“Her body was such a powerful symbol that everybody tried to control it, I believe that this points to this country’s tendency toward necrophilia.”– Mr Martinez chairman of Latin American studies department at Rutgers University.
If you’re a young’n like I am, there’s a chance you’ve never heard of Eva Peron, or perhaps you’ve heard of her, but don’t really know who she is. Unlike most corpses I’ve written about, Eva Peron was famous in life. Though she was married to Argentinian President Juan Peron, Eva was an iconic symbol in her own right. An actress by trade, Eva is perhaps best remember for a song she never sang-Don’t Cry ForMe Argentina. After marrying her husband, Eva (also known as Evita) became a strong political and cultural ally with the poor and an advocate for women’s rights. After her death, at the young age of 33, Eva became the subject of the Andrew Lloyd Webber Broadway musical Evita and the 1996 film Evita which stared Madonna. In short, she was a well-known figure in the world of entertainment, politics and human rights and had a dedicated and large following at the time of her death. Which is where we’ll begin.
Just hours after dying, Eva was taken to the Spanish pathologist and famous embalmer Dr. Pedro Ara- who was commonly referred to as “an artist of death”. His methodology of preserving bodies included draining the blood from the dead, and replacing it with alcohol, glycerin, and other preservatives. Running this through the body allowed for preservation of the organs.
A similar mummifying procedure was used on the famous corpse of Rosalia Lombardo.
While Ara was working on preserving Eva, she was attended by her manicurist and hairstylist who made the outside of her body as perfect as possible. Dying her hair to freshen the blonde, and painting her nails, they styled her the best they could before presenting her to the public.
For 13 days, Eva’s beloved followers lined up to see her. Millions of them filled through and as they did they would touch her, kiss, and sometimes collapse in grief on her corpse. After the 13 days, Ara declared that it was time to end the public viewing as he was afraid of the damage being done to the corpse. After this viewing her body was moved back to complete the preservation processes.
The complete embalming process took a year and $100,000- at which time her body was returned to her husband.
Although time consuming and costly, Eva was so well preserved that those who touched her reported that she “felt alive”.
The idea of having Eva embalmed was to have her displayed much in same tradition of Lenin’s corpse. As a political icon to the people, her memorial would include a statue representing the “Shirtless Ones” (the lower-class whom she advocated for) taller than the Statue of Liberty. Her body would be displayed at the bottom where the public could visit her and she would remain a political figurehead and hope for the hopeless.
While this monument was being built, Evita’s body was on public display in her former office. She remained there for two years, until her husband Juan Peron was overthrown in the Revolucion Libertadora military coup led by General Pedro Eugenion Aramburu in 1955. Juan fled the country to Spain, leaving Eva’s body in control of the new government powers who despised the Perons.
Evita was such a strong political symbol with such a strong cult following that the new government leaders feared that Eva’s body in the wrong hands could be used to rally against them.
It was this fear that lead to her body’s disappearance for 20 years.
At first, the new government leaders banned the public from even speaking the name “Peron” and then attempted to hide her in locations around Argentina. Every time they attempted to hide the body, crowds, candles and flowers would appear outside of the new hiding place. Eventually, desperate to rid themselves of this problem, they contacted the Vatican who helped to bury Eva in a cemetery in Milan Italy under the name María Maggi.
In 1970 a new guerrilla group (a Peronist one this time) kidnapped and killed the president General Aramburu. It’s said that the Peronist group targeted him in part because he ordered the removal of Eva’s body. After executing Aramburu, the group help onto the body refusing to return it unless the body of Eva was also returned-which didn’t work. Argentina’s new President, General Alejandro Lanusse, later demanded the return of Eva’s body to Juan Peron in exchange for his blessing.
Jaun was still living in Spain at the time, so Eva was exhumed and taken to Milan in a silver casket. While still wonderfully preserved, Eva’s body had suffered damage. Her face had several dents, and one foot was nearly destroyed- probably from being displayed in an upright position for twenty-some years. Juan was said to have cleaned Eva up and displayed her in his home until his return to Argentina in 1973, where he was once again elected President. Only a few short months after his election, Juan had a heart attack and died.
After his death, Isabel, Juan’s third wife and widow, took over as President and brought Eva back to Argentina. Isabel wanted Eva to be restored and for her monument to be completed. For this, she hired Domingo Tellechea. He worked tiresly to restore the body, yet it never was displayed and the monument was never completed.
Why? No one really knows.
What Happened To Eva?
Eva today rests in a traditional grave shoulder to shoulder with the aristocrats she spent her life fighting against.
Other Theories And Thoughts About Eva’s Body
While the theory of Eva’s death has long been contributed to cancer, Daniel Nijensohn, a neurosurgeon at Yale University came out with a new gruesome possibility as to why Eva died. Supposedly, in 2011 Xrays were released of Eva’s brain which suggested that she had undergone a lobotomy. Nijensohn has further suggested that Eva underwent this procedure a few weeks prior to her death under the order of her husband.
A lobotomy involves cutting the connectors between the entire brain and the prefrontal lobes. While this procedure was done for pain management, it also is famous for being used to numb inappropriate emotions.
Since Eva had cancer, it’s possible the lobotomy was performed as a way to manage her pain. However, there are also theories that this behavior might have been her husband’s attempt to curb her increasingly erratic behavior before it resulted in a civil war. Reports are that as Eva grew sicker, she had begun to call on the people to fight the oligarchy and there are even allegations that she even placed an order for 5,000 automatic pistols and 1,500 machine guns to give to the people. This mixed with the allies of Argentina progressively growing unsettled in Eva’s role in the government could have easily led to a civil war.
The surgeon who performed the lobotomy is said to have been James Poppen who used a nurse named Manena Riquelme. Nijensohn says that he contacted this nurse who allegedly admitted that the surgery took place in the palace without Eva’s consent.
It’s said that after the lobotomy, Eva stopped eating leading to her death only a couple weeks later.
Stories, Legends, and Unverifiable Facts That Make Eva’s Story More Interesting
Perhaps one day I’ll write in detail about all of the myths and stories of the body’s travels, but for today I’ll give you just a taste of some of the crazy myths surrounding the strange journey of Eva’s body.
- Eva was kept on the dining room table after being returned to her husband.
- Every night Juan’s third wife would brush Eva’s hair.
- There were dozens of wax body decoys made of Eva distributed throughout the world to keep people guessing as to her location.
- Eva was stored with a farmer in Argentina who kept her in his attic. She was moved when he shot his wife (supposedly to be with Eva?).
- Eva’s finger was cut off to prove she was human and not one of the wax decoys.
- Eva’s corpse was hung up and beat because the military believed her spirit was against them.
- Eva’s body came to the attention of neuropils and this led to some of the damage (if you catch my drift).
Regardless of whether any of these are true, if you think about the fact that someone as influential as Eva Peron could be embalmed, transported throughout the world, and hid by the Vatican for fear of causing a war… all of those strange facts don’t need to be true because the real story is unbelievable enough on its own.