Dead Things in Recoleta

By Madeline Blasberg

I don’t like dead things.

Why?  Because nothing is ever really dead.  You can never be certain that anything, or anyone, has checked out for good.

Need references?  Try The Grudge, The Ring 1, The Ring 2, all zombies…Jesus himself… Regardless of whether the person in question is a scary Asian chick or the Son of God, I have trouble believing that it really is at death that we do part.  Hollywood, religion and a good dose of irrational fear have taught me to believe that anything can come back from the grave.  Anywhere.  At anytime.

So if you were to, oh I don’t know, ask me if I’d like to spend the afternoon romping through a giant cemetery in the middle of Recoleta, Buenos Aires what would I say?  I’d say yes.  Why?  Because Lonely Planet told me to go.  Also I figure if the dead things are gonna get me at least all the haters who mocked my terror would finally know that they had been wrong all along.  …and I of course, would be dead.  So there´s kind of a down side.

View from an apartment balcony overlooking the cemetery.

Cementerio de la Recoleta is home to more dead bodies than I care to count.  I found myself lost in the marble statues, reading inscriptions on mausoleums and enjoying the antiquated school pictures of the deceased.   For hours I walked up and down the tiled alleyways, marveling at the grandeur a person can still possess after they are long since gone.  But reveries, and day dreams have a way of abruptly crashing into reality and falling to pieces.  My collision occurred when someone informed me that I was walking on top of hundreds of dead bodies.  Creepy.

In that moment I had to remind myself that this was not a museum, this was a mausoleum – Read: museum + dead things.  Not only were the mausoleums still very much in use, many of them had been rearranged to accommodate more and more family members.  Because, who wouldn’t want to be stuffed into an underground room with relatives, and walked all over by fanny-pack-wearing tourists for all eternity?  Personally, for the hundreds of thousands of dollars families pay to have this honor, I think it’s a bargain.

Among the celebrity cadavers – presidents, military heroes, politicians, etc. – is Evita herself.  I don’t recall the details, but Evita did quite a bit of traveling after her death, while a tug of war took place between countries laying claim to her remains.  And of course I found her grave, but for me another woman stole the spotlight entirely.

Rufina´s resting place

Her name?  Rufina Cambaceres.

One night, the grounds keeper heard a mysterious noise coming from within the mausoleum, but a large padlock (and probably a great deal of fear) prevented him from opening the door.  The next day, the family was contacted, the padlock removed and they discovered claw marks within Rufina’s coffin.  She had not been dead after all, but in a deep coma.  And when she awoke within the dark confines of her wooden box she screamed, clawed and clamored to get out, but it was no use.  Eventually the little air she had ran out, and Rufina died.  For the second time.

Hope everyone sleeps well tonight…


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