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AfterLife Posts

505. isaac fernández blanco

Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires, Isaac Fernández Blanco

Born in 1862, Isaac Fernández Blanco came from a family with an extensive history in the city of Corrientes. Isaac’s grandfather, Ángel, fought during independence wars against the Spanish but later moved to Buenos Aires, switching interests from politics to business.

In 1895, Isaac began to spend the family fortune on an impressive collection of Spanish colonial art. Even though an engineer by trade, his passion for period objects transformed the family house into a museum which eventually opened to the public. Isaac remained the museum’s honorary director until one year before his death in 1928.

Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires, Isaac Fernández Blanco

Family members continued to add to Isaac’s collection, & in 1947 the museum found a new location: the Palacio Noel. The Neocolonial residence built by architect Martín Noel serves as the perfect backdrop for the collection:

Buenos Aires, Retiro, Museo Isaac Fernández Blanco, Palacio Noel

Buenos Aires, Retiro, Museo Isaac Fernández Blanco, Palacio Noel

Buenos Aires, Retiro, Museo Isaac Fernández Blanco, Palacio Noel

Buenos Aires, Retiro, Museo Isaac Fernández Blanco, Palacio Noel

Also buried in the family mausoleum is Naír Mercedes Fernández Blanco de Gowland, who founded the Asociación Guías Argentinas in 1953… during the last years of her life. The AGA is the local equivalent of the Girl Scouts, & a plaque reminds passersby of her contribution to Argentina:

Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires, Naír F.B. de Gowland

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504. buenos aires rediscovered

Buenos Aires, Fototipias Peuser

In Oct 2012, I unexpectedly found a blog with an interesting proposal titled Buenos Aires Rediscovered. As a long-time fan of before & after or then & now comparative photos, Ken’s mission hit close to home:

My great grandfather Alexander Ballantyne OBE was an engineer back in the days when Sun never set on the British Empire. After having served his apprenticeship in Scotland he set off around the world working aboard steam ships. One of these was the “Roma” which was built in Glasgow by the ship builders A & J Inglis. In 1926 my great grandfather set off to Buenos Aires on the Roma to deliver it to its new owners—the Companía Argentina de Navigación (Nicolas Mihanovich) Ltd. They were the dominant force in shipping in Argentina and pretty much ran a monopoly. As well as delivering the ship he had to spend a bit of time in Buenos Aires to test the ship’s engines. When he left he was given a photograph album of Buenos Aires as a thank you present by the Companía Argentina de Navigación. It is this album which inspired this blog.

The fact that Ken put so much effort doing his own series of then & now pics using the 1920s album—in spite of never having visited Buenos Aires previously—inspired me to get in touch. I’ve tried to help by taking a few photos he couldn’t decipher… BA has changed a lot. I’m hoping we’ll be able to meet soon in London because I truly appreciate his work.

Buenos Aires, Fototipias Peuser, Mihanovich dedication, dedicatoria de Mihanovich.

Naturally, Recoleta Cemetery appeared in the book given to Ken’s great-grandfather. Below is the original photo, along with the newer version. Unfortunately that particular tree is no longer there, so Ken came up with a creative solution. Not bad at all. It’s difficult to be 100% accurate when the plaza in front of the cemetery has changed so often!

Buenos Aires, Fototipias Peuser, Recoleta Cemetery

Buenos Aires, Fototipias Peuser, Recoleta Cemetery

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503. coronel juan de dios rawson

Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires, Coronel Juan de Dios Rawson

Coronel Juan de Dios Rawson, whose father came from Massachusetts, fought in several battles during Argentina’s early years of organization, including the Guerra de la Triple Alianza. He was also the half brother of Dr. Guillermo Rawson. But his great-grandson, Arturo Rawson, became President of Argentina… for only 72 hours.

Rawson had a long career in the military & rose to the rank of General after several decades of service. As commanding officer of the cavalry, he possessed the troops needed to stage a successful coup d’etat already planned by the GOU (Grupo de Oficiales Unidos) in 1943. This secret, informal collection of officers aimed to end the Década Infame where electoral fraud kept the same people in power year after year.

Buenos Aires, Recoleta Cemetery, General Arturo Rawson

On 04 Jun 1943, Rawson marched 10,000 soldiers into Buenos Aires & took control of the country. While naming fellow officers to government positions & before he was sworn in as de facto President, the GOU realized they had made a mistake in asking Rawson for help. He supported the Allies in World War II while the GOU thought Argentina should remain neutral. Juan Domingo Perón, along with other GOU members, forced Rawson to resign & General Pedro Ramírez took his place.

For a brief period Rawson served as ambassador to Brazil. He also supported an attempted coup to overthrow Perón’s government in 1951. Rawson died of a heart attack the following year & did not live to see the eventual ousting of Perón in 1955.

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502. juan berisso

Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires, Berisso

Between 1869 & 1871, Buenos Aires endured two disastrous epidemics: first, cholera, that left 9,000 dead & second, yellow fever, which claimed 14,000 victims. The city government put into practice new sanitation practices, including the removal of tanneries & slaughterhouses from residential areas. Business owners received big tax breaks if they agreed to relocate.

Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires, Berisso

Due to those incentives, Juan Bautista Berisso—an Genovese immigrant born in 1834—purchased 28 hectares in Ensenada, near the future location of La Plata. He established a successful tannery & in following years acquired a distillery, a vegetable oil factory, dock facilities & a number of cattle ranches.

Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires, Berisso

Berisso passed away in 1893 & is buried in an extraordinary family plot rarely seen by tourists because of its somewhat hidden location. Beautiful works by Italian sculptor Alessandro Biggi decorate the mausoleum, with Chronos (Father Time) on the left, a female angel with an anchor on the right & two lions guarding the entrance:

Buenos Aires, Recoleta Cemetery, Berisso

Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires, Berisso

Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires, Berisso

In La Plata, another branch of the Berisso family built the largest mausoleum in the cemetery, currently abandoned:

Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires, Berisso

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501. florencio varela

Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires, Florencio Varela

Florencio Varela was born in Buenos Aires in 1807 (pre-independence), with his father passing away when he was only 11 years old. As a child, he earned a grant to attend the Unión del Sur school, recently founded by General Juan Martín de Pueyrredón. His university studies began four years later, & in 1827 he obtained a doctorate in Law.

While studying, Varela wrote his first literary piece & was published in newspapers edited by his older brother, the famous poet Juan Cruz Varela. Florencio’s brother also inspired Unitarian ideas that led him to leave Argentina in 1829 after Lavalle ordered the execution of Manuel Dorrego. Complicated times.

Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires, Florencio Varela

Exiled in Montevideo, Varela married Justa Cané, had 11 children & spent most of his time working as a lawyer. But during this period, Varela came to be known as much for his literary talent as for his flair for politics. He participated in early elections in Uruguay, supporting Fructuoso Rivera over General Manuel Oribe who shared ideas similar to those of Juan Manuel de Rosas.

In 1843 while Montevideo remained under siege by Oribe, Varela was sent to Europe in an attempt to obtain English & French support against the growing influence of Rosas. The UK turned a deaf ear to Varela although he took advantage of the trip to visit museums, monuments & factories. Later in Paris, he met with Alphonse Thiers, & the French Congress agreed to put the struggles in the Río de la Plata on their agenda.

In the French capital, he also conversed with the aging General José de San Martín & met Louis Daguerre who explained to Varela details of the latest invention: photography. He brought back to the Río de la Plata one of the first early cameras. The daguerrotype below is of Varela & his daughter, María, taken by an unknown author in 1847.

Florencia Varela, daguerrotype

Immediately after returning to Montevideo, Varela founded the newspaper “El Comercio del Plata,” fighting Rosas from its pages & supporting European intervention in the region. Miguel Cané (father) & Valentín Alsina collaborated with Varela, & Alsina would become editor after Varela’s death.

On 20 Mar 1848, Florencio Varela was stabbed in the back & murdered. His assassin declared on trial that he had been sent by Oribe’s men. Interestingly enough, Florencio Varela’s ashes lie among many members of his family, but his wife is not here. After the assassination of Varela, Justa Cané married again—to Doctor Andrés Somellera—and her remains are in that family’s vault. Justa survived Varela by more than half a century, passing away in 1910.

Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires, Florencio Varela

One of the most populated areas of the Province of Buenos Aires commemorates the reporter since 1891. In 1883, that same province also issued a bill with portraits of Valentín Alsina & Florencio Varela with the value of 2 gold pesos.

1883 billete 2 pesos florencio varela

The currency shown above is courtesy of Billetes Argentinos.

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500. reflections

Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires, reflection

Time to celebrate… and take a look back. Honestly I don’t know how I managed to arrive at 500 posts about Recoleta Cemetery!

But it’s been a labor of love. I still remember my first visit to the cemetery in March 2000… wandering everywhere just to find Eva Perón’s tomb. In fact, the beauty of the place distracted me so much that I forgot about Evita until a few visits later! After moving to Buenos Aires, I developed a successful tour of the cemetery & had a crazy idea to map the entire place. Yep, I counted every single tomb, crypt, mausoleum, & cenotaph. Whew.

This blog came about in 2007 to help market that map but soon took on a life of its own. Despite a couple of long breaks & an extended stay in Australia, AfterLife continued to grow & gained readership… there’s no other English-language source like it. The map later transformed into a PDF guide & then an iPhone app with the birth of Endless Mile. Below are a few stats about this interesting journey:


First post: 03 Oct 2007

Total # of posts: 500

Total word count: over 110,000 or about the size of a novel

Readership: averages between 4,500 & 5,000 unique visitors per month, about 300 per day. Amazing for a blog about a cemetery

Most comments: Liliana Crociati de Szaszak (currently 107)

Total number of photos posted: over 1,600… & only a few used elsewhere online without my permission!

Number of bilingual posts: currently 155, or 31%

People guided since 2003: just under 1,000! Remarkable since my groups average between 2-6 people. This number also includes maps & guides sold online.


Here’s the big news: today & today only I’ll give away a free copy of the PDF guide to anyone who sends me their email address (robert AT Not only will this help spread the word about Recoleta Cemetery, but it gives everyone a chance to test drive an Endless Mile guide.

Thanks for everyone’s continued support!

Update: As of Aug 2015, the iPhone app is no longer for sale.