How Gnomes Drove an Artist to Kill Herself

GhostTower

The Castle of La Boca, named after the neighborhood in Buenos Aires where it stands, is a big and beautiful representation of Catalan modernism. It’s also supposedly haunted, which is why many people call the building’s tower “The Ghost Tower.” The eponymous ghost of the tower is said to haunt the top floor, where people have heard anguished shouts and disembodied footsteps.

According to legend, the ghost is a painter named Clementina, a young art student who lived there a century ago. The story behind Clementina’s demise involves a nostalgic rancher, a noisy reporter, and a bunch of mischievous follets, a creature in Catalan folklore similar to gnomes.

The story begins with the estanciera (rancher) Maria Luisa Auvert Arnaud. Auvert owned a very profitable estancia, a rural estate like a ranch, making her one of the wealthiest people in Buenos Aires. In the early 20th century, Argentina was experiencing a great boom in immigration from Europe. Hoping to make some money off these new Argentinians, Auvert bought a plot of land in La Boca and planned to get into real estate.

Despite her French-sounding name, Auvert’s family had roots in Catalonia. On her new land, Auvert hired the Catalan architect Guillermo Alvarez to build a house that would remind her of her family’s homeland. To maximize the Catalan flavor, Auvert imported furniture and plants from the old country, including some mushrooms she put on the balconies.

When the construction was completed in 1908, Auvert was so happy with the final product that she dropped the idea of renting the building and took the house for herself. The Castle should have been her dream home, but Auvert quietly packed her bags after living there for only a year. Nobody knew why she moved so suddenly, though neighbors said they sometimes heard her and her servants yelling at something at night.

The house’s next owner, a real estate agent, decided to rent its rooms out. Clementina, a young painter from the city of Venado Tuerto, moved into the top floor. Though young, Clementina was popular and quite talented. Her increasing fame eventually brought the attention of Eleonora, a journalist interested in her work.

At a meeting with Eleonora, Clementina showed the journalist her studio. Things looked very bright for her career, and she was finishing work on a painting that she considered her magnum opus. It seemed like the young artist couldn’t be any happier. She must have been especially flattered when Eleonora took some photos of her paintings.

Shockingly, a couple nights after Eleonara’s visit, Clementina killed herself by jumping off her balcony. Her friends and neighbors were stunned. She had so much going for herself, it just didn’t make sense. Why would Clementina take her own life?

Meanwhile, Eleonora got her photos developed. Most of the photos came out fine, save for the picture of Clementina’s unfinished painting. In that particular photo, Eleonora noticed three little creatures in the studio. Stumped, she launched an investigation into Clementina’s suicide and the history of The Castle of La Boca.

Eleonora’s search for answers led her to Maria Luisa Auvert Arnaud, who was then living in a little town called Rauch. After contacting Auvert by phone, Eleonora took a train to Rauch and interviewed Auvert in her garden. There, Auvert confessed the terrible truth about her old house… There were gnomes living in it. Not the tacky lawn ornament variety either, but living, breathing follets.

Auvert explained that follets live in the forests of Catalonia and sleep in mushrooms. Unfortunately, the mushrooms Auvert imported for the house turned out to be carrying follets. At first, the gnomes didn’t cause any trouble. Then one of the follets made a pass at a maid, and a disgusted male servant threw the little guy against the wall.

Everything went downhill from there. The follets made the house a living hell, cutting furniture legs off and throwing knives in the air. It was far too dangerous to stay, so Auvert and her servants moved out. Since Auvert was afraid of being labeled crazy if the story leaked out, none of the servants were allowed to talk about what happened.

After promising to keep the story a secret, Eleonora headed back to Buenos Aires. She never figured out what happened to Clementina, but the story still has an explanation for the mystery: The follets were angry that their pictures were taken. In revenge, they hid her tools and flung paint on her unfinished masterpiece, driving the young artist mad. When she couldn’t take it anymore, Clementina impulsively ran out her room and jumped.

Ever since her death, Clementina has haunted her old home. They say that the artist’s unfinished painting disappeared after her suicide, and that Clementina can’t rest until she gets it back. As with many other urban legends, you have to step back and wonder how anybody could have possibly known what happened here. Seeing as how Clementina died and all the other characters were sworn to secrecy, I suppose the follets themselves spread the story. Or it never happened. But come on, Catalan modernist architecture isn’t enough by itself to attract tourists!

Check out my book “Mexico’s Unsolved Mysteries: True Stories of Ghosts, Monsters, and UFOs from South of the Border” for more interesting mysteries of the Spanish-speaking world.  You can buy the book on Kindle here. 

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8 thoughts on “How Gnomes Drove an Artist to Kill Herself

  1. What evidence is there for that photograph existing? Is this something that could be verified with screenshots of public records (like death notices etc.), or does it just stand as a kind of slightly baroque ceepy pasta? I suppose with the state of journalism that might be asking to much for what amounts to a fun read anyway. Gnomes. Far out.

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    • There isn’t any evidence that the picture exists. Maybe Clementina was a real artist who committed suicide, but I think most of the story is probably just an urban legend. From what’s available on the web, Guillermo Alvarez (the architect) seems like the only character here whose existence can be verified. But yeah, it’s still a fun story. When I think of gnomes, I usually think about stuff like the Smurfs, not little psychopaths who throw knives.

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