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Category: Urban legends

092. juan alleno ◊

David Alleno, Recoleta Cemetery

Although this skinny, narrow mausoleum doesn’t stand out, an urban legend lurks inside. Peek through the door to find the sculpture of David Alleno—caretaker in Recoleta Cemetery from 1881 to 1910.

Like the caretakers of today, David had a certain sector which he maintained & apparently became obsessed over where his final resting place would be. Members of the Alleno family claim that David’s brother, Juan, had already purchased this plot for his family… perhaps that inspired David to be buried in Recoleta Cemetery as well. After saving over a lifetime, he was able to have a sculpture made of himself at work, complete with keys, broom & watering can:

David Alleno, Recoleta Cemetery

David Alleno, Recoleta Cemetery

Urban legend claims that when the sculpture arrived from Italy & was placed in the tomb, David was so eager to complete the project that he went home & committed suicide… knowing that he would soon rest in peace here. Whether the motive is true or not, David Alleno is now locked in with the elite residents of Recoleta Cemetery:

David Alleno, Recoleta Cemetery

Update (07 Nov 2010): Thanks to an investigation by Guada Aballe, we know a few more facts about the life of David Alleno… & she found photos too! One of the best resources for early 20th century Buenos Aires history is Caras & Caretas, a local magazine with political & social commentary. In the 10 Apr 1909 edition, Recoleta Cemetery workers were concerned about a change in administration. Various caretakers were photographed & David Alleno appeared in the article:

David Alleno, Recoleta Cemetery

David Alleno, Recoleta Cemetery

David Alleno spent 28 years working at Recoleta Cemetery & according to his death certificate—also amazingly uncovered by Guada—he passed away on 31 Aug 1915. The cause of death is listed as “trauma & cerebral contusion.” Of course whether or not the head injury was self-inflicted does not appear on the death certificate. But we’re one step closer to uncovering the truth behind the urban legend. Thanks, Guada!!

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024. arturo gramajo

Arturo Gramajo, Recoleta Cemetery

Mayors of Buenos Aires have been hand-picked by the President (pending Senate approval, much like US Supreme Court justices) for most of Argentine history. Only in 1996 did porteños obtain the right to elect their top position. Arturo Gramajo served as BA mayor from Feb 1915 to Nov 1916 under the presidency of Victorino de la Plaza. Solid & stoic, this elegant tomb stands like an island in the northern section of the cemetery.

Arturo Gramajo, Recoleta Cemetery

But there’s another Arturo Gramajo famous for changing the cuisine scene in Argentina. Could it be the same guy? We’ll probably never know…

Arturo Gramajo, Recoleta Cemetery

As a wealthy playboy who loved good living, Gramajo was staying at the Hotel Ritz in Paris when he got a little peckish. However, it was late & the kitchen was closed. Going with an assistant, he looked over what was lying around, threw everything in sight together & invented the revuelto Gramajo: scrambled eggs mixed with ham & French fries. The dish became popular after his return to Buenos Aires. Of course, even that story is up for debate. Some claim that Coronel Artemio Gramajo who served with General Roca decided to break the monotony of army fare & created the dish that bears his name.

Whether it was a mayor, playboy or coronel who invented the revuelto Gramajo, it’s one of the heartiest plates on traditional Argentine menus. Photo below found here:

Revuelto Gramajo

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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.”

Update (14 Jun 2018): Life stories about the residents of Recoleta Cemetery can inspire others, & that was the case for Pablo Sura. He contacted me last year to share his experience on a visit to Recoleta Cemetery, during a trip to Buenos Aires from Neuquén. Pablo felt so touched by the image of Rufina that he wanted to dedicate a work of art to her… a painting to share with everyone. Last month he presented the image inside Rufina’s former home in Barracas . Great work, Pablo!

Pablo Sura, Rufina Cambacérès

Pablo Sura, Rufina Cambacérès, Barracas

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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