If you go to San Fernando Cemetery you will admire many things. You will admire the beautiful arches and impressive gravestones. You will contemplate time and it’s passing in the silence that only a cemetery’s ambiance can let you do. The cemetery is small, but has a lot of twists and turns that will make you wonder if you wonder if you are really in some sort of maze. Then at the end, right before you exit the cemetery gates that lead to the church, you are going to notice one last gravestone. Despite it being simple it will immediately catch your eye due to the last name being so different than all the rest.
Yes, none other the queen of modern dance herself, Isadora Duncan. Or is it? A quick google search will reveal that Angela Isadora Duncan was born in San Francisco in 1877. It will also tell you that she died in Nice, France in 1927. The gravestone set before you is a year off on both ends. What is going on here?
The answer is extreme devotion. Apparently, Mexico in the 20s was obessed with Ms. Duncan. So much that when she died in 1927, the president of Mexico, Plutarco Calles, ordered that a tombstone be erected in the legendary San Fernando Cemetery in her honor. And, apparently also decided to make her a little bit younger than she actually was, hence the change of dates.
This story may seems strange to you, perhaps even a bit of a curiousity (well you at least stuck with the story so far), but upon further inspection it is by no means uncommon for the San Fernando Cemetery. A cemetery where people may or may not be buried.
In an impressive masolium on the grounds is a grave dedicated to Mexico’s second president Vicente Guerrero, who fought for the indenpendence of Mexico. As impressive as the grave is, he is not there, the remains were transferred in 1925 to rest under the Independence Monument.
There is the tomb of Ignacio Zaragoza, the famed General who battled the French on the 5th of May in 1862 in Puebla (sorry Cinco de Mayo is not Mexican Indepence Day). He used to be burried in San Fernando, but he too was exhumed and reburried in a monument in Puebla.
Then there Santiago F. Xicotencatl, who is famous for dying in 1847 because rather than surrendering the Mexican flag to invading U.S. forces he wrapped himself in the flag and jumped off Chapultepec Castle (which back then was a military college) into a hail of bullets. He too was exhumed and reburied in a monument at the base of Chapultepec Park.
Exhumation and reburriel seems to be a common theme at San Fernando Cemetery. The names go on and on. Ignacio Comonfort, 25th President of Mexico used to be burried in the cemetery, Provisional President, Miguel Miramon was ordered executed fired (literally fired) by President Benito Juarez, had a temporary grave at San Fernando.
All these people buried, exhumed, and then reburried. It really made me rethink the idea of “final resting place.” Despite the many empty graves there are however some people still burried at San Fernando Cemetery. Ysidoro Olvera, the last Congressional President of the 1857 Constitution, who was imprisioned by Ignacio Comonfort got to stay. There are many generals of the different Mexican wars that are still there.
The most famous resident in San Fernando, who also consequentially has the biggest tomb in San Fernando is that of Benito Juarez. Benito Juarez was the 26th President of Mexico. Having died in 1872 of a heart attack while reading a newspaper in the National Palace. The sculpture in his tomb is made of marble and depicts a “Mother Mexico” weaping over the fallen Benito Juarez.
Indeed San Fernando Cemetery is a strange place to be, but definitely place worth a visit. Perhaps it doesn’t do it’s job as final resting place, but it does a great job in helping the visitor remember those that have passed on. It is pretty easy to get to, all you have to do is go to the Blue/Grean Hidalgo station and walk a few blocks. Admission is free and it is open as long as there is light outside.