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Author: Marcelo

598. remembering jorge kaudi

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.

Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires, Jorge Kaudi
Invited guest, María Laje, Susana Gesualdi & Graciela Blanco in the presentation of Kaudi’s book, Recoleta Cemetery. Image courtesy of Alicia Rebollar.

Life story

“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.”

Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires, Jorge Kaudi
Graciela Blanco, Susana Gesualdi & María Laje in the presentation of Kaudi’s book, Recoleta Cemetery. Image courtesy of Any Contín.

A pioneer

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.

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536. familia de viñas

Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires, De Viñas

Raúl Barón Biza (1899-1964) was many things: writer, cynic, millionaire, politician, lover, pornographer & a victim of suicide. Many online sources dig into his fascinating life, but for this post we’ll limit ourselves to his first love, her tragedy & her burial.

Barón Biza met his first wife, the Swiss actress Myriam Stefford (née Rosa Martha Rossi Hoffmann) during a trip to Europe, & they married on 28 Aug 1930. Myriam grew bored with her new life running a large cattle ranch, so she began taking flight classes. In mid-August 1931 she announced that she was going to visit all 14 provinces in Argentina by airplane. Below is an excerpt of an interview with Luis Pozzo Ardizzi of the high society magazine Caras y Caretas:

— You’re thinking of using an airplane as your method of transportation?
— Of course! I’m training now to begin a quick trip around this country that I love so much.
— Will this be a groundbreaking trip?
— I don’t know –she says smiling– that will be for you to decide. I’m thinking about flying over all 14 provinces. And I’ll do it in my small B.F.W. airplane, with an 80 horsepower Siemens engine.
— You realize that someone else has already flown over all 14 provinces?
— I do. And with time on my side, I’ll do it as well.
— In how many days?
— She answers, smiling: If I can… in three…
— Does your airplane have a unique name?
— A modest name, because I’m starting this trip modestly. I call my airplane “Chingolo”. I want Chingolo to spread its wings for a breathtaking flight…
— Once finished, are you considering another big trip?
— Yes. I will try to show that a small plane, made for tourism, can do some interesting things.
— …?
— I’d like to try to reach North America…
— That’s a risky undertaking.
— It will be. But I’ve got enough enthusiasm to give it a go.
And after this last sentence, the charming movie star who has mastered all types of sport bids us goodbye to resume her training.
(Caras y Caretas 1715, 15 Aug 1931, pg. 18)

That “modest trip” ended tragically on August 26th, two days before Stefford’s first wedding anniversary. Chingolo II (the first had mechanical problems & had to be replaced with another plane) fell from the skies for reasons that were never known near Marayes in San Juan province. For Barón Biza the news was horrific; for the national media, who loved the aviatrix, it was catastrophic, as reflected in La Nación the next day:

La Nación, Chingolo II, Myriam Stefford

La Nación, Chingolo II, Myriam Stefford

La Nación, Chingolo II, Myriam Stefford

Three days after the accident, Stefford (who was never mentioned as “the wife of Barón Biza”, something rare for the time) & her instructor Luis Fuchs were buried in Recoleta Cemetery. The actress/aviatrix was laid to rest in a mausoleum which then belonged to Wilfrid Barón, the father of Barón Biza. The structure was later sold to the Fabre family, & next to its current owner, the De Viñas family.

La Nación, Recoleta Cemetery, Myriam Stefford

Myriam didn’t stay in Recoleta long, since Raúl Barón Biza immediately ordered the construction of the largest sepulchre in the country: a monstrous vault 82 m tall placed in the countryside of Los Cerrillos, near Alta Gracia in Córdoba province. His friend, the engineer Fausto Regino Newton, designed the concrete monument whose meaning remains unclear to many: Is it the profile of a plane’s wing, as is often said? Is it an obelisk, taller than the one in Buenos Aires as many people from Córdoba proudly claim? Or is it an Egyptian symbol of resurrection? Whatever its significance, Myriam Stefford moved there on 22 Nov 1935 & was placed under several meters of cement… that’s when legends began to circulate. It’s said that she was buried with her jewels, among them a 45-carat diamond named the “Cruz del Sur”, with Barón Biza laying traps to prevent anyone from profaning the tomb—including placing explosives—& on the very top a beacon whose light could be seen for several kilometers.

Alta Gracia, Myriam Stefford

Alta Gracia, Myriam Stefford

Alta Gracia, Myriam Stefford

The truth is that the monument remains in place after all these years, after a second great tragedy in the life of Barón Biza: one afternoon in August 1964 in an act of rage, he threw acid on the face of his second wife, Clotilde Sabatini, & immediately afterwards shot himself in the head. He had sold the land where Stefford’s mausoleum sits in Alta Gracia many years earlier.

This is how it looks now, abandoned & alone. A project has been proposed to convert the area into a theme park about the enigmatic writer & his young wife who passed away prematurely. In the meantime, the “wing” attracts the curious, as well as architecture fans & film students… also a number of distraught people who have unfortunately committed suicide by jumping from the tallest window.

Alta Gracia, Myriam Stefford

Alta Gracia, Myriam Stefford

Originally, the monolith displayed the motor of Chingolo II along with many plaques but all have since been removed or stolen. The entrance to the monolith remained opened for many years, but vandalism & attempted profanation prompted officials to solder the door shut permanently. No one now climbs the hundreds of steps to reach the top; supposedly the last time was in 2008. The future of this forgotten monument remains uncertain.

Alta Gracia, Myriam Stefford, mausoleum

Alta Gracia, Myriam Stefford, mausoleum

Thanks to co-author Marcelo Metayer for contributing this post. The original version in Spanish (with additional text & photos) can be found on his blog: El Navegante Solitario.

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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

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