Post by Graveyardbride on Jul 26, 2015 23:30:12 GMT -5
The Postmortem Travels of Eva Perón
BUENOS AIRES, Argentina – July 26, 1952: It is my sad duty to inform you that Eva Perón, spiritual leader of the nation, entered immortality at 8:25 p.m. this evening. – Secretary of the Press
Eva Duarte de Perón – affectionately called “Evita” – was the much-loved (and much-reviled) wife of Argentine President Juan Perón. Born May 7, 1919, she was the 5th illegitimate child of a poor Pampas (Argentine lowlands) woman sired by Juan Duarte, a local farmer who also had a legitimate wife and children. Influenced by the movies she saw in seedy local theaters, by the time she entered her teens, Eva had decided she wanted to be an actress and by the age of 15, had made her way to Buenos Aires in pursuit of her dreams. By most accounts, she wasn’t a very good actress, but achieved some success as a radio dramatist. But no one could deny the lady was ambitious and in January 1944, when an earthquake struck San Juan, Argentina, and she learned the powerful – and single – Colonel Juan Perón, Secretary of Labor, was organizing an “artistic festival” to raise funds to aid the victims, she seized the opportunity. Long story short: the two began an affair and were married in a civil ceremony October 18, 1945.
Absent his wife’s encouragement, it is doubtful Juan Perón would have ever been elected president of Argentina, but he ran for the office and in June 1946, he and Evita took up residence in the Casa Rosada. Evita, always much more ambitious than her husband, worked diligently and within a short time was more popular with the poor and working classes and received much more publicity than the president himself and Perón seemed content to bask in her glory.
Eva maintained a hectic schedule and on January 9, 1950, she fainted during a public appearance. It was announced the first lady had undergone an appendectomy, however, she was actually suffering from advanced cervical cancer – the same condition that killed Perón’s first wife. Despite aggressive treatment, she continued to experience weakness and vaginal bleeding and it was evident her health was deteriorating. She had set her sights on the vice presidency, which enraged the military, but even had she insisted on pursuing the office, everyone close to her realized she was a very sick woman, so she issued a “renunciation,” citing poor health. A few months later, her husband engaged an American surgeon, who performed a complete hysterectomy and, for a short time, Eva appeared to be improving. Nonetheless, during the surgical procedure, it was discovered the malignancy had spread and her improvement was short-lived. She began spending most of her time in her pink and red bedroom, with the exception of the occasional public appearance to support her husband in his reelection campaign. The cancer continued to eat away at her body and the 5'5" lady wasted away to a mere 79 pounds. On the evening of Saturday, July 26, Eva Perón died and the entire nation went into mourning. Although her life’s journey had ended, her travels continued into the hereafter.
President Perón arranged for Dr. Pedro Ara, a world-renowned professor of anatomy, to embalm his wife’s body. Ara began work shortly after Evita’s death, removing the blood and replacing it with glycerine. By the following morning, the corpse was ready for public display. Shrouded in white, a rosary threaded in the fingers of her cold, dead hands, she appeared, in accordance with her wishes, more saint than actress. (During her final hours, the dying woman still had the presence of mind to request her manicurist replace her bright red nail polish with a clear laquer.) And the seemingly never-ending lines of Argentines began to file by the coffin of their spiritual leader. The corpse lay encased in a glass-topped coffin containing detoxicants to counteract microbe and insect activity. During the approximately two weeks she lay in state, the only problem that arose was a mist that developed on the glass necessitating it be removed and cleaned several times.
Afterward, the corpse was taken to Dr. Ara’s laboratory, where the glycerine was drained through incisions in the neck and heels. During the ensuing months, the body was repeatedly submerged in a tub of 30 gallons of acetate and potassium nitrate and injected with a mixture of alcohol, formal and thymol. Once the process was completed, a thin layer of plastic was applied, which hardened as it cooled. And again, Eva Perón went on display, this time at the General Confederation of Labor, where, Perón announced, it would remain until a monument larger than the Statue of Liberty could be erected, at which the corpse would remain on perpetual display.
On three separate occasions, Perón visited his wife’s mummified corpse, later writing: “I was under the impression that she was asleep. I could not take my eyes away from her breast because I hoped at any moment to see her arise and the miracle of life repeat itself.” Her face, he wrote, was “of wax, clear and transparent, her eyes closed as if she were dreaming. Her hair had been beautifully dressed and she shone with a special radiance.”
