Jason Ponic works in the exciting world of Hollywood film and television by day and writes by night.
She lived as Argentina's most beloved and controversial First Lady. Adored by the working class until the day cancer took her life, Evita has never left the consciousness of her country. She served as a role model for the women of Argentina, a symbol of passion and determination. Entering the pantheon of world culture in 1976 with Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical 'Evita' and later a motion picture starring Madonna would only solidify her as one of the most powerful female role models of the twentieth century.
Yet there is a dark side to the lore of Evita, one most remain ignorant of. It is a bizarre odyssey the first lady herself would embark on, immediately following death. Mummified, Evita would find little eternal peace for twenty years. Her remains would find themselves thousands of miles from home, subject to vandalism, and invoke insanity to those around it. This is the story of Evita's body, the Mummy Too Perfect.
Behind the musicals, movies and mummy lived the youngest of five siblings, a somewhat mysterious woman named María Eva Duarte. Ashamed of her past, her exact birthday remains a bit of a debate. Especially since her autobiography gives no solid dates as to her birthdate or age. Lore suggests Evita destroyed her birth certificate to erase any evidence of her illegitimate childhood. Most believe she was born between 1919 and 1922, the bastardized daughter of a man who abandoned her and her mother in poverty at age one. In any case, Evita would rise from the depths of despair to pursue an acting career. Like an Argentinian Marilyn Monroe, the brunette turned bleach blonde Evita achieved success in radio, modeling and cinema. Eventually she would become one of the highest paid radio actresses in Argentina.
Juan Peron and the Presidency
It was during a disaster relief fundraiser for an earthquake that Eva would meet her husband and future president of Argentina, Colonel Juan Peron. Then the Secretary of Labor, Juan quickly became romantically involved with Eva. They soon married and Eva became Juan's key ally in the political theatre.
Eventually through a series of presidential resignations, scandals and popularity with the people, Juan Peron became the most powerful man in the Argentinean government, and eventually became its president. Evita, as First Lady, toured every corner of Argentina, as well as Europe and the United States. She would later become a powerful feminist symbol, founded her own charity, the Eva Peron Foundation and remained extremely popular with the working class.
Eva's health began to decline in 1950. The First Lady fainted in public during a rally and was rushed into surgery where she was diagnosed with advanced cervical cancer. Throughout 1951, her health rapidly declined. She declined a bid for vice presidency and began treatment to ease the symptoms of her cancer. Shortly after Juan Peron's re-election, Evita died. At the time of death, she weighed less than 100 pounds and could not stand without support.
All of Argentina went into mourning with businesses, schools and radio shutting down. Her funeral was one of the biggest events in the country's history.
The decision to mummify Evita's body was likely that of Juan Peron, who at this point, was grief stricken over the death of his wife. Dr. Pedro Ara was approached to embalm the body of Evita shortly after her death. Dr. Pedro's highly secret embalming technique was often referred to as "The Art of Death". The process involved replacing the body's blood with glycerin which in effect turns all water in the body to wax. The result is a waxy, lifelike appearance. Evita's body was dressed in a flowing white silk gown and her fingernails were repainted from her trademark candy-apple red to white for a more saintlike appearance.
Evita's body has been claimed by many to be the best preserved mummy of all time. The embalming technique just to preserve it was lost with the death of Dr. Pedro Ara.
Theft of the Body
The memorial was meant to be extravagant and expensive with statues, plaques and her body to be displayed inside. For two years, Evita's body was displayed in her former office while construction was underway. Yet before the mausoleum could be completed, Juan Peron was overthrown in a military coup and fled the country, leaving Evita's body behind. The new dictatorship not only banned possession of all things Peron but also removed Evita's body from public view. Nobody knew what happened to it and it wouldn't be until 16 years later would the military reveal that the body had been smuggled to Italy and buried in a crypt under a false name. During those 16 years, the body was damaged with the nose, fingers and toes either damaged or destroyed due to storage, transport or vandalism.
Eventually Juan Peron, living in exile in Spain had Evita exhumed and moved to his home where he and his third wife cared for and maintained the body in their dining room. When Juan Peron returned from exile and became president once again, the body of Evita remained in Spain. After Juan's death in office, his wife Isabel, succeeded him as president and had Evita returned to Argentina to be put on display beside Juan Peron. Evita's body was repaired, cleaned and finally laid to rest in her family tomb. The body now lays deep underground, away from public view.
By the late 20th century, Eva Peron began her drift into the cultural lexicon. Her 'rags to riches' life story fit the success story playbill perfectly. Books, both fiction and nonfiction have been published. One in particular, Santa Evita, depicts a story about the body after it's embalming where drove its embalmers insane and while it was hidden in Italy was subject to sexual vandalism.
Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical, Evita, was released in 1978, just seven years after the body was returned to Argentina. The symphonic masterpiece was highly successful and went on to become the first British musical ever to winner the Tony for Best Musical. A movie version of the musical was released in 1996 which starred Madonna as Evita.
© 2014 Jason Ponic
Louise Powles from Norfolk, England on December 15, 2017:
Oh I didn't know she was embalmed. Your article was very interesting to read!