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Category: Urban legends

145. kavanagh

Kavanagh, Recoleta Cemetery

Anyone who has walked around Plaza San Martín in Buenos Aires should recognize this last name. Corina Kavanagh sold two family ranches when she was 39 years old to build Latin America’s first skyscraper. Completed in 1936, the Edificio Kavanagh represents a bold end to Art Deco & a new beginning for racionalismo, or Modernism as it is known in the US. 29 floors of reinforced concrete sit alongside the plaza & give the impression of a steamship inching through the urban landscape. Corina set aside the entire 14th floor for herself—the only floor with a single apartment—but for some unknown reason lived elsewhere in the building:

Edificio Kavanagh, Recoleta Cemetery

Edificio Kavanagh, Recoleta Cemetery

What inspired Corina to fund the construction? A legend exists that Corina fell in love with a son of the Anchorena family whose palatial residence also borders Plaza San Martín. But mom didn’t approve & made sure that her son broke it off with Corina.

Wanting revenge, Corina bought land in front of the Basílica del Santísimo Sacramento (meant to be the family mausoleum for the Anchorenas) & had the Kavanagh built so tall that the family wouldn’t be able to look out their windows to see the church. Sounds good but a little too good to be true. Since the Anchorena mom died in 1920 & the Kavanagh was built in 1936, the story is most likely someone’s invention. Corina passed away in 1984.

Update (Nov 2011): Through some unexpected connections, we were able to get a look at the gorgeous interior of this iconic BA beauty. See inside the kavanagh on our sister site, Endless Mile.


126. solari parravicini ◊

Solari Parravicini, Recoleta Cemetery

While the Parravicini tomb may not be the most elaborate, Benjamín made some astonishing predictions about world events. Whether you’re a believer or not, Parravicini is recognized as Argentina’s most accomplished psychic.

Born in 1898, Parravicini was surrounded by paranormal events his whole life. But in the 1930s he began to receive messages… he compared it to someone whispering in his ear. These voices guided him in something he termed “psychographies”—sketches drawn without any conscious thought. Devoutly Catholic & horrified by his apparent gift, he destroyed many of these drawings. But quite a few survived & a large percentage have become true. Events that Parravicini predicted include the development & use of the atomic bomb, the invention of television, the Cold War & even cloning.

The most recent & shocking event Parravicini predicted was the destruction of the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001. Two of his drawings are surprisingly accurate. The first is a sketch of the Statue of Liberty dated 1939 with the following text: “The liberty of North America will lose its light. Its torch will no longer shine as it once did & the monument will be attacked two times.”

Another sketch shows a jumbled New York City skyline with the Statue of Liberty split into two separate towers. The crown appears to be an explosion. Critics would say that Parravicini wasn’t 100% accurate, but believers think that he merged the image of the Towers (not yet built) with that of the Statue of Liberty:

Solari Parravicini, Recoleta Cemetery

Intrigued? Doubtful? More biographical information & further predictions can be found here. Many of the events to come concern aliens: the discovery of an alien base on the dark side of the moon, alien visitors coming to obtain sea algae they need for food, & aliens will cure all of mankind’s diseases. It’s a much friendlier type of contact than “War of the Worlds” or “Independence Day” would have us believe.

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092. juan alleno ◊

David Alleno, Recoleta Cemetery

Although this skinny, narrow mausoleum doesn’t stand out, an urban legend lurks inside. Peek through the door to find the sculpture of David Alleno—caretaker in Recoleta Cemetery from 1881 to 1910.

Like the caretakers of today, David had a certain sector which he maintained & apparently became obsessed over where his final resting place would be. Members of the Alleno family claim that David’s brother, Juan, had already purchased this plot for his family… perhaps that inspired David to be buried in Recoleta Cemetery as well. After saving over a lifetime, he was able to have a sculpture made of himself at work, complete with keys, broom & watering can:

David Alleno, Recoleta Cemetery

David Alleno, Recoleta Cemetery

Urban legend claims that when the sculpture arrived from Italy & was placed in the tomb, David was so eager to complete the project that he went home & committed suicide… knowing that he would soon rest in peace here. Whether the motive is true or not, David Alleno is now locked in with the elite residents of Recoleta Cemetery:

David Alleno, Recoleta Cemetery

Update (07 Nov 2010): Thanks to an investigation by Guada Aballe, we know a few more facts about the life of David Alleno… & she found photos too! One of the best resources for early 20th century Buenos Aires history is Caras & Caretas, a local magazine with political & social commentary. In the 10 Apr 1909 edition, Recoleta Cemetery workers were concerned about a change in administration. Various caretakers were photographed & David Alleno appeared in the article:

David Alleno, Recoleta Cemetery

David Alleno, Recoleta Cemetery

David Alleno spent 28 years working at Recoleta Cemetery & according to his death certificate—also amazingly uncovered by Guada—he passed away on 31 Aug 1915. The cause of death is listed as “trauma & cerebral contusion.” Of course whether or not the head injury was self-inflicted does not appear on the death certificate. But we’re one step closer to uncovering the truth behind the urban legend. Thanks, Guada!!


