Six Months In Mexico/Chapter 10

 
 
 

CHAPTER X.

 

HISTORIC TOMBS AND LONELY GRAVES.

 

How much I would like to paint the beauties of Mexico in colors so faithful that the people in the States could see what they are losing by not coming here. How I would like to show you the green valley where the heat of summer and blast of winter never dare approach; where every foot of ground recalls wonderful historical events, extinct races of men and animals, and civilization older by far than the pyramids. Then would I take you from the table-land to the mountain, where we descend into deep canons that compare in their strange beauty with any in the world; the queer separation of the earth, not more than 100 feet from edge to edge of precipice, but 400 feet deep. More wonderful still is the sight when the rainy season fills these gorges with a mad, roaring torrent. Then would I lead you to the edge of some bluff that outrivals the Palisades—and let you look down the dizzy heights 500 feet to the green meadows, the blooming orchards, the acres of pulque plant, the little homes that nestle at the foot of this strange wall. Then further up into the mountains you could see glaciers, grander, it is claimed, than any found in the Alps. Here are buried cities older than Pompeii, sculptures thousands of years old, hieroglyphics for the wise to study, and everywhere the picturesque people in their garb and manners of centuries ago—and all this within a day's travel from the city. Surely in all the world there is none other such wonderful natural museum.

Business men who wish to rest from their labors find perfect quiet in this paradise. All cares vanish. Some strange magic seems to rob one of all care, of every desire to hurry. Railways furnish comfortable and safe transportation; the people are attentive and polite, and as many comforts are attainable as at any other place away from the States. People who have any desire to see Mexico in all its splendor should come soon, for civilization's curse or blessing, whichever it may be, has surely set a firm foot here, and in a few years, yielding to its influence, all will be changed. Already the dark-eyed senora has changed the lovely, graceful mantilla for stiff, ugly bonnets and hats; the poor Indian woman is replacing the fascinating reboza with a horrid shawl; the Indian man is changing sandals for torturing shoes and the cool linen pantaloons and serape for American pantaloons and coat. Civilization and its twin sister, style, have caught them in their grasp, and unless you come soon Mexico will cease to be attractive except as a new California.

There is one thing I hope will ever remain, and that is the graveyard of San Fernando, where most of the illustrious dead of Mexico are entombed. But it is doubtful, as a little beyond are the fine houses of the foreign representatives, and the houses are crowding up to the gate of this dead city as though trying to push it out of existence. An old cathedral, faced by a green plaza, rears its head at one side, near the massive iron gates which the keeper, sitting just within its portals, swings open and admits one with a welcome that is surprising. All around are people buried in the walls. The plates are decorated in all manner of ways. Some have a little niche which hold the image of the Virgin and several candles. Others are hung with wreaths, and some with crepe. The majority have places to hold candles, which are burnt there on certain days. The nearest tomb to the gate holds the remains of a young girl who died, quite suddenly, on the day she was to be married, just an hour before the time appointed. Near here is erected a fine shaft in honor of General Ignacio Comonfort, who was a President once, but was shot at Molino de Toria, November 13, 1863, by the Americans. Several yards beyond is a plain, brown stone, built in an oblong box shape, with a large, stone cross in the center. It is weather-beaten and worn, and looks to be centuries old. All the information it gives a stranger is in two large initials, T. M., rudely cut on the side.

No date or usual verse of regret from loving friends is inscribed, and somehow a thrill of pity strikes one for T. M., as it seems to be the only grave in all that quiet city that bears no mark of loving hands. I took my pen knife and hastily cut in the soft stone R. I. P. When the Mexican friend, who had during this time been engaged with the gateman getting some information, came up he said: "The grave you stand beside is that of General Tomas Mejia, who was shot with Maximilian, and here is the tomb of the other." It was similar in shape to General Mejia's but some kind hand had hung wreaths on the cross.

General Miguel Miramon was president of the republic before Maximilian. He was a brave and good man, and the emperor well knew his worth.

 
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TOMB OF BENITO JUAREZ

 

When they stood up to be shot Maximilian in the center, Mejia on the right and Miramon on the left, the center of course being considered the place of honor, Maximilian, touching Miramon on the shoulder, said: "You are more worthy this place than I," and he exchanged places, and so they died.

