre & foresaw the coming civil war.

Buenos Aires, Recoleta Cemetery, Juan Gregorio Pujol

Pujol died in August 1861, still serving as Governor of Corrientes & one month before the Battle of Pavón ended the Confederación Argentina which he had supported & served his entire life. But Pujol’s most widely recognized contribution to Argentina was establishing mail service in Corrientes in 1856 along with the first postage stamp used in national territory:

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532. historic photo 11

Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires, Histarmar, Borra, Broszeit

Juan Bautista Borra & Enrique Broszeit pioneered aerial photography in Argentina during the 1920s. Flying in propeller planes while taking risky positions for the best photos, they’ve left behind a valuable archive of Buenos Aires in its prime. More of their story can be found on the wonderful resource, Histarmar (in Spanish). Click on the above photo for a full-size version, found on the Histarmar website.

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531. dechert-barletti

Buenos Aires, Recoleta Cemetery, Dechert-Barletti, Arturo Illia

We love a good mystery…

Aquí descansaron los restos del Presidente de la República Dr. Arturo U. Illia desde su fallecimiento enero de 1983 a octubre de 1983

President of the Republic, Dr. Arturo U. Illia, laid to rest here from his passing in January 1983 until October 1983

President Illia had been forced from office by a military coup in 1966, another victim of the revolving door of democracy & dictatorship in the 20th century. The Argentina Independent has a good article describing Illia’s last day in office. As a high-ranking member of the Unión Cívica Radical, he was entitled to be buried in a mausoleum dedicated to those who had died in the 1890 revolution: a conflict that gave birth to that political party. Obviously he was moved there in October 1983, but why did Illia spend 10 months in this spot? A Presidential sash inside is another reminder of his temporary stay.

Buenos Aires, Recoleta Cemetery, Dechert-X, Arturo Illia

At first I thought this family might be related to Illia’s wife, Silvia Elvira Martorell Kaswalder. She had been undergoing treatment for cancer in a Texas hospital when Illia was forced from office in 1966. Silvia passed away only a few months later back home in Córdoba & was buried in Recoleta Cemetery in the tomb of Hipólito Yrigoyen’s mother. Several decades later, she moved to a separate vault. A search in Genealogía Familiar turned up nothing to relate either Illia or his wife to the Dechert-Barletti family.

According to a 1977 edition of the Boletín Oficial, Jorge Luis Dechert & Ernesto Alberto Barletti formed a company called Nininco that specialized in radio & television components as well as albums & cassette tapes. The business venture no longer exists, so even that extra info was a dead end.

If anyone has information as to why a former President temporarily rested in peace here, please help us solve this mystery!

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