Cementerio de la Recoleta
Buenos Aires, Argentina
From Polly Evans:
“A visit to the tomb of Eva Perón is not exactly an offbeat travel experience: enter the gates of Buenos Aires’s Recoleta cemetery and you can almost follow the crowds along the well-trodden path to her door. But Eva Perón’s cadaver definitely deserves a place on this site – for it was one of the quirkiest travellers ever.
Evita died of cancer in 1952. She was just 33 years old (many drew parallels between her age at death and that of Jesus Christ). She’d met Juan Perón eight years earlier, when she was working as an actress and was introduced to him at a fundraiser for earthquake victims. When Perón became president of Argentina in 1946, Eva catapulted herself to glory by his side.
The Argentine descamisados – the ‘shirtless’ majority – loved Evita. (The oligarchy, on the other hand, hated her.) When she established the Eva Perón Foundation to aid the poor, they flocked in their stinking rags to her office where she – fabulously coiffed and bejewelled – received them personally and bestowed upon them money and material goods.
Evita died at 8.25 p.m. on 26 January, 1952. Everything stopped – cinemas and theatres brought down their curtains, restaurants and cafés shuttered their doors, flags flew at half mast. The crowds that flooded to pay their respects were so intense that more than two thousand people had to be treated for injuries in the 24 hours following Evita’s death.
Evita’s body was embalmed. But before the mausoleum designed to house it was complete, Juan Perón was overthrown by a military coup and forced into exile. The regime that followed – which loathed the Peróns, banning all photographs of them and forbidding the very pronouncement of the word peronismo – was left with a quandary. What were they going to do with Evita’s body which was not buried, but lying in wait in a government building in Buenos Aires?
Obviously, plans for the mausoleum had to be torn up – that would only have encouraged the cult of peronismo. The Catholic church forbade cremation. The authorities tried to bury Evita in a secret location, but word leaked out and the plan had to be shelved. In the end, it was decided that Evita, like her husband, must go into exile. The regime went to incredible lengths, filling various coffins with ballast and sending them abroad in an attempt to throw Evita’s followers off her formaldehyde-soaked scent. In the end, an Italian priest tiptoed off with the real coffin. He returned to Argentina a few weeks later and handed to the president of the day, Aramburu, a sealed brown envelope. Inside were the details of the cadaver’s whereabouts.
Aramburu chose not to open the envelope, but gave it to his lawyer instructing him that, in the event of his death, the still-sealed envelope should be passed to the then president who could then choose to open it or not, as he saw fit. The years passed and Argentina’s politics continued their messy course. By 1970, a bloody guerrilla war was being waged; on 29 May Aramburu was kidnapped and murdered. His lawyer, as bidden, passed the brown envelope to the president of the day. He opened it – and learned that Evita’s body was buried under a false name in Milan.
The whereabouts of Evita’s cadaver had poisoned Arentine politics for too long, the president decided. So he ordered that the grave be traced, the body disinterred, and delivered to Juan Perón, who was now living in exile with his third wife, Isabelita, in Madrid. The embalmed body was found to have stood up to its travels well: Evita’s nose was a little squashed, and her forehead slightly dented, but other than that she was in the same state as when she had first been embalmed. Isabelita ran her fingers through her predecessor’s dyed platinum locks, removing the dirt that had accumulated – and then she and Perón stashed the body in their attic.
Juan Perón returned government to Argentina in 1973 but died the following year. Evita’s cadaver returned to its homeland shortly afterwards. Now, the faithful decided, they would build a proper mausoleum, where Perón and Evita could lie embalmed together (goodness knows what they were planning to do with Isabelita when she finally popped off). But before they could carry out their plans, another military coup ousted the Peronists once more. Finally, on 22 October 1976, Evita’s body was given to her family. They buried her at the Recoleta cemetery, in a compartment beneath a trap door, beneath another compartment with another trap door, and there was only one key. And there, the cadaver of the most revered and most despised woman of Argentina still lies.”
The tomb is obviously the most visited in the cemetery. While I was resting on the steps of another tomb between the entrance and Evita’s many people passed and a few even asked me for directions to it. Fans have left a variety of tokens for her: flowers, flags, ribbons, etc and someone is always taking a picture. The tomb itself is understated, relatively small and covered with plaques.