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Category: Literati

389. ascasubi

Hilario Ascasubi, Recoleta Cemetery

The fabulous life of the gaucho poet Hilario Ascasubi seems to have come directly from the pen of a 19th-century Romantic writer.

The story goes that Ascasubi was born in Córdoba in 1807 aboard a covered wagon. At the age of 5, he rode alongside the then Coronel José de San Martín. And when he turned 14, on a whim Hilario embarked on “La Rosa Argentina” & sailed for over two years around the world.

In 1825, he enlisted as a recruit in General José María Paz’s forces to fight against the Spanish. It was there where Ascasubi began to compose verses to entertain his companions. Shortly after, he met Facundo Quiroga in Tucumán.

Hilario Ascasubi, Recoleta Cemetery

When Rosas came to power, Ascasubi wrote satires against the “Restorer” which got him two years in prison. After his release, he lived in exile in Montevideo for the next two decades… the time when his literary expertise would make him famous. Ascasubi returned to Buenos Aires in 1852, & the following year edited the satirical newspaper “Aniceto el Gallo.” A few years later he spent almost his entire fortune in building the first Teatro Colón on Plaza de Mayo.

In 1872, his complete works were published in Paris & “Santos Vega” appeared for the first time—about a storyteller who defies the Devil himself & is regarded as one of the best works of Latin American literature. In Recoleta Cemetery, his most recognized works are listed on the left side of the tomb while his military actions are named on the right:

Hilario Ascasubi, Recoleta Cemetery

Ascasubi—friend of Sarmiento, Florencio Varela, & Valentín Alsina—passed away in Buenos Aires in 1875. His crypt was declared a National Historic Monument in 1946. The tree stump is unique to the cemetery… a symbol of death of something which once lived, something which can never be recovered:

Hilario Ascasubi, 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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369. 1955 guidebook

Apuntes, Jorge Kaudi

The first attempt to create a Recoleta Cemetery guidebook appeared in 1955, ten years after a few tombs were declared historic monuments by the national heritage association. Author Jorge Kaudi worked in the mausoleum business & assembled several lists of noteworthy tombs in Recoleta Cemetery. His goal was to generate interest in a larger, more scholarly project to be used by school teachers… teachers who would ultimately use the cemetery as a big, outdoor classroom for teaching art, architecture & national history. Very cool.

Kaudi’s hopes that the Ministry of Education would continue his project never came to fruition. But his efforts led to a mention in local newspapers & generated demand for new copies of the list. The one appearing in this post was typed by Kaudi in 1956, signed & donated to the library of the Museo de Arte Popular-José Hernández. Apparently it’s the only original left in any of the city’s libraries:

Apuntes, Jorge Kaudi

Kaudi recognized the difficulty of designing a cemetery guidebook since passageways inside have no names. Providing written directions to specific loactions is impossible, so he chose to use the cemetery’s official location system instead. Kaudi created categories & listed several entries under each:

  • Various (people not in Recoleta Cemetery) • 12
  • Sculptures • 47
  • Monuments • 42
  • Images of Christ • 10
  • Architecture • 39
  • Doors • 23
  • Stained glass •16
  • Monumental works • 56
  • Professors & teachers • 61
  • Writers, historians, poets • 60
  • Presidents & Vice-Presidents • 23
  • Playwrights • 17
  • Pantheons for associations • 15
  • Army & Navy personnel • 108
  • Public figures & politicians • 60

Apuntes, Jorge Kaudi

Fairly extensive (the entire document is 20 pages), the list is an incredible effort for the post-Perón era. But the most interesting section is the introduction, where Kaudi makes a series of observations concerning tourism in Recoleta Cemetery:

As I mentioned before, no guidebook exists for Recoleta Cemetery, not even a bad one. All the artistic treasure it contains, which constitute its rich historical & cultural heritage, remains ignored by many people who visit it.

American & English tourism companies classify this cemetery as monumental & very worthy of being visited. For that reason, one of the first sites for tourists to see in the city of Buenos Aires is this cemetery. Guided by translators who must fulfill their duty according to rigid schedules, [they] abbreviate its visit, barely arriving to the monument to Dr. Carlos Pelligrini situated 100 meters from the entrance.

With little exception, visitors do not make contact with the exciting reality of our history due to the lack of knowledgable guides who do not know our past history, its most glorious traditions, or its valued forefathers. Without doubt, those who should praise our past & take real pride in extolling the virtures of our founders unfortunately fail. And worse, along with this ignorance of history, there are single-minded guides who ignore artistic & esthetic topics… all of which demonstrate the sad fact that they cannot explain to visitors knowledge they do not possess. Tourists return to their own countries without a good art & history lesson… something that anyone has a right to experience who visits a country with interest to see & appreciate something that tourist agencies claim worthy of admiration.

Kaudi cuts right to the point… he could be talking about today! At least a couple of books about Recoleta Cemetery exist today (we will release our own guidebook soon), & there are a few good tour guides. Hopefully this blog fulfills some of what Kaudi considered appropriate over 50 years ago.

