In 1924, the revered Russian political leader Vladimir Lenin died, ostensibly from the effects of several major strokes. A public outcry for the preservation of Lenin's corpse spurred the Bolshevik government to create a suitable mausoleum for public display. As architects scrambled to complete the mausoleum itself, several specialists worked under top secret conditions to embalm the body. The results of their work was said to be one of the finest examples of preservation ever attempted on a human body.
Lenin's corpse went on public display by 1925, in a fairly small but stately mausoleum located on Red Square, the public courtyard outside the Kremlin in Moscow. Thousands of Russians filed through the mausoleum to catch a very quick glimpse of the corpse as it lay in state. Under Communist rule, visitors to Lenin's mausoleum were under constant scrutiny by armed guards. Any signs of disrespect or inappropriate behavior while in the presence of Lenin's body would not be tolerated.
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During World War II, the preserved corpse was removed from Red Square for safekeeping, but it was returned within a few years. For a short time in the mid-1950s, the less-preserved body of Josef Stalin was also placed in the mausoleum. This may have been seen as a cruel joke to Lenin's supporters, since Lenin had tried to remove Stalin from power as early as 1922. Stalin's body was later removed from Lenin's mausoleum and cremated elsewhere.
Since the fall of Communism in 1989, some have questioned the need to maintain Lenin's corpse as a symbol of a repressive system. Many older Russians and tourists still visit the body as part of a larger pilgrimage to the Kremlin and Red Square, but visiting hours have been curtailed in recent years. Lenin's corpse is periodically removed for inspection and reparations, and some visitors have noted a wax-like quality to its visible portions, primarily his head and hands. This could indicate that the actual corpse has been replaced with a wax sculpture, or the embalmers have made a number of significant adjustments to the original body.
Lenin's corpse is indeed still on display in his mausoleum in Red Square, and visitors still file by during visiting hours. Whether or not they are seeing the actual body of Vladimir Lenin or a wax substitute is still up for debate, although the preservation technique used to stabilize it has also been used to preserve the bodies of other Communist leaders such as Mao Zedong of China and Kim Il Sung of North Korea.