Lenin’s body, inside his coffin and glass sarcophagus, was placed in the first incarnation of the Mausoleum on January 27th 1924, following a multitude of requests for preservation, and in spite of opposition from Lenin’s widow. There was also political advantage to be derived from maintaining, as a “living” relic, the Father Of The Revolution.
The original structure was fabricated in wood and expanded later that year, following a similarly massive popular response to the project. Although its location against the imposing Kremlin wall remained, in 1930 the structure was replaced with the iconic, granite, red-and-black-stepped pyramid that survives today. The inscription is also simple and iconic: “LENIN” in Cyrillic, above the entrance. Granite platforms were added over the subsequent decade, providing officials and dignitaries with a place to stand for viewing processions of Soviet military might advancing across Red Square – a classic TV image from the Cold War. The last major modification was a new sarcophagus, installed in 1973. The tomb of Stalin was located alongside from 1953-1961. However, the climate of de-Stalinisation under Khrushchev led to his ignominious removal and subsequent burial outside of the Kremlin walls. Lenin, though, remained.
From street level the mausoleum appears deceptively small, but there are two sub-levels, both now disused and inaccessible to tourists. Originally these functioned as a rest/respite area for dignitaries and guards, and also a laboratory to control and oversee the constant “maintenance” that Lenin’s body requires. The ongoing process of preservation has given the corpse a waxen aspect, so much so that rumours exist that the body has actually been replaced with a dummy. Of course these are vigorously denied. Precise conditions are maintained, in terms of both temperature and humidity, and long-established procedures combat damp patches of accumulated moisture or attacks of dark staining that periodically appear. The latter may well have contributed to the unease expressed by a visitor I interviewed, who opted to “wait outside” while her husband viewed the body. “I heard he gets attacked by mould,” she said uneasily, which might be overstating things a little…
Perhaps surprisingly, the funding for the project is now provided privately, as the government ceased supporting it in 1991. Along with the fall of the Berlin wall, this provides another tangible indicator that the “old days” have truly gone. It makes you wonder about the ultimate fate of Lenin, then, once the last remnants of the old guard and the old money have finally passed, especially when admittance is free – “for the people” and all that. How could it be anything else, all things considered?
Although the “Honour Guard”, once changed hourly, have moved on to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, guards preserving a strict, no-nonsense aspect remain. Descriptions of the decorum maintained during the viewing process were confirmed by my interviewee. Basically, nothing but the utmost respect is tolerated: no talking, no bags, no cameras, no loitering. The setup is basically one of a continuous conveyor-belt of the curious, or those paying respects, kept moving and monitored by these austere uniformed overseers who are all too keen (and equipped) to prevent anyone from making a political statement that is at Lenin’s expense. And then you’re out: back in the shock of the light, to view Red Square’s other “attractions”.
Next time: Trips and Tales (Part 24)
Russian Icons and Moscow Must-Sees (continued).
[Photo by firstname.lastname@example.org]