Russian revolutionary Vladimir Lenin served as head of the Soviet Union from 1922 to 1924, but even after death remained an embodiment of its ideals until the union’s dissolution in 1991. He is a symbol of contemporary Marxism–Leninism ideology, considered one of the most influential figures of the 20th century, and his body still remains preserved and on show in Lenin’s Mausoleum, Moscow.
After increasingly poor health, and a series of strokes, Lenin died on January 21 1924. Officials noted his cause of death as an incurable disease of the blood vessels. Besides changing tombs, maintenance, and being evacuated in 1941, due to Russian fears of German occupation, Lenin’s body has been on public display since his death. Despite his body being 147 years old, and being exhibited for 94 years, he looks like he is still in his 50’s.
Dr Phillip Gore, chairman of a funeral company and the second vice president of the British Institute of Embalmers, says Lenin’s body “looked perfect until about the late 80’s when the Soviet Union disintegrated”, after which government funding to the institute responsible for Lenin’s preservation ended.
Gore says Lenin’s body remained in near perfect condition for so long because of routine baths, every six to eight weeks, in a solution of secret quantities of alcohol, glycerine, potassium acetate, and water. The bath the body was periodically placed in was glass rather than metal, so that the chemicals in the solution wouldn’t react with it.
Once The Center for Scientific Research and Teaching Methods in Biochemical Technologies in Moscow, or ‘Lenin lab’, no longer had the funds to maintain Lenin’s appearance, the mausoleum relied on donations. That was until the Russian state started financing the mausoleum again, several years ago.
The ‘Lenin lab’ even helped embalm the preservation of former Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Minh, Bulgarian leader Georgi Dimitrov and Korean leaders Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il. They also embalmed and kept former Russian leader Josef Stalin preserved from 1953 to 1961, until his second successor, Khrushchev, had Stalin’s body removed and buried.
After Lenin’s autopsy by Alexei Abrikosov, chemists Vladimir Vorobyov and Boris Zbarsky used knowledge of preserving anatomical specimens, and adapted it for maintaining Lenin. Lenin’s brain was even removed and examined by the Soviet “Brain Institute” with the specific role of studying his “extraordinary abilities.”
Zbarsky put formalin into Lenin’s tissues and the ‘Lenin lab’ continued to submerge Lenin’s body in a 3 percent solution of formaldehyde roughly every 2 months.
Gore says that this doesn’t happen as often now because Lenin’s “a symbol of a previous dictatorial state” and that as Russia regards Lenin a “tyrant”, any further preservative elements have been stopped.
Upon visiting the mausoleum in 2011, Gore said he found Lenin’s condition to be deteriorating and that his tissues had started to dry out.
That might not be a problem anymore though because various polls within the last few years have found most Russians think Lenin should be buried. However, it seems unlikely this will happen, considering the mausoleum closed so that scientists could prepare Lenin’s body for its reopening in 2015, as part of the 145th anniversary of Lenin’s death.