Based on a True Story: Exploring the Facts, Myths and Places of the Musical Evita

By Michael Luongo
27 May 2012

Eva Perón's tomb in Recoleta Cemetery
Photo by Michael Luongo

The Journey of Evita's Body
The play's closing line mentions that Evita's body disappears for 17 years. Where did the body go? It's a long story beginning with its 1952 embalming in the CGT, the union building Confedercion General de Trabajo, by Spanish doctor Pedro Ara. The body was being prepared for the planned, never completed monument where Evita would be viewed like Moscow's Lenin. When Juan Perón was deposed in 1955, the body was hidden throughout Buenos Aires by military rulers who, though cruel enough to murder Eva's followers, still feared the body's spiritual powers and were too religious to destroy it. A romanticized discussion of the body's journey is in the 1995 historical novel "Santa Evita" by Argentine author Tomas Eloy Martinez.

In 1957, the body was sent to Milan's Maggiore cemetery, hidden under the name Maria Maggi de Magistris. In 1971, Evita, still perfectly preserved in a glass-topped coffin, was exhumed and given back to Perón, who was then exiled in Madrid. In 1973, Perón returned to Argentina for his second administration, but died on July 1, 1974. His third wife, Isabel, became President, and on Nov. 17 that year, brought the body back. It's said she conducted séances over it, begging the spirit of Evita to help her administration. That didn't help; in 1976, Isabel was toppled by a military coup. Evita was returned to her family, who placed her in Recoleta Cemetery in a tomb belonging to her father's family, the Duartes.

Dr. Gabriel Miremont, the curator of Buenos Aires' Museo Evita, said, in essence, Evita died two deaths, first "her untimely death at age 33, devastated by cancer and then, by a second death, the awful journey that her body took."

Roger said, "Once I knew I was going to play the role of Eva Perón, I did a lot of research, which included visiting her tomb at Recoleta. It has the most artistic and moving tombs I have ever seen." She recommends every tourist see them, adding, "After the chaos following her death — Perón's exile and the disappearance of her body — it is nice to see that she is now laid to rest in a simple and peaceful place."

Argentines have a thing with worshiping the dead bodies of political leaders, and Evita's not the only one who had trouble resting in peace. Violent riots marked the moving of Juan Perón's body in 2006 to a new tomb in San Vicente, in the suburbs of Buenos Aires, to a country home he and Evita shared. A companion tomb was built here for Evita, but the family, and the Eva Perón Historical Foundation, run by Evita's grandniece Cristina Alvarez Rodriguez, will not allow her to be moved again. Perón's body had also been violated, something Michael Cerveris learned researching his part, too. "His hands, apparently, were cut off and stolen from his tomb," Cerveris said, citing his research at the Juan Perón National Historical Institute. "One theory being that someone believed that they could be used to open a secret Swiss bank vault."