Update (18 May 2011): Wandering through the cemetery in Mar 2011, I stumbled upon a mausoleum designed by Jorge Kaudi. The burial place of J. Rodolfo Bernasconi y Familia deserves a post of its own, but this proves there is always something to discover in Recoleta Cemetery:

Buenos Aires, Recoleta Cemetery, J. Rodolfo Bernasconi, Jorge Kaudi

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365. domingo faustino sarmiento ◊

Domingo Faustino Sarmiento, Recoleta Cemetery

As the only occupant of Recoleta Cemetery marked with signposts, Sarmiento is widely recognized as one of the most important figures in Argentine history:

Sarmiento, Recoleta Cemetery

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.

AGN, Presidente Sarmiento

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 an older version of the 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:

AGN, death portrait, Sarmiento

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”:

Sarmiento, Recoleta Cemetery

Sarmiento, Recoleta Cemetery

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:

AGN, Sarmiento, Recoleta Cemetery

Sarmiento, Recoleta Cemetery

Sarmiento, Recoleta Cemetery

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:

Sarmiento, Recoleta Cemetery

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.

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363. familias de macías y soria

Macías y Soria, Recoleta Cemetery

Although we’re still investigating why he was originally buried here, this was once the final resting place of Paul Groussac. Born into a modest family in Toulouse in 1848, Groussac denied a spot the French Naval Academy in order to travel the world. But his funds were running out in Bourdeaux, so he took a boat to a faraway destination: Buenos Aires. Arriving in Argentina in 1866 at the age of 18 with no Spanish, Groussac took odd jobs & studied mathematics… but it was his historical essays which got him noticed. Nicolás Avellaneda offered Groussac a professorial position at the Colegio Nacional in Tucumán where he remained for 12 years.

According to biographer Paula Bruno, Groussac returned to France in 1883 hoping to make a name for himself in Parisian literary circles. No one paid much attention so he quickly returned to Argentina to find fame there instead. In 1885, he was appointed Director of the National Library & occupied that post until his death in 1929. Groussac, in the space of 40+ years, converted the National Library into a leading cultural institution & achieved the reknown he longed for.

Paul Groussac, Recoleta Cemetery

At a time when Argentina wanted to become as European as possible, Groussac’s French origins worked to his advantage. Bruno claims that Groussac thought his word on anything cultural was definitive just because he was French. Whether he was that arrogant or not, Groussac established two trade magazines, organized the library’s collection, wrote several historical biographies, stimulated cultural activity & strove to add value to intellectual life in Argentina. Jorge Luis Borges even wrote his obituary. One of the plaques displays an accurate relief of Groussac in later life along with names of some of his widely read publications:

Paul Groussac, Recoleta Cemetery

Moved after the completion of his own family vault, Paul Groussac can now be found on a prominent diagonal in Chacarita Cemetery:

Paul Groussac, Chacarita Cemetery

Update (06 Oct 2012): Thanks to a descendant, we have a plausible reason why Groussac was buried in this tomb. One of his daughters, María, married Esteban Macías sometime at the beginning of the 19th century.. They had seven children, one of which was the grandfather of Silvestre Macías… who found this post & left a comment. Thanks very much!

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357. the big wake-up

Mark Coggins, August Riordan series

What if Evita is not in Recoleta Cemetery? What if she is actually in the Bay Area?

That’s the premise behind author Mark Coggins‘ latest book in the August Riordan series. San Francisco-based private investigator Riordan witnesses the tragic death of a beautiful university student from Buenos Aires & is drawn into a mad hunt for Evita’s remains. Mark’s promo sheet goes on to say:

He needs all of his wits, his network of friends and associates, and an unexpected legacy from the dead father he has never known to help him survive the deadly intrigue between powerful Argentine movers and shakers, ex-military men, and a mysterious woman named Isis who is expert in ancient techniques of mummification.

How could you not want to read a book like that? To be honest, it’s surprising no one has done this before given Eva’s bizarre post-mortem journey. The story would make for a great movie too. Mark was nice enough to send me a pre-release copy where I found the following:

Big Wake-Up, authors note

The genesis of this book came from a tour I took of la Recoleta Cemetery in Buenos Aires, Argentina on Christmas morning, 2007. My tour guide was Robert Wright and he inspired me not only with stories of Evita Perón and her macabre odyssey, but with the accompanying stories of the politicians and military men buried in the cemetery who were responsible for, and participated in, the bizarre machinations behind it. Robert has a blog about the cemetery, which is well worth visiting if you are interested in more information about Recoleta.

Makes me wish I was still doing tours of the cemetery :) In the few spare moments I’ve had since returning to Buenos Aires one month ago, I’ve read the book & can definitely recommend it. The character of August Riordan is textbook PI, & Coggins deftly takes the reader into his underground world. Check it out!

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