A Day of the Dead

After breakfast, we traveled to the Colon (Columbus) Cemetery to explore the vast and remarkable necropolis, which was laid out in 1871 and now consists of  about 125 acres of ornate statuary and mausoleums. Many of Cuba’s most prominent citizens are buried here, including three ex-presidents and several heroes and heroines of the Revolution.

But the cemetery is also the final resting place (well, almost the final resting place, more on that later) of common residents of Havana. As many as 40 funerals a day occur at the site, a fact supported by the steady stream of taxis and small buses filled with mourners we saw as we wandered through the grounds.

The cemetery was named after Christopher Columbus. But our cemetery guide, Andres, said the name provokes some humor with the Cuban people. “He (Columbus) said he discovered us, but we were already here when he arrived,” Andres said.

Many of the monuments are decorated with symbols. One of the most common is the bat, long considered an omen of good luck in Cuban folklore. Trumpets are also popular. “The trumpets are supposed to blow when all the souls are recovered,” Andres said. “I hope we all hear the trumpets.”

After the Communist Revolution, Andres said the Cuban people joked that the cemetery “was the only place you could have private property.” However, even that “property” was only temporary. If you wanted to be buried in Cemetario Colon, your body would only rest there for 2 years. Then your bones would be excavated and cremated, making space for more burials.

Despite all the dignitaries and notables buried in the cemetery, the most popular grave site belongs to Amelie Goyre de Hoz, who died during childbirth in 1901. The fresh-flowers-daily covered grave is crowded with childless women who come to ask for good fortune by knocking on the tomb three times and then walking away backwards.  

Andres invited all the women in our party to participate. Judy began to step forward until one of our traveling friends,  looking directly at me, said to my wife “You are already taking care of one big child.” Smiling, Judy turned and walked away.

To follow our Cuban trip in chronological order

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