Warning: More pics of old naked dead Soviet ahead…
When Vladimir Lenin died in 1924, he asked that there be no memorials to him and that his body be given a simple burial next to his wife. Although his intentions were pretty clear, the father of Soviet communism would not be put in the ground. Stalin and others high up in the party decided that Lenin could be of use for propaganda. And not just Lenin’s image, but his actual remains. The idea was hatched to have Lenin lie in state predominantly and become a sort of shrine to the Soviet Union. It’s theorized that in a system that opposed religion, having a shrine to the body of Lenin could, in some ways, take the place of more traditional religious gathering places. A design for a public mousolium was drawn up and it’s location was decided to be red square.
As it is today:
So preserve Lenin they must. The initial idea was to simply use a freezer, which seemed like a pretty effective way of keeping the dear comrade from going bad, but the plans to import the refrigeration system were taking too long, and Lenin was starting to.. deteriorate. It probably would not have been the best means anyway, because doing so would have left a rather frosty and pale looking corpse on display. So plan B: chemically embalm and preserve the leader.
Stopping the decay of his corpse, on the surface, doesn’t seem like that daunting of a challenge. If you pump it full of every highly toxic anti-microbial chemical you can find you’ll stop it from being consumed by bacteria, but that is not good enough for a body which is to be on display. Even without bacterial feasting on the flesh of Lenin, his body would dry out and fluids would begin to pool and drip. Not a very good thing for body which was supposed to represent the ideals of the state.
So what are the options?
- Traditional Mummification? No. Egyptian-style or other preservation relies on drying the flesh. Hardly leaves a presentable and peaceful-looking body.
- Formaldehydes or other chemical? No. The traditional method of keeping specimens would have Lenin swimming in a tank of formaldehyde, looking rather like a prune as the fluid discolored from leaching color out of his body. Not good.
- Stuffing? Doesn’t really preserve the body, but rather takes off the skin and preserves it, the internals are a framework or filler like sawdust. It’s hard to do well for anything which has bare skin, but works alright for furry animals. Doesn’t seem very dignified for Lenin.
- Plasterization or Paraffin infusion? These work great for keeping bodies in generally good condition by replacing the water in the body with wax or plastic. They were used for Eva Peron’s body and are used for medical specimens , but that’s another story. At the time though, they did not exist…
So what to do? Well, a team of scientists were assembled and began to work on the body. First thing: Take out most of the internal organs. Lenin’s….ahem… wedding tackle… was left in place, because that would just add insult to injury to take that off.. Next, address the issues of drying, which despite being kept on ice, were already causing problems. Lenin’s skin was turning grey and shriveled and his ears were very noticeably shriveled and bunched. The answer? Immersion in a solution of glycerin mixed with various preservative chemicals, which would infuse his body and give it a nice plump moist look. The exact procedure is a secret, but it is believed that the Lenin’s bod was treated with a combination of quinine chloride, formalin, formaldehyde and other chemicals, which, added to the glycerin and water solution, help inhibit microbial decay.
The only problem with this (aside from the fact that it doesn’t do a perfect job in keeping the flesh from yellowing and slowly deteriorating) is that the body needs regular upkeep. A special tomb was built for Lenin in Red Square, where he would lay in a glass casket for viewing by onlookers who can shuffle by. His body is kept at a constant temperature and at a high level of humidity. However, despite this, his body still needs constant servicing. Every two weeks or so, his hands and face are soaked in the glycerin solution to keep them from shriveling and his body is inspected for any decay. Occasionally he sprouts a little fungus or discolored splotches, which the embalmers bleach away with a dab of hydrogen peroxide.
Every year, the tomb is closed and the body is taken to the back rooms for its regular servicing. Lenin is given the once-over for any fungus or areas of deterioration, which are disinfected and touched up if necessary and he gets a dip in the glycerin embalming solution to keep him looking his best. Next, it’s a fresh new suit and back to his adoring public. During the Soviet era, the embalmers of Lenin had a coveted and highly prestigious job, but since the fall of communism the upkeep of the tomb and body have lost their state funding and are now paid by donations and visitors.
Um… if it were me doing this, I think I might consider gloves…
No peaking at the great leader’s bits and pieces!
Rub-a-dub-dub and dry off..
Now… a nice new stylish but comfortable suit…
(Under the suit, much of the body is wrapped in rubber bandages to help keep the fluids from leaking out)
There we go: Communist Eye for the dead guy! MAKEOVER!
The tomb remains open to this day daily from 9am to 1pm and visitors still file by the body. Inside, they can only get within a few feet and photography is generally prohibited. (Probably because they want you to buy postcards and stuff in the gift shop… [kidding]) The body is kept under very warm and soft lighting which makes the discolored hair and yellowed skin a bit less noticable. Lenin is said to look peaceful. Some say he looks like he is sleeping; others think he looks like a wax dummy.
Despite the obvious non-pristine of the corpse, the embalmers insist Lenin is doing quite well and that he can last a good century or more. But calls have been made to put Lenin to rest and end the 75 year show. Putin weighed in saying that it’s about time the guy gets a burial. Before him, Yeltsin had insisted it was time to put the relic of communism in the ground. But fanatical supporters of the tomb have, thus far, had their way and kept the leader in his glass case.
Interestingly, the tomb was shared with Stalin from his death in 1953 until 1961. Stalin fancied himself to be a revolutionary and every bit as important as Lenin, if not more so. But it wasn’t long before the “De-Stalinization” of the Soviet Union began. Even in Soviet Russia, they recognized Stalin for the mass murdering tyrant he was. But Lenin… there are still more than a few with a soft spot for the old comrade.
http://www.aha.ru/~mausoleu/ (official website of the tomb)
The images on this page were taken from images found online on multiple pages, including the Associated Press archive and other sites. They are believed to be public domain and are widely avaliable. The only exception to this are the embalming images which came from vidcaps posted a long time ago from a Russian documentary which ran once. It is unknown what the copyright of such a documentary would be, as it was created by Russian government-sponsored television and Russians don’t really respect intellectual property to begin with. The show ran once and was deemed to show a bit too much, it has since been censored from TV.
This entry was posted on Thursday, September 6th, 2007 at 10:49 am and is filed under Culture, History, Misc, Politics. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
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