A list of occupants inside Recoleta Cemetery reads like a Who’s Who of Argentine history & society. The elite, an aspiring middle class, friends, enemies & those who contributed to the general welfare of Argentina all share space in a miniature city of mausoleums & monuments.
During this self-guided visit, you’ll stroll past Presidents & politicians (some naughty, some nice), Nobel Prize winners, literary greats, entertainers, scientists, military leaders, sports figures & even some who died tragically. The cemetery’s most famous resident, Eva María Duarte de Perón —simply Evita to her devotées— even had a bizarre post-mortem journey before finally resting in peace in Recoleta.
In 2009, Robert found one of the few copies available of a book by Jorge Kaudi titled “Cementerio de la Recoleta — Guía de Visitantes,” the first of its kind ever written about the cemetery. In mid-2023, a group of researchers decided to re-edit this trailblazing text, created when no one believed in the cultural & touristic potential of the necropolis. Surprisingly, the process of that re-edition began far from Recoleta, in a place near the city of Buenos Aires called San Isidro. María Laje, one of the editors along with Graciela Blanco & Susana Gesualdi, tells us the story.
“It all began thanks to the curiosity of Graciela Blanco, who researches the cemetery of San Isidro. In the decade of the 1950s, a tragedy took place there: twelve girls died in a factory fire. They were buried together in a mausoleum funded by donations from the general public, & it has a very beautiful (statue of an) angel. Graciela has written much about the history of this event over the years & was looking to find who had donated the statue. About a year & a half ago, she discovered that the donor was Jorge Kaudi, president of the Argentina Federation of Pétanque.”
“From that moment,” continues Laje, “Graciela looked into who Kaudi was & discovered that he was a builder of funeral vaults who had written a guidebook to Recoleta Cemetery. She found a reference to Kaudi in a book by Elba Villafañe Bombal titled ‘Intinerario histórico de Recoleta‘”.
“At that point, Susana Gesualdi accessed Kaudi’s book in the Museo Hernández, & I transcribed it on my computer. We copied it word for word, we didn’t correct any single part,” affirms María Laje.
“Once the book had been found, we needed to uncover more biographical information about Kaudi. Oscar de Masi (heritage specialist & former president of the National Commission of Monuments, Places & Historical Assets) gave Susana a tip: Kaudi’s date of death. With this information we went to newspaper archives to find his obituary & to see if there was any other info. Kaudí had donated his publication to various newspapers, so we searched in Clarín & La Nación but found nothing,” states Laje.
This all changed when “someone appeared from the Family Search website who wanted to help provide information. I commented that were were investigating the life of Kaudi, & this person took it upon themselves to find him on that webpage. That’s how we found his date of birth & a detail… that he had been born in Montevideo, Uruguay. We asked a friend there to obtain a copy of his birth certificate for us.”
“Afterwards,” Laje continues, “we began searching for vaults built by Kaudi in Recoleta. Susana found a few, while between Graciela & myself, we combed through the cemetery several times. This is how we found 49 vaults signed by him, although we’re sure that more exist.”
Concerning the guidebook previously mentioned, Laje points out that “it’s marvelous. Kaudi speaks 70 years ago about the importance of cemeteries like we do today. About how important the cemetery is, not as a final resting place, but somewhere you have to bring school groups, exactly the same as we say now. It’s unbelievable how he has fallen out of public memory.”
“This guy’s merit is remarkable, just for the effort in making that guidebook. No one had written anything before him, he was a pioneer,” continues Laje. She adds, “I believe we are going to do justice to the memory of Kaudi. Apart from your publication (Laje refers to our blog post mentioned & linked above), we found nothing else… except a reference that he had been president of the Argentine Federation of Pétanque. Recovering his life story was difficult. In fact, to this day we don’t know if he had any children. When he passed away, his wife & other family members appear in the obituary, but there is no mention of children.”
María Laje concludes, “It was an interesting undertaking that we’re satisfied with, mainly for remembering Kaudi & giving him his due recognition. In addition, we’re going to propose to Recoleta, where they are developing themed guided visits, that one should be about the works of Jorge Kaudi.”
The book “Cementerio de la Recoleta — Guía de Visitantes” by Jorge Kaudi originally appeared in 1955 with a second edition following one year later. That 1956 publication was the source for the reedition by those researchers mentioned above, & first appeared in mid-2023 as PDF available for free download. This year a physical edition was presented in Recoleta Cemetery on Saturday, 03 Feb 2024.
A rare family document appeared on Facebook, & the owner kindly gave us permission to share it here as well. This boleto de sepultura —roughly translated as a “burial certificate”— has many interesting bits of information, but first a translation:
The Municipality of the city of Buenos Aires has sold in perpetuity, under the conditions outlined below, the sixth gravesite, No. 32 of Section 2 in the Northern Cemetery to Mr. Enrique Prack who has paid the Tax Office the sum of seven thousand pesos; this document should be registered by the Administrator of the above-mentioned cemetery.
#1 · No other sale or transfer of this property will be recognized except those with the right of succession. #2 · Aforementioned transfers may only be granted by the Municipality, via official request and with corresponding information.
[handwritten note] At 15:00, to the right of the second street.
Buenos Aires, 11 January 1884
[followed by illegible signatures… there’s a Belgrano & a Mariano Obarrio.]
Unfortunately the exact size of the plot is not recorded, but the price of 7,000 pesos in 1884 was a small fortune! Of course, determining an equivalent amount in terms of today’s purchasing power is tricky.
According to the Banco Central, the peso had almost the same value as the English sovereign at the time. So the Prack family invested 7,000 pounds for their plot; a considerable sum given that one of the extremely wealthy members of the Anchorena family died in 1884 with a fortune of 7 million pesos. If that’s the top tier of wealth in Argentina at that moment, this purchase represents a sizeable sum of money.
Also of interest is a legal clause stating the plot belongs to the family forever. Well, almost. Given that Catholic cemeteries are considered sacred places, contracts like the above should be considered leases. Even so, the city government made a large profit from the proceeds of plot sales. Remember that a major renovation of the cemetery took place in 1881, & the city likely needed income to cover construction costs.
Enrique Prack (son, I believe) was a lawyer & wrote his thesis on crime & ideas behind penal codes. The mausoleum continues to be maintained by family descendants.
Note: Image used with the kind permission of the Prack family.
It’s been quite some time since a full-feature piece about Recoleta Cemetery appeared in a major Buenos Aires newspaper. In the past, I’d translate these articles in their entirety under the category “In the press” so readers could have access to this historic content in English. But all manner of automatic translation exists today online… not ideal & not always accurate, at least those tools give a general notion of the article if you’re curious.
I know the author, & he is very meticulous with research… we’ve even collaborated on a few projects together. It’s great to have this information available to the general public! A passing mention of this blog or the possibility of contributing photos would have been a nice gesture though.