“Eyes, hair, face, image – all must be preserved.
Still life displayed forever, no less than she deserved.”
The last scene of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical “Evita” shows lines of Argentinian devotees as they stream past the coffin of their First Lady, Maria Eva Duarte Peron, dead at age thirty-three from cancer. Her waxy figure is displayed under a glass coffin, not unusual for a state funeral, but the last lines of the musical hinted at something further.
Eva Peron’s story is remarkable enough, but could it be that her incredible journey didn’t end at her death? Intrigued, I did some research…and oh the stories I found.
Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina
Eva Peron died in 1952 and as depicted her body underwent an embalming process to prepare it for the 2 million people who came to view her, but after the crowds went away President Peron wasn’t ready to part with his beloved wife. He had her body embalmed a second time to prepare it for a national monument that he’d planned, but before the monument could be built Peron was overthrown. He was forced to flee to Spain and left Eva’s body behind.
What was the new government to do? To bury her body would create a shrine, to destroy it would ignite protests in an already volatile situation. They needed a plan and while they made one the corpse needed to disappear. After cutting off one of her fingers to verify that the corpse wasn’t a forgery, they tried to hide her, moving her from location to location. While her whereabouts were supposed to be kept secret, flowers and candles appeared in the warehouses, by the vans, and in the halls of the government offices where she was hidden – notifying the military that their ranks were infiltrated with Peronists.
Have Passport, Will Travel
With help from the Vatican in 1957 her body was smuggled out of Argentina and buried in Italy under a false name.
In the meantime, ex-president Juan Peron had remarried while in Spain and as the winds of change swept through the Argentinian government a more friendly regime came to power. Eva’s whereabouts were discovered, she was exhumed and returned to her husband.
You might expect at this point that Peron and the new wife Isabel would give Eva a decent burial and get on with their life. Not hardly. They washed the body and displayed it on their dining room table. No fooling. Isabel combed her predecessor’s hair as part of her nightly routine and there were rumors of occultist rituals performed to transfer Evita’s power to Isabel.
One has to wonder if they thought their efforts were successful for in 1973 Peron was invited back to Argentina to again serve as President – this time with Isabel as Vice-President. The happy couple returned to Argentina, although Juan’s triumph was cut short by his death the next year. Eager to cement her association with the popular Evita, new President Isabel Peron took the opportunity to return Eva’s body to her beloved Argentina and continue with the plans for a massive mausoleum.
Last Curtain Call
Eva’s body was once again prepared for viewing and was displayed beside President Juan Peron’s closed coffin, but before their monument could be built Isabel was ousted. Once again the plans for the memorial were scrapped and finally Eva was laid to rest in her family crypt. Juan would not rest as easily. In 1987, grave robbers stole his coffin, hacked off his hands and held them for $8 million ransom. The ransom went unpaid and the hands haven’t been seen since.
(I thought this sub-title was appropriate since we’re talking about mummified corpses.) What can we learn from this? Umm, don’t expect a long, peaceful career as an Argentinian politician? Think twice before embalming a public figure – the upkeep can be demanding? Some people spend too much time watching musicals and chasing down bizarre stories?
Maybe the lesson is this. While disrespectful treatment can sorrow family and followers, the departed one is beyond injury, but they are also beyond helping anyone. Relics, charms and idols have no power.
The most powerful person in our history left behind an empty tomb.
Any comments? Please share your bizarre stories, or maybe the actor you’d like to portray you in your life-story musical.