Cemeteries worth a visit (This month, Canada and South America)

Liz and Jack Kaufman of Lake Quivira, Kansas, wrote, “We have visited cemeteries all around the world. The best ones combine history with beautiful gardens and superb architecture…. We would like to read travelers’ recommendations for cemeteries to visit.”

So we requested that subscribers each name a special, historic or quirky cemetery that they visited outside of the US in the past few years and to tell us what most impressed them about it. In the last five issues, we printed responses about cemeteries in England, Ireland & Sweden; France; Switzerland, Germany & Italy; Czech Republic, Romania & Russia, and Asia, South Pacific & Northern Africa. In this issue the locations are in CANADA and SOUTH AMERICA. We’ll present more write-ups in a later issue.

Fairview Lawn Cemetery (3720 Windsor St., Halifax, Nova Scotia, NS B3L, CANADA; 902/490-4883) is the final resting place for 121 victims of the RMS Titanic disaster. I visited the cemetery on a shore excursion, “Titanic-Halifax Connection,” from Legend of the Seas of Royal Caribbean International (866/562-7625, www.royalcaribbean.com) in October 2014.

Following the tragedy, the cable-repair ship Mackay-Bennett left Halifax loaded with coffins, body bags, ice, an undertaker and a chaplain for the grim task of recovering the bodies. As each body was recovered, it was given a number. Many bodies were buried with only numbers and the date of death, April 15, 1912.

White Star Line purchased space in the cemetery for burial, which took place from May 3 to June 12, 1912. The line also paid for the simple, dark-granite markers.

The grave that gets the most attention is that of the unknown child. The crew of the Mackay-Bennett was so moved by the recovered body of the child that they collected money for a coffin and headstone, and a funeral was held May 4 at St. George’s Church.

DNA tests later identified the child as 19-month-old Sidney Leslie Goodwin of England, who perished along with his parents and five siblings, all third-class passengers. The class system was in place even in death, as first-class passengers were placed in coffins, while others were interred in body bags or simply buried at sea.

The cemetery, about 2½ miles northwest of the Citadel, is open to the public during daylight hours every day at no charge. Signs lead the way to the graves.

The cemetery was forgotten for many years until the movie “Titanic” was released. Now busloads of tourists visit the site.
Henrietta Hallaq Tuscon, AZ

Early in the morning is an excellent time to visit the hillside Cemitério São João Batista, or St. John the Baptist Cemetery (275 Rua General. Polidoro, Rio de Janeiro, BRAZIL; phone +55 21 2539 7073, http://www.cemiteriosaojoaobatista.com.br [Portuguese only]), located in the Botafogo neighborhood of Rio de Janeiro.

Geographically, the cemetery is approximately 2 miles west of the Sugarloaf Mountain cable car and approximately 1 mile south of Copacabana Beach and Ipanema.

Marble tombs of the upper class at the front of the cemetery are adorned with statues, trellises and flowers. As the affluence level diminishes and graves go up the hill, tombs are first replaced with cabinets of concrete drawers and, last, by the unmarked crosses of the most poor.

Corcovado Mountain is the backdrop at Cemitério São João Batista in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Photo by Darrell Fees

The dramatic backdrop for this serenity is the distant Christ the Redeemer statue on Corcovado. On my visit in February 2008, the clouds that often surround Corcovado were rapidly rising and dissolving, lending an almost ethereal aura to its presence.

Among the celebrities buried in the cemetery are Antônio Carlos Jobim (composer of “The Girl From Ipanema”), Carmen and Aurora Miranda (singers/dancers) and Heitor Villa-Lobos (composer of “Bachianas Brasileiras”).
The main gate on Rua Polidoro is open 7 a.m.-5 p.m. daily, and admission is free.

[For hours of operation at Cemitério São João Batista, call the 24-hour cemetery attendant at +55 21 3624 2315. — Editor]
Darrell Fees, Des Moines, IA

My wife, Gail, and I visited PERU with Overseas Adventure Travel (Cambridge, MA; 800/955-1925, www.oattravel.com) in October of 2014. During the tour, we often were taken on “discoveries” to unusual places not seen on standard tour itineraries. The Almudena Cemetery (Plazoleta Almudena, S/N Santiago, Cusco; phone +51 84 581700) was one such discovery.

The cemetery consists of large mausoleums as well as many aboveground multilevel burial vaults. These vaults have elaborate façades and small enclosures at the front, each with a glass window that allows relatives of the deceased to create dioramas of their loved ones.

Small items placed in the enclosure give a glimpse into the past of the deceased. One vault window we saw showed pictures and scale models of children, pets, automobiles and other important aspects of the deceased’s life.
It is interesting to note the devotion the local people have to their passed loved ones. They can be seen on ladders polishing the brass decorations of the vaults and placing fresh flowers. The cost of being buried at this cemetery is extremely high and requires a large down payment and monthly payments as well. This can be difficult for many families who have very modest incomes.

