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The Leyend of Gardel in Ushuaia

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n February 28th of 2019, the news agency EFE, published an article titled “The prison fromthe end of the world, where escaping is worse than staying forever”. Among other statements, this article mentioned:

“As with every mythical place, the leyends that surround the prison from the end of the world are many: Was Carlos Gardel one of its involuntary guests? One of the prison’s cells is dedicated to the supposed stay of the zorzal criollo[i].

‘It is a matter of believing or not at all. They say Gardel was here. Many of the documents became lost. Documents consisting of letters with his intials which he received. It is said that he was there for a misdemeanor’, Fernanda Fuente indicates.

The truth is that fanatics of the singer, whose life was plagued with mysteries, assure there is no proof of anything of the sort”.

Certainly, the search for the documents has been a futile endeavor, according to the prison’s own internal investigations:

“If the syllabi files and sentences are searched, nothing can be found. All documents were sent to Buenos Aires and according to the testimonies, the documents were lost in the basement of the old Prison building. However many are the ones who are convinced that the story is true. If we talk to old townsmen and prison guards, it appears as a truth without contradictions. According to Manuel Buezas, son of a jail guard, his father met “Carlitos” when they sent him to Buenos Aires to comply with a short sentence, prior to starting his artistic career. It is even assumed that it was in Ushuaia that he became a ‘payador’ (minstrel). The reason for the sentence was, apparently, a mix-up with women and politics. Another version accuses him of having possed as a canary or whistle-blower and after a shoot out was arrested and sent to the presidio. Mr. Buezas also maintains that if this episode was kept sub-rosa, it was in order to not damage the image of the popular singer, that this was affirmed by one of Gardel representatives when he spent a season at the (Buenos Aires) Devoto prison...[ii]

“In one of the cells is a drawing of a smiley Carlos Gardel. According to the leyend, the tango icon was hosted in that miniscule cell. If this was to be true -in the intake registry the name of a Charles Romuald Gardes appears-, in that place, he sang his saddest song. Versions emerge from magazines from that time – says Garcia – but we cannot validate them yet. They say he was there for acting as a procuress in the illegal sale and trade of women. If he was, then he was a repeatingoffender.”[iii]

 (Image taken from the photo gallery illustrated in the EFE note)

The jail, today a museum, is the protagonist of a profound contradiction by showing “Gardel’s cell” (photo) while it admits that “If the syllabi files and sentences are searched, nothing can be found”, amongst other antagonistic and unproved arguments.

The leyend isn’t new and it has suffered numerous alterations. It originated in 1969[iv] when Tabaré Di Paula published a card whose dedication stated: “To Mr. Villanova, intrepid marine from the most Southern coas who cross the Cabo de Hornos and became sea sick (in a river) at the Rio de la Plata, 02/21/1907”.
Among the signatures, a supposed “C. Gardel”.

Postcard published by Tabaré Di Paula

The same publication points out that Lieutenant Eduardo Villanova had been sentenced in 1905 due to political reasons and benefited from amnisty of May of 1906, which renders the inexplicable notion that Gardel would have waited nine months to leave the premises. If to that we add the election of a postcard from Puerto de Bajada Grande, Paraná (Province of Entre Rios), we could put in question that the postcard pertained to the liberation of Ushuaia, although it is not this article’s intention that of clarifying this aspect.

However, it is worth highlighting that in 1907 Gardel had not yet adopted his artistic last name, but signed “Gardes” and that the traces of his calligraphy were very different from the ones on the postcard. This is evidenced in the document dated September 11 of 1904, when he was arrested in Florencio Varela for running away from his home[v] and he had to stap provide his fingerprints, record his personal information, and signature.

Signature of his detention in 1904.

Also, the elimination of all the traces linked to the crimes, arrests, imputations, prosecutions, law suits, and sentences is not possible. Even when from Ushuaia sentences would have been sent to Buenos Aires where these “were lost in the basement of the old Prison building”, in order to arrive at the jail, he must have had to go through the police station(s), court(s), prosecution(s), and courts, leaving some trace in a registry in the books of internal communication, official publications, and media and press from both provinces.

Besides, dealing with a repeating offense[vi], it was necessary to see two or more fulfilled sentences to deserve imprisonment, in times when the strict Residency Law would deport foreigners for lesser infractions.

In some of the archives mentioned the following should be stated:
               1)    Date of intake and discharge from the penitentiary
               2)    The charge(s) imputated
               3)    Where qnd when the previous sentences were fulfilled
               4)    Courts where he had been processed
               5)    Details of the trial and a series of etceteras.

Far from Ushuaia, in 1906 the young singer visited Uruguay leaving as proof a picture dedicated to his friend Pedro Guzzati:

“As proof of friendship and care for my friend Pedro Guzzati, Carlos Gardel”

A minor[vii], without a paternal figure to orient him in “manly matters”, he spent his adolescence between Buenos Aires and Montevideo, employing himself in minor jobs[viii] and dedicating himself to the healthy distraction of the guitar that would derive in an extraordinary career.

His young wanderings make a very rich source of anecdotes of which we prescind in this article of documentary nature. One said anecdote became embodied in the police complaint filed by his mother, chartered as “missing person report”, only content from the Handbook produced by the Police from the Capital, where we extract the following:

“Books Section. January 31st, 1913.
Carlos Gardel, Franc. 22 years old does not appear with recommendation for capture, existing under the name of Garderes A 15861”[ix]

This brief text eliminates all possibility for conjectures regarding previous sentences (given that having existed, they would have been mentioned), but it has been erroneously interpreted since (1967)[x] when afirming that “Garderes” was an allias used by Gardes/Gardel to commit crimes:

As seen below the signature: “Carlito’s declaration in court. His calligraphic-styled signature as Carlos ‘Garderes’.

