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Category: Science

262. francisco javier muñiz ◊

Francisco Muñiz, Recoleta Cemetery

Born in 1795 in what are now the northern suburbs of Buenos Aires, Francisco Javier Muñiz dedicated his life to serving Argentina & became one of its first internationally acclaimed scientists.

Muñiz was only 12 years old when the British invaded for the second time in 1807. Although technically too young to fight, he defended the city & received a bullet wound in his left leg… this seemed to foreshadow a lifelong involvement with the military. He opted to study medicine at the age of 19 when Cosme Argerich opened the Instituto Médico-Militar in 1814 to train surgeons for military service. Muñiz remained under the tutelage of Argerich until transferring to the medical school at the newly-created University of Buenos Aires in 1822.

His first major assignment came under Coronel Juan Lavalle in early campaigns to take territory from the indigenous population. Muñiz did more than lead the medical unit; he studied customs of the indigenous people & made his first forays in natural history. The 1826 war with Brazil took Muñiz to foreign lands where he was ordered by General Alvear to accompany Lavalle’s troops once again. Lavalle took a bullet in the leg, & Muñiz was fortunately there to save him. Returning to Argentina, Muñiz received multiple honors.

Francisco Muñiz, Recoleta Cemetery

In 1828 Muñiz married & settled down in Luján, just west of Buenos Aires. Better for his health & given the opportunity to engage in scientific study, Muñiz put to practice everything he had learned while on the battlefield. His most significant contribution to Argentina was being the first to use cowpox serum as a vaccination against smallpox. In fact, Muñiz experimented at the same time as Edward Jenner… his results granted Muñiz membership in the Royal Jennerian Society.

Francisco Muñiz, Recoleta Cemetery

Living in Luján also gave Muñiz time to pursue his other great interest: paleontology. During his first service with Lavalle, Muñiz discovered remains of a glyptodont… the first ever recovered. A 10,000 year-old version of today’s armadillo, glyptodonts resembled a mix between a beaver & a turtle & some were as big as a Volkswagen Beetle. Similar fossils have been uncovered in Buenos Aires while building new subway stations. Displays can be found on the D Line (Juramento) & on the B Line (Tronador):

Glyptodont fossil, Subte, Juramento station

Unfortunately Muñiz did not publicly document his discovery & a French explorer 13 years later took credit for finding a new species. Undeterred, Muñiz received praise for sending 11 boxes of fossil specimens to Paris & even corresponded occasionally with Charles Darwin. Darwin wrote to Muñiz in 1847:

Your pamphlet on the scarlet fever I will present to the Royal College of Surgeons. I cannot adequately say how much I admire your continued zeal, situated as you are without means of pursuing your scientific studies and without people to sympathise with you, for the advancement of natural history; I trust that the pleasure of your pursuits affords you some reward for your exertions.

Francisco Muñiz, Recoleta Cemetery

Muñiz eventually returned to Buenos Aires where he directed the medical school & served as a member in both houses of Congress until the start of the War of the Triple Alliance. Even though he was 70 years old, Muñiz offered to go to the front lines. When refused, he disguised himself as a peasant, took surgical equipment & went anyway. Muñiz remained in northern Argentina fighting a cholera epidemic until his wife passed away in 1868.

Francisco Muñiz, Recoleta Cemetery

Returning once again to Buenos Aires, Muñiz officially retired but decided to come to the rescue once again when a massive outbreak of yellow fever hit the city in 1871. Catching yellow fever himself, Muñiz became one of the 14,000 casualties. After his death, the private collection of Muñiz became the foundation of the Museum of Natural Sciences located in Parque Centenario in the neighborhood of Caballito:

Museo de Ciencias Naturales, Caballito

The crypt became a National Historic Monument in 1946. The enormous sculpture of a woman holding the rod of Asclepius in one hand & a sword in the other (medicine + military) was Ettore Ximenez—the same Roman sculptor responsible for Manuel Belgrano’s tomb in the patio of the Iglesia de Santo Domingo:

Francisco Muñiz, Recoleta Cemetery

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245. dellepiane

Antonio Dellepiane, Recoleta Cemetery

Lots of Dellepiane tombs are scattered through the cemetery, but this vault holds two of the most important family members. Antonio Dellepiane chose not to practice law after graduating with honors & much praise in 1892. Instead, he focused on education in criminology. As first professor of the newly-established Sociology department at the Universidad de Buenos Aires, Antonio traveled to Europe to bring back the latest theories & teachings to Argentina.

Several books & faculty positions later, Antonio excelled in another field: history. In the early 1920s, he was named Director of the Museo Histórico Nacional & used his position to write several historical biographies. With access to original documentation, Antonio discovered the lives of two important women, María Sánchez de Thompson & Carmen Nóbrega de Avellaneda (wife of President Nicolás Avellaneda). He passed away in 1939 & a plaque was donated by master sculptor Rogelio Yrurtia on the first anniversary of his death:

Antonio Dellepiane, Recoleta Cemetery

During the 1919 Semana Trágica, Lieutenant General Luis J. Dellepiane restored order to Buenos Aires after a metalworkers’ union strike spiraled out of control. He had previously been in charge of the city’s police force after the 1909 assassination of Ramón Falcón & remained in that position until 1912. By 1919, Luis had assumed command of the Second Division of the Argentine army stationed in Campo de Mayo. Luis marched his troops into Buenos Aires to engage striking workers at the request of the Minister of War. Violence continued & almost 1,000 people died in the most violent social uprising ever seen in the city.

Luis would later be appointed Minister of War during Hipólito Yrigoyen’s second term & resigned when fellow general José Félix Uriburu ousted the President in 1930. Oddly enough, Luis also studied to be a civil engineer & did the first geodetic studies of Argentina. Only two plaques commemorate Luis, none of which mention his role in the Semana Trágica:

Luis J. Dellepiane, Recoleta Cemetery

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200. ventura coll

Ventura Coll, Recoleta Cemetery

Hidden among a series of short rows, Ventura Coll gets little attention these days & even fewer people remember who he was. An inscription on the back side made the search for background info easier:

Ramón Sardà, Recoleta Cemetery

Thanks to some helpful people at the Province of Santa Fe historical society, I learned that Ventura Coll was a doctor there, somewhere in the province… that’s all anyone knew about his life. But Ventura’s sister, Victoria Coll, married Joaquín Marull & had a daughter named Delfina. Delfina married Ramón, so that’s how the Sardá line also wound up in Recoleta Cemetery with the Colls.

All these last names are Catalán, & Sardá was also a doctor. Seems that Coll stuck to a tight social circle of Catalan immigrants. The historical society also provided me with a wonderful photo with Ventura Coll (left) & Ramón Sardá (right). The bust on the grave is remarkably accurate:

Ventura Coll & Ramón Sardá

Ventura Coll, Recoleta Cemetery

The statue of the boy angel may seem familiar to regular readers of this blog because the same statue also decorates the Francisco Gómez family vault:

Ventura Coll, Recoleta Cemetery

Delfina & Ramón Sardá had no children, so it’s interesting to note that they donated money to establish a maternity hospital in Buenos Aires. Opened in 1934 in the neighborhood of Parque Patricios, the building is textbook Art Deco & one of the most important public hospitals in the city. With over 6,000 births per year, no wonder it was immortalized in the 1954 movie “Mercado de Abasto” with Tita Merello & Pepe Arias:

Hospital Ramón Sardá, Parque Patricios