In September 1955, Juan Perón was overthrown and fled the country. In the meantime, the Argentine government was left with the dilemma of what to do about the body of Evita. Initially, many did not believe the corpse was real, with some officers claiming when it was tapped, it rang hollow like a mannequin. However, following a series of x-rays, it was determined the body was genuine and Dr. Ara confirmed the mummy would not decompose. When the Catholic Church denied a request to cremate the former first lady’s remains, in its efforts to prevent the formation of a cult centered on the incorruptible cadaver, the government decided to exile the dead Evita and the body disappeared.
Then in 1971, Perón, by this time living in Madrid with his third wife, Isabel, learned that Evita lay in a grave in Milan (Italy), where it had been buried under the name Maria Maggi, May 17, 1957. He immediately made arrangements to recover his dead wife’s body.
According to Carlos Spadone, who was present when the mummy arrived: “General Perón, the gardener and I took the body out of the coffin. We lay it on a marble-topped table. Our hands got dirty from all the earth, so the body had to be cleaned. Isabel took care of that very carefully with a cotton cloth and water. She combed the hair, and cleaned it bit by bit, and then blow-dried it. It took several days. There was a large dent in the nose and there were blows to the face and chest and marks on the back. There had also been a serious blow to one knee ....” Additionally, one of her ears was bent, there was scars on the forehead, there was a broken fingertip and the exterior of the plastic casing revealed a crack at the throat. Again, Perón called on Dr. Ara, who also noted “a large dent in the nose,” along with “blows to the face and chest and marks on the back,” leading him to conclude the body had been “desecrated.” However, Spadone did not agree, insisting he did not “think she had been strung up or whipped, as some people say – I don't believe that.”
While Isabel was caring for and admiring the body of her husband’s second wife, things weren’t going well in Argentina, where some thought it was time to bring back Juan Perón. Thus, on October 12, 1973, four days after his 78th birthday, Perón was again sworn in as president of Argentina with Isabel as his vice president. But his second reign lasted less than nine months, ending with his death on July 1, 1974. Isabel suddenly found herself president of one of the largest countries in the world and her first order of business was to bring her predecessor home to Argentina.
Domingo Tellechea was charged with the restoration of Evita’s corpse. He was set up in a special crypt in the presidential palace where the closed coffin of Juan Perón was ensconced. As he commenced his work, Tellechea noted: “The feet were in a very bad way – because the corpse was hidden in a standing position. She had one part where there was a wound – I couldn’t say if it was made by a weapon, but it was caused by something. That part of the body looked pretty ugly.” He was of the opinion the remains might have been squeezed into a container that wasn’t large enough. “If you crush it into a too-small coffin, or squash its nose, what is that? It’s an offence against the corpse. But it wasn’t my job to say what caused the damage, although it definitely had no bullet wounds,” he said. As Tellechea got down to business, Isabel planned a national monument that would hold the remains of her husband and that of the woman she idolized. When the restoration was complete, Evita once again appeared unmarked, serene and saintly. For a short time, the public was invited to behold the woman some still considered the spiritual leader of the nation lying in state beside the coffin of her husband. It is estimated approximately two million people filed past the corpse of the former first lady who had been in a state of immortality for almost a quarter-century.
Alas, the national monument was not to be. Though Isabel lightened her hair and attempted to emulate the woman she admired more than anyone else on Earth, she was no Evita. There was yet another military coup and on March 24, 1976, Isabel was ousted as president and imprisoned. In 1981, she was set free and, like her husband before her, sought exile in Spain where she continues to live to this day. She is now 85-years-old.
In October 1976, the body of Eva Perón made its final journey – to date – and now lies 16 feet beneath the ground in the Duarte Tomb in Recoleta Cemetery. Nevertheless, a visit to the Museo de Evita Perón in Buenos Aires leaves visitors with little doubt that even after the passage of more than 60 years, she is still the best-known and most adored woman in Argentina.
Sources: Evita: The Real Life of Eva Peron by Nicholas Fraser; The Woman with the Whip by Maria Flores; Eva, Evita: The Life and Death of Eva Peron by Paul L. Montgomery; The Hour of Our Death: The Classic History of Western Attitudes Toward Death by Philippe Aries; Linda Pressly, BBC Radio; and Brian Berenty, Living Life in an Open Suitcase.