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Month: September 2011

436. general enrique mosconi

Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires, General Enrique Mosconi

Born in Buenos Aires in 1877, Enrique Mosconi spent a couple of years during childhood in Europe but his family eventually returned to Argentina. After finishing elementary school, Mosconi enrolled in the national military academy & graduated at the age of 17. Typical of the era, the military was becoming more professional & Mosconi decided to study in civil engineering. Graduating in 1903, he was sent to learn about energy & communications in Europe & brought the best technology back to Argentina.

In spite of his early contributions, Mosconi would be most remembered for his next assignment beginning in 1922: General Director of Yacimientos Petrolíferos Fiscales (YPF)… Argentina’s state-run petroleum company. Although not an expert in the field at first, Mosconi did his best to improve working conditions in Comodoro Rivadavia where the first discoveries had been made in 1907. Becoming highly influential & respected, Mosconi had the ear of President Marcelo T. de Alvear & usually received anything he requested. As a result, YPF grew as a company & demonstrated that Argentines had the capability to manage every aspect of the petroleum industry… from perforation to refinement.

Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires, Enrique Mosconi

Early during his gestion, conflicts rose between Mosconi & companies such as Standard Oil & Royal Dutch Shell. He was determined to keep Argentine oil out of the hands of foreign trusts. Mosconi traveled to many countries in Latin America, where several state-run companies similar to YPF eventually formed, much to his credit. One plaque reminds visitors of Mosconi’s defiance:

Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires, Enrique Mosconi

A few days after the military coup which ousted President Hipólito Yrigoyen in 1930, Mosconi resigned from YPF. Several key government positions were filled with people friendly to foreign oil trusts, & some historians think the coup could have been partially supported by Mosconi’s enemies. Perhaps because of this, Mosconi disappeared from the scene. Despite a stroke which left him partially paralyzed, he traveled extensively & wrote influential books about the petroleum industry, winning many awards abroad for his ideas.

Mosconi passed away in 1940 while living with his older sisters & had only a few pesos to his name. His crypt is a wonderful monument to mid-20th century art, built with YPF funds. Although Mosconi may not have increased production to the extent he projected, he took a marginally run company & made it a source of national pride. No doubt Mosconi would have been horrified if he could have seen into the future when YPF was purchased for U$S 15 billion in 1999 by the Spanish company Repsol.

Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires, Enrique Mosconi

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435. burgos y colón

Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires, Burgos y Colón, Enrique Finochietto

Although plain & simple by Recoleta standards, this family vault contains two of the greatest surgeons in Argentine history. Enrique Finochietto entered medical school in Buenos Aires at the age of 16 & earned his degree with honors in 1904. After spending some time as a surgical intern specializing in skin & venereal disease, Enrique took his first trip to Europe to learn new techniques, brought them back to Argentina & was named head of surgery at Hospital Rawson. He would not sit still for long.

Enrique returned to Europe during World War I, meeting Marcelo T. de Alvear in Paris, where they jointly set up a hospital for the wounded. The French were so grateful that they awarded Enrique the Legion of Honor medal. Returning to Buenos Aires, the Finochietto brothers opened the new, cutting-edge surgical wing of the Hospital Rawson & Enrique began inventing surgical instruments… among them the frontolux, inspired by a miner’s head gear. After a long history of medical accomplishments, Enrique succumbed to syphilis in 1948.

Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires, Burgos y Colón, Enrique Finochietto

Enrique’s younger brother, Ricardo, followed in his footsteps but was more geared toward teaching than inventions. He traveled to the United States in the 1930’s & implented the system of residency in Argentina by establishing a surgical school specifically for recent graduates to improve their technique.

In 1950 while head of the Polyclinic in Avellaneda, Ricardo was designated as Eva Perón’s head physician. With an advanced case of uterine cancer, he could do little to ease Evita’s pain & was present when U.S. surgeon George Pack performed a hysterectomy. In the 1952 photo below, Ricardo appears on the far right. After the Revolución Libertadora which ousted Perón, Ricardo’s ties with the previous administration prevented him from working in the public sphere. He passed away in 1962.

Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires, Ricardo Finochietto, Eva Perón

Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires, Burgos y Colón, Ricardo Finochietto

What remains unclear is why Enrique & Ricardo Finochietto are in this particular family vault. Since the mausoleum is not in their name, perhaps it belongs to a family member by marriage. Stay tuned for updates!

Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires, Ricardo Finochietto, Enrique Finochietto

Update (21 Oct 2011):  The third Finochietto brother, Miguel Ángel, was also a surgeon & worked alongside Enrique at the Hospital Rawson. He, too, is buried in Recoleta Cemetery but in a different vault… the exact location of which is still unknown. While searching through my thousands of Recoleta Cemetery photos, I stumbled across the following plaque for Miguel Ángel (photo from 2007):

Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires, Miguel Ángel Finochietto

Despite three attempts, I haven’t been able to find this plaque again in the cemetery. Today, I talked with one of the caretakers in the area where he should be buried (judging from the photos I took before & after) & most likely the vault for Miguel Ángel was recently sold. Still have to confirm with Administración, but it seems likely that he has moved to another cemetery.

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434. crotto

Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires, Crotto

One of the founding members of the Unión Cívica Radical political party, José Camilo Crotto participated in the 1890 Revolution. He continued to be active in politics his entire life, first as Senator for the city of Buenos Aires & later as Governor of the province.

During the presidency of fellow UCR member Hipólito Yrigoyen, Crotto was chosen as the party’s national chairman. He named various ministers for Yrigoyen who weren’t to everyone’s liking. Controversy brewed. Crotto eventually broke away from the UCR & formed his own splinter political party.

But he is most famous for approving a 1920 law that allowed rural workers to ride cargo trains free of charge in order to help with the harvest. Nicknamed “crotos” after the governor’s last name, the term later referred to anyone who was homeless & remains a part of local Argentine slang.

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433. 1863 visit

Written by Thomas Woodbine Hinchliff (1825-1882)—an English mountaineer, writer, founder & president of the Alpine Club—the following text was published in the book “South American sketches: or, A visit to Rio Janeiro, the Organ Mountains, La Plata, and the Paranà” [sic] in 1863. The text is in public domain, & the section which refers to Recoleta Cemetery is reproduced below.


But one of the most curious and interesting places to be seen in Buenos Ayres is the Recoleta, or burying-place of the Catholics, whether natives or foreigners. It is a very large piece of ground in the northern outskirts, and is completely surrounded by a high wall pierced with loopholes, which would enable a small body of soldiers within to hold the road against an enemy. It is entered by very handsome iron gates, close to which is a chapel for the performance of the burial service. The poorer people are buried in the remoter parts of the ground, in the simple ordinary graves of Europe; but the central part is divided by numbers of paths into narrow streets of vaults and family mausoleums. The latter are for the most part built of white marble, and look like small temples, generally covered with a dome; an iron-grated door permits a view of all the coffins of the family, arranged on shelves or ledges round three sides of the interior, and decorated with immortelles and artificial flowers. Many of the principal inhabitants have spent very large sums of money upon these structures, and the general effect is remarkably good. Seen from the surrounding neighbourhood, the large collection of white cupolas and turrets, rising high above the wall, would make a visitor believe that he saw an Eastern city in the distance.

Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires, 1867

I often wandered about this Recoleta, studying the epitaphs in many languages; and one day, close to where an English Catholic had buried his wife, and graced her tombstone with the familiar ‘Affliction sore long time she bore, &c.,’ I found on a tall obelisk the most concise and terrible inscription I am acquainted with. It was this:


‘Assassinated by his friends!’ Struck by this extraordinary epitaph I made enquiries about the subject of it, and found that a party of young men from good families of the place were in the habit of gambling together, till Alvarez won heavily from all the others. They determined to pay their debts by getting rid of their creditor, and enticing him to a lonely place the deliberately murdered him; they put his dead body in a coach that was ready, and threw it down a well in the neighbourhood. They had laid their plans so that detection seemed impossible; but by an extraordinary chance there was a witness to the crime, who denounced them. Great efforts were made by family influence to save them, but in vain; they were executed, and the brother of the murdered man erected the obelisk to his memory. In another part of the Recoleta was a dreadful hole, into which the victims of the tyranny of Rosas used to be precipitated wholesale; but those times are happily over, and no trace of them remains except in the memory of the Buenos Ayreans.


This text is valuable in so many ways. It gives us a first-hand account of burial practices & tomb placement of the time. Hinchliff also discusses the general appearance of Recoleta Cemetery as well as tombs which no longer exist. Finally, he makes the cemetery a tourist destination & finds an interesting story to tell. Apparently some things never change!

Entrance gate & the Iglesia de Pilar, circa 1867, shortly after Hinchliff’s visit. Photo by Benito Panunzi from the Carlos Sánchez Idiart Collection.