The Character

Colonel Carlos Félix Escayola.

Durazno, Tacuarembó, Porto Alegre and Catalunya. “Let us not forget that the Escayolas (Juan and Pablo) leave Sabadell in 1836, they arrive in Uruguay and settle in Durazno. Then come the  Latorres and the Oribes to the "Siege of Montevideo", where Carlos Félix Escayola Medina was born, and then return to Durazno. His father dies in 1851 prematurely and the family moves to Laureles del Queguay, where his sister marries General Netto. In 1864 Escayola accompanies Netto to the Siege of Paysandú, a year later to the Paraguayan War. He returns to Tacuarembó in 1866 and he begins his political career. In 1905 he returns to Montevideo, where he diez in 1915, soon before turning 70.

In every place there is some trace of the Colonel and his family and the documentary came to life with each of those influences”.

Carlos Félix Escayola Medina was born in Montevideo on October, 23rd, 1845. His father, Juan Antonio Escayola, was a carpenter from Catalunya and his mother, Bonifacia Medina, from Uruguay, was born to a Uruguayan father and Brazilian mother. He takes part of the Triple Alliance War (Guerra de la Triple Alianza) in 1866, where he gains ownership of some estates between Paysandú and Tacuarembó, then “San Fructuoso”, settling in the city of Tacuarembó. He then becomes Head of the Police and marries Clara Oliva, daughter to Juan Bautista Oliva (Italian Consul in the area) and Juana Sghirla, from Argentina. She has to children with her and after becoming a widower, he marries her sister, Blanca Oliva, with whom he has five children. One of them, Washington, is the godson of Gral Máximo Santos, who appoints  Carlos Escayola, political and militar leader at the time, as Army Colonel.

Escayola’s Tree

The family tree showing the offspring of Carlos Félix Escayola Medina (1845-1915) is striking. He successively married three sisters of the Oliva family: Clara (1850-1871), Blanca (1855-1886) and María Lelia (1870-1905). Fourteen children are the result of those three marriages, but the estimation is that Escayola has fathered another fifty children from his extra marital affairs.

While still married to Blanca Oliva, he impregnated Blanca’s sister, María Lelia Oliva, who was barely 13 years old at the time, who gave birth to one of his many illegitimate children: Carlos Gardel.

Árbol Genalógico de Carlos Gardel.

Árbol genealógico.

The cultural legacy of Escayola

Carlos Escayola had to defend the northern border of the country but also control uprisings of those opposing the government. At the same time he directed theatre and musical groups, and organized weekly musical gatherings at his home. He played piano, guitar and mandolin, following the musical passion that was traditional in the Escayola family.

In 1891, Colonel Escayola commissioned an engineer, L’Olivier, from the French Company “Minas de Oro del Uruguay”, to build an opera theatre. The Escayola Theatre was luxurious and was in many ways similar to any European theatre. It cost around 25.000 pesos, a very important sum which meant a major reduction in the Colonel’s fortune.

Opera and theatre companies would perform in Río de Janeiro and from there to the Colón Theatre in Buenos Aires, but always stopping by Tacuarembó.

The Colonel’s Women (Juana, Clara, Blanca and María Lelia)

Blanca Oliva.

When Carlos Escayola arrives in Tacuarembó he meets Juana Sghirla Balestra de Oliva, eleven years his senior, and whom is said to have been his lover. Juana was a very beautiful Argentinean woman married to and older man, Italian Consul in Tacuarembó.

Carlos and the Oliva-Sghirlas were neighbours and the musical gatherings where Juan and Carlos played piano duets were frequent. It is believed that she kept marrying her daughters to Carlos, just to stay close to him.

In 1868 he marries her eldest daughter, Clara Oliva, who dies in 1871, leaving two daughters. The girls remain under the care of their aunt Blanca Oliva, whom Escayola marries in 1873, once she turned 18. They had seven children. When she learns that María Lelia, her younger sister, is pregnant with Escayola’s child at 13, she decides to no longer join her husband and after several attempts, she finally commits suicide on 31st December 1886.

Clara Oliva

Dr. Mateo Parisí was married to the Colonel’s second daughter. Being Escayola’s attorney and thus a person he trusted, it was him who got chosen to negotiate with Berthe Gardes the details of Carlitos’s upbringing, which included him giving her three thousand pesos of the time to have his as far away from Tacuarembó as possible. It is worth remembering that Berthe arrives with the French, Italian and other immigrants to work at the “California of the South”. She becomes an ironing maid of the Escayola’s and spent time at La Rosada as well.

María Lelia died in 1905, when she was 35 years old. A woman of whom there is not much information, except for the fact of being Carlos Gardel’s biological mother. It is said that when Carlitos lived in the city of Tacuarembó, she would pass by in the charret and watch him play in the street. It is suspected that her life was one filled with tragedy, despite being married to the most powerful man in the area.

María Lelia Oliva de Escayola

The Artist

Just like his entire family (siblings, children and nephews) he was a guitar enthusiast, and at the Ranch, at the “pericón” and “gato” balls organized with the farm workers, he would often sing with his guitar.

His children commented on how when Gardel recorded the song “El Moro”, in 1917, the cover version was identical to the Colonel’s.

Carlos Escayola’s performances were extremely popular and several musicians were inspired by them. A recording has been kept, done by Lauro Ayestarán in 1955 of Héctor Benavídez, playing guitar to a song known to have been performed by Escayola: “Mazurca a Quinteros”.

Currently, one of Escayola’s grandchildren resides in Hamburg, a professional pianist, who never met his grandfather but inherited his passion for music and remembers the family stories from his mother, daughter to the Colonel and his third wife.

We cannot explain the profuse generation of artistic talents coming from Tacuarembó without the precedent of Carlos Escayola and his artistic activities. We cannot forget Carlos Gardel either, who never performed at the Escayola theatre but regularly went to Tacuarembó.