At 8:52 p.m. on the night of July 26, 1952, all radio broadcasts in Argentina were interrupted for an emergency announcement: First Lady Eva Peron – “the Spiritual Leader of the Nation” – was dead of cancer at 33. All activity came to an abrupt halt. Movies stopped playing. Shops closed. Restaurants were emptied of patrons. Argentina went into mourning.
The enormous public display of grief took the government by surprise. Crowds gathered outside the official presidential residence, congesting the streets for ten blocks in any direction. In a panic to be near Eva Peron’s body when it was being moved, eight people were crushed to death in the pressing throngs and 2,000 were treated for injuries at area hospitals. The streets of Buenos Aires were overflowing with tall stacks of flowers laid in remembrance for the people’s beloved Evita. Although she never held an official political office, Eva Peron (1919-1952) was eventually given an official funeral worthy of a head of state. To the poor of Argentina, Senora Evita was a saint.
Before Eva had died, her husband, Argentine President Juan Domingo Peron (1895-1974), had contacted the famed embalmer, Dr. Pedro Ara, whose work was referred to as “the art of death,” to preserve Eva’s body. Dr. Ara’s technique of replacing the corpse’s blood with glycerine, which preserved all organs, created a lifelike appearance. Eva weighed only eighty pounds at death and was severely burned from radiation treatments but Dr. Ara was able to recreate her former beauty and give her an embalmment equal to that of Lenin. It has been suggested that Dr. Ara fell in love with Eva’s body. Plans were made to build a marble monument to Evita’s honor larger than the Statue of Liberty. During the construction her embalmed body lay in state for two years.
Then President Peron was overthrown and the body of Eva Peron stolen. For sixteen years, the whereabouts of Eva’s body remained a mystery. Juan fled to Spain in exile. Finally, in 1971, Eva’s body was discovered in a grave under a false name outside of Rome. It was exhumed and flown to Spain where Juan Peron kept the corpse in an open casket on the dining room table in his villa. Juan was now married to third wife Isabel who combed the corpse’s hair in a daily devotion and, at Juan’s request, was rumored to occasionally lie inside the coffin next to Evita to absorb some of her political magic.
In 1974, Juan returned to power as president of Argentina. Upon his death, wife Isabel succeeded him. Isabel returned Eva’s body to Argentina where it was briefly displayed next to Juan’s body.
Isabel was overthrown in 1976. The new military leaders had Eva Peron’s body safely buried in the Duarte family tomb under three plates of steel in the Recoleta Cemetery in Buenos Aires. The tomb was said to be secure enough to withstand a nuclear attack or a restless corpse.
Now read “Eva Peron’s Restless Corpse Part 2.”
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