024. arturo gramajo

Arturo Gramajo, Recoleta Cemetery

Mayors of Buenos Aires have been hand-picked by the President (pending Senate approval, much like US Supreme Court justices) for most of Argentine history. Only in 1996 did porteños obtain the right to elect their top position. Arturo Gramajo served as BA mayor from Feb 1915 to Nov 1916 under the presidency of Victorino de la Plaza. Solid & stoic, this elegant tomb stands like an island in the northern section of the cemetery.

Arturo Gramajo, Recoleta Cemetery

But there’s another Arturo Gramajo famous for changing the cuisine scene in Argentina. Could it be the same guy? We’ll probably never know…

Arturo Gramajo, Recoleta Cemetery

As a wealthy playboy who loved good living, Gramajo was staying at the Hotel Ritz in Paris when he got a little peckish. However, it was late & the kitchen was closed. Going with an assistant, he looked over what was lying around, threw everything in sight together & invented the revuelto Gramajo: scrambled eggs mixed with ham & French fries. The dish became popular after his return to Buenos Aires. Of course, even that story is up for debate. Some claim that Coronel Artemio Gramajo who served with General Roca decided to break the monotony of army fare & created the dish that bears his name.

Whether it was a mayor, playboy or coronel who invented the revuelto Gramajo, it’s one of the heartiest plates on traditional Argentine menus. Photo below found here:

Revuelto Gramajo


008. rufina cambacérès ◊

Rufina Cambacérès, Recoleta Cemetery

Wonderfully Art Nouveau & set in a prominent location, Rufina draws lots of attention. But the story of her bizarre death is also a well-known urban legend of Recoleta Cemetery.

The statue of Rufina depicts her at the age of her death: 19 years old. The Cambacérès family was upper class thanks to a large cattle fortune. Rufina’s father, Eugenio, was originally from France & became a semi-famous Argentine writer. He died in Paris when Rufina was only 4.

Fast forward to her 19th birthday in 1902. Rufina’s mother threw her a big party, & afterwards they were all supposed to go to the Teatro Colón to catch a show. But while getting ready, Rufina suddenly collapsed in her bedroom & doctors pronounced her mysteriously dead.

The following day she was buried in Recoleta Cemetery. Here’s where it gets interesting… a cemetery worker later reported that he found Rufina’s casket lid pushed aside & broken. Her mom feared the worse & thought Rufina had been accidentally buried alive. Another version of the story claims that Rufina somehow escaped from her tomb & made it to the front gate… only to die from a heart attack caused by fright.

Rufina Cambacérès, Recoleta Cemetery

What really happened? It’s impossible to find out 100 years later. Some claim that while preparing to go to the opera, Rufina’s best friend let a secret escape that killed her: Rufina’s boyfriend was also seeing her mother! Shocking. The casket damage could be attributed to robbery since Rufina would have been buried with her finest jewelry.

Something else about the story doesn’t fit. The original location of the Teatro Colón on Plaza de Mayo closed in 1888, & the new theater opened in 1908 twenty years later. So Rufina may have been preparing to see a performance, but it certainly was not at the Teatro Colón.

Whatever version of this urban legend you’d like to believe, some of it must be true. Notice how Rufina is depicted with her hand on the door. Is she trying to escape an awful fate? Be sure to look in the mausoleum’s side door for much more Art Nouveau flowery decoration. The marble casket & chandelier are particularly stunning:

Rufina Cambacérès, Recoleta Cemetery

Rufina Cambacérès, Recoleta Cemetery

Update (10 Dec 2012): Finally getting around to looking at the obituaries in the weekly social magazine Caras y Caretas. In the 07 Jun 1902 issue—immediately following Rufina’s death—the following article appeared:

Rufina Cambacérès, Caras y Caretas, obituary, necrológica

“Preparing to go to the opera, death surprised Rufina in her mansion on Avenida Montes de Oca, the day she turned 19 years old on May 31st. The beautiful miss was the direct & only descendant of Eugenio Cambaceres, the capable Argentine writer, author of ‘Los silbidos de un vago‘ which gained him such notoriety in his day. She was the most genuine, intellectual representation of the Cambaceres family & was preparing herself to become a worthy successor of a sizable inherited fortune, her aristocratic beauty & her refined spirit. An empty space was left in Argentine society that will be indelible since her life was a series of kind acts & respectful caring. She combined all the highest gifts of her family, who were the honor & glory of the French royal court during the Empire, & among us she exercised a positive social influence, in spite of her youth, since she possessed a high level of culture & a rare countenance. The wake of Miss Rufina Cambaceres was a sincere demonstration of sorrow from her good friends, who were as numerous as they were distinguished. This death has left an unforgettable impression, occuring under circumstances that make it even more tragic.”

Rufina Cambacérès, Recoleta Cemetery, Marcelo Metayer

Update (14 Jun 2018): Life stories about the residents of Recoleta Cemetery can inspire others, & that was the case for Pablo Sura. He contacted me last year to share his experience on a visit to Recoleta Cemetery, during a trip to Buenos Aires from Neuquén. Pablo felt so touched by the image of Rufina that he wanted to dedicate a work of art to her… a painting to share with everyone. Last month he presented the image inside Rufina’s former home in Barracas . Great work, Pablo!

Pablo Sura, Rufina Cambacérès

Pablo Sura, Rufina Cambacérès, Barracas

Like Art Nouveau? Learn about the architects of the era, their individual styles & what makes Art Nouveau in Buenos Aires so unique with a 33-page guide from our sister site, Endless Mile.