Contradicting the footnote in this image, we highlight that the signature difers noticeably from Gardel’s, especially in the “r”’s and in the address books, as well as the handwritten fragment that precedes it: Dated April 2nd of 1907, indicates that this is about a “Carlos Garderes, oriental, of twenty years of age (born in 1887), single, employed by the enterprise La Comercial…”None of this coincides with our Carlos, still “Gardes”, french, of 16 years of age (born in 1890), whose presence at a court on April 2nd would have proven impossible had he been set free from Ushuaia on February 21st (date seen on the postcard from Villanova): He would not have had the material time to return to Buenos Aires, move to Montevideo, commit a crime, be found, denounced, aprehended, imputated, processed, interrogated, etc., etc.

An elementary seach yields results of the presence of at least two Carlos Garderes: On october 21st of 1884, from port of Burdeos, the first of the two arrived to Buenos Aires; was single and 18 years of age. Dedicated to minning, it isn’t difficult to deduce that his destiny would be Uruguay, back in those days dedicated to minning by the Compañía Francesa de Minas de Oro (French Gold Minning Company).

This hypothesis gains strength before the presence of other Carlos Garderes (presumably descendant from the previous one) in 1912 and 1920 contracting marital ties, from which the age group to which he pertained can be deduced.

The Uruguayan archives are not available on the Internet, reason for which it was not possible to find mayor details, but the proven existence of Carlos Gaederes, whose residency in Montevideo coincides with the “employee of the commercial enterprise La Comercial” demonstrates the error that has been made by linking him to our singer”.

This way, the mention of the singer in the Handbook in 1913 was made with the means of clarifying that it had to do with a different person, although easily confused given the similarities in the last names (Garderes is pronnounced “Gardér”), of french origin, the coincidence in the name and the short age difference. Said situation explains also Doña Berta’s fears of her son being detained and the need by the police personnel to leave evidence of the existence of a name that was attributed to him erroneously.

Note here, furthermore, that the book’s recorded number of Garderes has been crossed out aftewards and in red ink, in a new display of evidence that it did not correspond to the causal agent of this record[xi].

However, if the intention of the inscription had been that of tying Gardes/Gardel with Garderes, both Handbooks would have become unified as one leaving behind the proper record, according to the habitual practices of the public administration. No other occassion would have been more ripe or propitious.

The persistence and the morbid need to convert Gardel into a delinquent in order to “admire him more” (¿?) derived also in the adulteracion of the record in the attempt to file his identification card, copying it from the the police handbook.

Note here, on the second page, dated August 18 of 1915 with header from the Police from the Capital (in a record belonging to the Province) and with then accusatory inscription posterior to the ending of the procedure, given that Gardel had travelled to Brasil on August 15th with the identifiction card granted by that same organism. Note here also, the suggestive rupture (in the paper) which does not coincide with the condition of the other pages, as it impedes the reading of his last name.

The mentioned adulteration lays exposed in the same record of his arrest of 1904, stated as sole antecedentin Florencio Varela (location situated 30 kilometers from Buenos Aires). Had there been other police involvement, these would would have been registered.

Also, this document ties Gardes (1904) with Gardel (1915) and, at the same time, unties them from the Gardereslast name, leaving no risk for further confusion.

In synthesis, it is hereby documented that in 1913, backgrounds were not recorded at the Capital’s Police and that in 1915 at the Province’s Police, only the desertion from his home was displayed in 1904, episode which, far from deserving jail time, ended with Gardel “turning to his father”. Since then, Gardel’s life is perfectly reconstructed and documented, without room for the interpretations maliciously attributed to him.

Perhaps a corollary to this documentary chronology is the Certificate of Good Conduct expedited by the Capital’s Police on February 15th of 1923. Of course, the detractors have pretended to tarnish his legitimacy, as usual without fundamental validity nor demonstrable facts.

The impact of this document invalidates the oral versions that have sustained the leyend of Gardel’s imprisonment, reason why we request this document’s difussion, adding a pinal period to the misrepresentation and distortion of History that stain the memory of an iconic figure of our identity.

Ana Turón

Azul, February 9, 2019

Translated by Dr. Juan O. Turon (Virginia Beach, U.S.A.), March 29, 2019

[i] “Zorzal criollo” Gardel’s nickname.

[ii] Carlos Vairo, "El Presidio de Ushuaia" (“Ushuaia’s Presidio”) Pg. 128

[iii] “Done viven los Fantasmas, el presidio del fin del mundo” ("Where ghosts live, the presidio from the end of the world”) Clarín, 1996 and 2001

[iv] Carlos Gardel: Mártir Orillero” (“Carlos Gardel: The Working Class Martyr”). Magazine “Todo Es Historia” (“Everything Is History”) #27, july, 1969

[v] ESTEBAN, Juan Carlos. “The Detention of the Young Gardes”.

[vi] “Law 3335 of December 26 of 1985, establishes that ‘correctional or prison penalties that judges from the Capital and Federal Territories impose to the reincidents, will be satisfied in the National Territories of the South that the Executive Power design to the effect’. On September 15 of 1902 Ushuaia’s Prison for Incidents was inaugurated”. (Ostuni, Ricardo “Gardel’s Repatriation”).

[vii] He was born in Toulouse (France) in December 11 of 1890, son of Marie-Berthe Gardes and unknown father.

[viii] At the school of Arts and Crafts he earned the basic knowledge, discipline and work ethic

[ix]Regueira, Norberto. “Gardel Mito y Falsificación” (“Gardel: Myth and Forgery”) Ed. Prosa, 2017

[x] AVLIS, “Carlos Gardel.  El Gran desconocido” (“Carlos Gardel. The Great Unknown”)