Tours of the cemetery are available. Check with your hotel or a travel agency in Cusco.

[Information on day and night tours of the Almudena Cemetery can be found at www.cementeriomuseoalmudena.sbpcusco.gob.pe/index.php (Spanish only).]
Charles Burke, Cape Cod, MA

One of the structures with stacked crypts in the Punta Arenas Municipal Cemetery — Chile. Photo by Keith Syda

On a trip to Patagonia in April 2014, my wife and I spent three days in Punta Arenas, CHILE, before continuing on to Torres del Paine National Park. Finding ourselves with some free time one afternoon, we walked to the nearby Cementerio Municipal de Punta Arenas, or the Punta Arenas Municipal Cemetery (9, Punta Arenas, XII Región, Chile; phone + 56 61 221 2777), established in 1894.

The historic portion of the cemetery was impressive, with large mausoleums and landscaping, but the adjacent “apartment blocks” of crypts were most astonishing. Many hundreds of crypts were stacked eight high, forming structures with attached walkways.

At the end of each crypt was a display area 10 to 12 inches deep carefully arranged with artificial flowers, curtains or objects from the person’s life that indicated aspirations he or she may have had. There even were dioramas, each representing the person’s life.

There were hundreds of these displays, many including photographs of the deceased along with his or her favorite toy, music CD, etc. It was a very intriguing place to spend a few hours.

[At one point, the Punta Arenas Municipal Cemetery was open 8 a.m.-7 p.m. in summer and 9-5 in winter. Call to confirm.]
Keith Syda, Sacramento, CA

Before the Panama Canal was completed, Punta Arenas, CHILE, was an important port for maritime trade and for providing supplies for ships traveling between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. My wife, Linda, and I were in Punta Arenas in January 2014 before and after a trip to Antarctica.

Display fronting a crypt in Almudena Cemetery in Cusco, Peru. Photo: Burke

The well-maintained Punta Arenas Municipal Cemetery, with impressive mausoleums as well as “apartment style” crypts, reveals the international nature of the city and the wealth that was created during an earlier era. CNN ranked it as one of the world’s most beautiful cemeteries, and in 2012 Chile designated it as a national monument.

The cemetery is an easy walk from the city center. There were very few people around during our visit. We felt very safe and enjoyed the quiet as well as the beautiful and interesting landscape.
Ron Ott, Lake Elmo, MN

In Buenos Aires, ARGENTINA, where I was a visitor more than 20 years ago, is La Recoleta Cemetery (Junín 1760, 1113 Buenos Aires; phone + 54 11 4803 1594, www.turismo.buenosaires.gob.ar/en/otros-establecimientos/recoleta-cemetery).

This cemetery enjoys the honor of being the burial place of the famous María Eva Duarte de Perón, affectionately known as Evita. She is buried there in the Duarte family tomb. Juan Perón is not so ensconced, instead being in a place suitable to his class, which was diminutive to that of his more famous first wife.

In La Recoleta there are pictures of the deceased in their respective burial sites, giving a visitor the knowledge of what the person once looked like. Also, the units vary in size and presentation because many family members share resting places.

[La Recoleta Cemetery is open 8 a.m.-6 p.m. daily. Free tours in English are given Tuesday and Thursday starting at 11 a.m.]
Philip H. De Turk, Pinehurst, NC

At the beautiful La Recoleta Cemetery in Buenos Aires, ARGENTINA, the structures are all above ground, and the magnificent mausoleums are larger than some New York City apartments. It was a delight to walk around and see them on my visit in 2007.

One mausoleum, in particular, caught my eye. It had the expected Catholic cross on it, but below the cross was a 7-branch Jewish candelabrum.

I wondered if the family who owned the mausoleum were originally Spanish Jews who had converted during the Inquisition. It was fun to speculate.
Nili Olay, New York, NY

I have visited many cemeteries all over the world, including Highgate Cemetery in London. All of them contained gravestones, some had crypts, and some had carvings of angels.

The statue of Liliana and her dog in La Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires, Argentina. Photo by Steve Goch

When in Buenos Aires, ARGENTINA, and visiting La Recoleta Cemetery, it is almost mandatory to stop at Eva (Evita) Perón’s crypt. It is marked “Familia Duarte,” which, as my wife, Kathy, and I found in 2009, is the only thing that distinguishes it from many others.

However, on the main path through the cemetery, I was struck by the unique statue of Liliana and her dog. At the top of her plaque, placed there by her father, it says, in Italian, “A MIA FIGLIA,” which translates to “To my daughter.” I cannot think of anything worse happening to a parent than losing a child.

Until I read the article on South America by Sharon VanDewark (Nov. ’14, pg. 6), I did not know Liliana’s story, that she had been killed in an avalanche.

As one who loves animals, the hope that we may one day be reunited with our animals was also striking.
Steve Goch, Santa Paula, CA

Write-ups on a few more cemeteries will be printed in a future issue.