The tomb of Benito Juarez, the Indian President, is the finest in the place. It is a long marble tomb. On it lies the life-size body of Juarez, partly covered with a mantle. Sitting at his head, with her hands on his heart, is a beautiful woman, representative of the nation mourning for its much beloved President. The whole is a perfect study, and was designed and executed by a Mexican.

The life of Juarez is a very romantic one. He is familiarly known as the "Lincoln of Mexico." He was born in the State of Oaxaca, 1806, and at the age of twelve years could neither read nor write. He was a full-blooded Indian, and could not even speak the Spanish language. However, he tried to improve his time, and in 1847 he was Governor of his native State. He went to New Orleans, on being banished by Santa Anna, but returned to Mexico in 1855 and became President of the Court of Justice. When Comonfort was overthrown by the clerical party, Juarez set himself up at Vera Cruz as Constitutional President of the Republic.

The United States recognized him as such, and he successfully fought the priesthood and confiscated all the church property. When Maximilian ascended the throne, Juarez sent his family to New Orleans, but he remained here until compelled to cross the frontier. The United States, which had always favored Juarez, interfered in his behalf. At the termination of the War of the Rebellion Maximilian was betrayed and shot, and Juarez was re-elected in 1871, and died in office June 18, 1872.

He has a daughter who is married and living in Mexico in greater style than the president. She resembles her father. A story is told of Juarez that is new at the very least. He had plenty of enemies, especially among the church party. One day he sent a band out to capture an outlaw, who, notwithstanding his enemies, stood well with the clergy. The bandit was met on the highway and shot before he could utter a prayer. They said his soul was lost, and Juarez was to blame. When he was dying it was endeavored to keep the matter quiet, and the people were in ignorance of his fatal illness until one morning they saw a notice posted on street corners, which read in this style:

"Hell, 1.30. Juarez just arrived. Devil putting on his tail."

It was signed by the name of the bandit.

General Ignacio Zaragoza, the conqueror of the French in Puebla, May 5, 1862; General Vincente Guerrero, one of the principal heroes of the War of Independence; Mariano Otero, one of Mexico's most famous orators; Melchor Ocampo, a very distinguished philosopher and politican, and the companion and right hand of Juarez, helping him to establish the liberal principles; Francisco Zarco, one of the Constitutionalists; General Jose Joaquin de Herrera, one of the best Presidents the Republic ever had, and other famous generals, statesmen, writers, and artists fill up this quiet spot. The gates are only open now to visitors. They no longer register dead guests.

Among many other things Mexico can boast of is the public library. It is situated on Calle de San Augustin, in the old church and convent of Saint Augustin. The high iron fence which incloses it is topped with marble busts of famous orators and authors. The little green plot in front is filled with rare plants and fountains. The face of the church is a mass of wondrous carvings, and the vestibule is a crown of splendid architecture. Directly over the door leading into the room is the "World." On one side brass hands and figures tell the hour. Standing on one foot on top of it is a life-size figure of "Time," in bronze. The attitude, the scythe over the shoulder, the expression on the face, the long, flowing beard and hair are perfect. Opposite Time, and at the other end of the room is the Mexican coat of arms. Book-cases line each side, and in the center are reading-desks and easy-chairs. At the right entrance is a large statue of Humboldt, and on the left Cuvier. Opposite one another are Descartes and Copernicus, Dante and Alarcon, Origen and Virgil, Plato and Cicero, Homer and Confucius, and in the center a large figure with a book in hand marked "Science."

The books are catalogued under the heads of philosophy, history, fiction, etc., and are placed in cases alphabetically. They are in all languages, and many of them are very ancient. Some are on parchment and in picture writing. The library has catalogued one hundred and sixty thousand volumes, and owns many besides that are not yet sorted and arranged. It is open from 10 a. m. to 5 p. m., and is equally free to all. It is well patronized by men, but it is safe to say no woman has ever read a book inside its walls. The only women who ever enter are tourists. The books are not permitted to go outside the building. A man gets a printed card. On it he writes the title, number and case of his book, and when the hour comes to close he lays the book on the desk of the janitor and gives his card to the superintendent. Many of the ancient books were taken at the time of the confiscation of the monasteries and convents.

