Author of 'The Cain File' – a Kindle Scout Selection

Who was Maria Maggi? The long unsettled interment of Eva (Evita) Perón

Eva Perón travelled to Italy twice: once in life and once in death.

The first time was in 1947 when, as Argentina’s first lady, Eva Perón (Evita to much of the world) embarked on a European tour as ambassador for a country hoping to preserve goodwill and pave the way for badly needed foreign loans. Eva’s husband, the infamous General Juan Perón, was persona non grata in a post-war world reeling from fascism. But his wife had the celebrity status and glamor credentials of an international film star. Called the ‘Eleanor Roosevelt of Latin America’ she travelled with a separate DC3 just for her luggage.

Image

In Spain, plazas were mobbed as people fought to catch a glimpse of Eva waving magnanimously from balconies. She handed out coins to children in flower-strewn streets. On one occasion she removed the hood ornament from the limo she was riding in and gave it to a little boy. She snubbed the UK for a visit at the last minute when informed that the Royal family would have her to the palace for tea but not let her stay over. In Rome Pope Pius XII granted her a private audience.

Image

The world just couldn’t get enough of Evita in 1947.

Image

But no one saw Eva when she returned to Italy ten years later, as the fictitious Maria Maggi.

Maria was dead you see.

Maria Maggi’s body arrived in Milan on May 17, 1957, some five years after Eva’s death from cervical cancer in Buenos Aires. Escorted by a nun, the coffin was believed to contain the body of an Italian woman who had died in Argentina. “Maria Maggi” was buried in Lot 86, Garden 41, in Milan’s Monumentale Cemetery.

Upon her death in 1952, Eva Perón’s body attracted millions of mourners paying their respects, lining up for days to kiss the glass-topped coffin. After two weeks, authorities ended the public viewing and the Argentine government spent $100,000 (in 1952 dollars) and more than one year embalming Eva, pumping her full of chemicals and sealing her skin. Even in death, Eva commanded considerable respect.

Image

Post-Peronists lurking in the wings didn’t want that.

After General Juan Perón’s overthrow in 1955, Eva’s body disappeared from where it had been on display in her former office. It is generally believed that the new government couldn’t just get rid of Eva (this was Latin America after all, where death carries the utmost deference, even when it concerns one’s enemies) so the body was moved to Italy, where it would receive a proper burial but be well removed from any cult level worship. A ban was issued on Peronism.

In 1971 a man named Carlos Maggi submitted papers for the exhumation of Maria Maggi’s remains in Milan. Underneath the damaged plain wooden coffin was one of silver with a glass window revealing a preserved Eva Perón “so natural it looked like Evita was asleep”. “Carlos Maggi” escorted his “sister’s” remains to a house in Madrid owned by Juan Perón. The coffin was then sent on to Buenos Aires where Eva was finally laid to rest in the family tomb in La Recoleta Cemetery, reportedly the most exclusive neighborhood in South America.

Despite  claims that it was anti-Peronists who had initially moved Eva to Italy, one can’t help but wonder if Juan Perón, fearing the worst, had a hand in having his wife’s remains sent to Milan for safe-keeping, to be returned to Argentina when she could be securely interred forever. Although Perón was in exile until 1973, he spent much of his time in Spain. He was planning a return to power in Argentina, which he succeeded at in 1973. Did he play a part in returning Eva to what he would surely have considered her former rightful place among her people? Why were Eva’s remains brought to his house in Madrid prior to their departure back to Buenos Aires in 1971?

Today a steady stream of admirers continue to line up in La Recoleta to pay their respects to a woman born the humble, illegitimate daughter of a cattle rancher who, despite a controversial life, inspired millions, and would have been the first female president of Argentina.

Image

Want to learn more about Eva Perón? – check out my earlier post on her biography.

[Are you a fan of mysteries and thrillers set in South America ? Check out SENDERO, WHO SINGS TO THE DEAD and LETHAL DISPATCH.]

Advertisements

4 responses

  1. As usual Tomlinson provides some deep background for the setting of his book Lethal Dispatch. I love it when an author takes time to further educate his readers. I wonder what happened to the hood ornament? Is it part of shrine? Or has it sold on ebay?

    February 17, 2014 at 12:04 pm

    • Thanks, Tom. The story of Maria Maggi is a novel all of its own.

      February 17, 2014 at 12:49 pm

  2. Eighteen years ago, I visited La Recoleta. It was easy to find the graves of Argentine heroes like Sarmiento, Luis Angel Firpo, and Almirante Brown’s ashes. But, it was not easy to find Eva Peron. La Recoleta is a large necropolis, the most fashionable in Argentina. I spent no less than three hours looking for the grave. My feet were aching, so I sat down on a bench just inside the entrance. As I sat there, a young woman in tight black denim jeans and knee high boots marched through the entrance caring a single carnation. She seemed highly intent on her task. I followed her at a discrete distance. That is how I found the tomb of Eva Peron. The grill of the mausoleum’s iron gate was a blanket of carnations of every color. The flowers were woven into the grill, apparently one at a time.

    February 18, 2014 at 3:07 pm

    • Thanks for the comment, Frank. It’s no mistake that the Duarte Masoleum is so hard to find. All part of the design to keep Evita low key.
      I researched Evita for my last novel and found the stories about her simply fascinating.

      take care

      February 18, 2014 at 5:17 pm

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s