The carnival passed off very quietly. As I said before, Mexico is becoming civilized, and doing away with many ancient and beautiful customs. In former years every day on carnival week the paseo was crowded with masked men and women in historic and comic garb, and battles were fought with empty egg-shells and queerly constructed things for the same purpose. This year every person went, but only the fewest number were masked. Some few among the lower class threw egg-shells. Beyond this all was quiet. It has also been the custom to give fancy-dress and masked balls. In all the theaters public balls were held and the clubs gave private receptions. The French Club had their rooms nicely decorated and the best people attended, dressed in the finest and most original costumes. Perhaps the most striking one was a creamy satin embroidered with red roses and covered with natural butterflies of gorgeous and brilliant hue. The young ladies all wore their dresses just reaching their knees, and the fancy boots displayed were something marvelous; satin of all shades, embroidered with gold and silver, and trimmed with flowers.

One couple, who have been lately engaged, were dressed alike. The girl wore a short dress of white satin, profusely trimmed with pompons of white fur; white satin boots trimmed the same way, and over her loose hair of marvelous length and thickness was a point lace veil. The groom wore satin knee breeches, short coat, high hat and boots, all covered with the white fur pompons. They were accompanied by the mother, in a brocade crimson velvet on a canary background and rich yellow lace, low-necked and en train, and the father in common dress suit. The Mexican boys never appeared better than in the grand old dress of former days. Mostly crimson velvet and satin were affected, showing to an advantage their superb eyes and complexion. The women were remarkable for their homeliness.

A grand supper of thirty-five courses was served and more wine, champagne and cigarettes consumed than would be done at forty receptions in the East.

Now, having shown you how they do at private balls where only the elite are permitted to attend, would you like to don a mask and domino and sit with these very same people in the boxes at the theaters, and watch the promiscuous crowd beneath? It is not a select crowd by any means, but one composed of the lowest in the land. Yet men take their wives, sisters, and friends, masked, that they may watch through opera glasses this wonderful sight, and wives and sweethearts get friends to take them, that they, unseen, may see if husband or lover takes part in the revel, for the men are of the best and wealthiest families.

At 11 o'clock the doors are flung open and people come in slowly. The two bands play alternately the Spanish danza and the waltz. The women come in dressed in all the styles ever invented. One beautiful woman wore a blue satin dress, embroidered with pink rose buds. Another wore blue, trimmed with beaded lace, which glittered like hundreds of diamonds in the gas-light. Two came together, one in black, the other in crimson velvet, profusely and gayly embroidered. Some were dressed after the style of the male dudes of the States, but the majority wore nothing but a comic-opera outfit, dotted with silver or gold spangles, according to the color. The men, with the exception of a half dozen, wore their common suits, and never removed their hats. Nearly all the women wore their hair short, which they had powdered.

At first they wore masks, but in a short time they were removed, and by 3 o'clock everybody was drunk. When a man refused to dance with a woman, a fight was the result, and everybody would quit dancing until it was settled. One year fifteen men were killed during the week it lasted. This year but one has met his death. The actions and dancing of this mob will bear no description, and at 7 o'clock the performance ended. The manager of the National Theater has promised that his house shall never be used for this purpose again.

The carnival was celebrated in fine style at Amecameca, right at the foot of the White Lady. Indians came from all parts of the country and paraded the entire week around the church and temple with lighted candles. At Puebla they had egg battles, and in all little places the feast was carried on as in former days.

Sights in the city have begun to assume a familiar look, although one never tires of them, and I begin to think of moving elsewhere.

The buried city is slowly being unearthed at San Juan. Already they have brought to light a house of magnificent size and finish, and in a few days it will be well worth a visit. Tourists have been going down regularly, but beyond a few men at work, little was to be seen. What they missed they furnished with their imagination, as did also some correspondents who would not wait to get legitimate news.

The mint, which is situated in the suburbs of the city, is turning out fifty thousand dollars in silver per day. The first coin struck was in 1535, and in three hundred years they coined $2,200,000,000. The men employed get from one to two dollars a day. In a month from now the government is going to make fifteen million cents. Gold coin, although in use here, is not made more than once a month.

The arsenal is in a fine old building directly in the opposite direction from the mint. All departments are not running—for the lack of money, so they say. They make but three hundred and fifty entire guns a day, but have one million dollars' worth in stock. In one room they have a fine collection of arms, such as are used by every nation in the world. The iron and wood used is Mexican, the latter a superb walnut, which requires no oil or varnish. The people here employed get from one real (twelve and a half cents) to two dollars a day, the highest that is paid.

The tourists who have such a mania for mementos have brought disgrace on themselves and others also. The governor has been very kind, and has thrown open

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