Cemetery of the Week #121: Lenin’s Tomb

Lenin corpse003The Mausoleum of Vladimir Lenin
Red Square
Moscow, Russia
Founded: 1924
Number of interments: 1
Open: Information varies across the web. It looks like your best bet is to visit Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. The tomb may also be open on weekends, but seems most definitely to be closed on Mondays and Fridays.
Admission: Free

IMPORTANT TO NOTE: Bags and cameras are not allowed inside the mausoleum. They can apparently be check at the Kutayfa tower cloakrooms across the square from the mausoleum for 50r. You might be better off simply to leave them behind. Make certain you bring along your passport, however. If the security guards ask to see it and you can’t comply, the fine is prohibitive.

After a series of strokes that left him a prisoner in his own body, Vladimir Lenin died on January 21,1924. He had intended to be cremated, but Josef Stalin insisted he be embalmed and lay in state long enough that Soviet Russia could pay its respects.

Lenin’s widow was quoted in Pravda: “Do not let your sorrow be transformed into demonstrations of adoration for Vladimir Ilich’s personality. Do not put up buildings or monuments in his name. When he was alive he set little store by such things; indeed, he actively disliked them.”

She was overruled, of course. Red Army soldiers were ordered to blast a hole into the ground in Red Square. Unfortunately, the minus 22 degrees Fahrenheit weather had frozen the ground quite solid. Still, they managed a hole three meters deep, into which Lenin’s open coffin was placed.

At first, only a wooden mausoleum was constructed over him on Red Square. The intent was to bury him in a suitable tomb, but the embalming worked better than expected and it became clear that the Great Leader was going to stick around for a while. Stalin demanded that a permanent monument be built.

Modern postcard of Lenin's Mausoleum

Modern postcard of Lenin’s Mausoleum

Five years after Lenin’s death, architect Aleksei Shchusev received the commission to design the permanent resting place, where Lenin’s body could remain on display. A year later, the red, black, and gray Constructivist pyramid had been built on the site of the moat which once encircled the Kremlin.

Granite viewing platforms were added to the outside in the 1930s so that Soviet officials could inspect the massive parades of soldiers and weaponry.

In 1939, more changes were made to the mausoleum. A laboratory was constructed so that an embalming team could be on call for touch-ups to the corpse. Every 18 months, Lenin was taken off display and given full-body treatments.

During World War II, the body was sent into hiding. When he was returned to display in 1945, the glass sarcophagus that enclosed him had been redesigned. The old cone-shaped glass was replaced with an “inverted trapezium,”* which eliminated the glare and made it easier to see inside. The embalmers had been busy during the war and Lenin’s hands and face returned to Moscow much pinker than they had been, making him look more lifelike.

From 1953 to 1961, Stalin’s body joined Lenin’s inside the mausoleum. Krushchev had him removed and buried “under the ramparts of the Kremlin among the graves of other dignitaries of the regime.”* These include Brezhnev, Andropov, Chernenko, and pro-Bolshevik victims of the October Revolution, who were buried in a mass grave in 1917.

A view of Red Square.  For scale, note the tourists clustered on the left.

Another modern postcard with a view of Red Square. For scale, note the tourists clustered on the left.

The tomb was closed in 2012 to repair water damage to the building’s foundation, caused by the former moat beneath it. The mausoleum reopened in May 2013. The BBC story, complete with video, is here. It’s worth watching to get a peek inside the tomb.

In days past, the line of visitors ran along the Kremlin wall and stretched for hours. 2014 visitors, posting on TripAdvisor marveled at their ability to stroll right in. Either way, visitors are cautioned that decorous behavior is firmly encouraged. Laughing, smiling, or merely stuffing your hands in your pockets can get you expelled from the line – or even harassed by the security guards.

The tomb is dark inside and guards make sure you don’t loiter, but you can walk around three sides of the body. Visitors are forbidden to speak inside the mausoleum. Lenin is apparently less than lifelike. Rumor has it that the body was replaced by a wax replica.

About.com says stopping in to visit is not worth the effort and calls Lenin’s body the least interesting attraction in Moscow. On the other hand, Time made seeing Lenin the bonus #11 on their 10 Things to Do in Moscow. The mausoleum visit is super-kitschy, they say, but worth the visit. According to the BBC, Lenin’s mausoleum is one of Russia’s top tourist attractions.

The BBC also reports that more than half of Russians believe that Lenin should be buried now. Although Vladimir Putin seems reluctant to do so, it appears that Lenin’s days on view may be numbered. You should take the opportunity to visit while you can.

Useful Links:

Moscow Info’s page about Lenin’s tomb

Whoever wrote the piece for About.com had a bad experience or knew someone who did.

Time‘s 10 Things to Do in Moscow

Bridge to Moscow tour guides’ site to Lenin’s tomb: http://bridgetomoscow.com/lenins-tomb_2

*Unattributed quotes came from Lenin’s Embalmers by Ilya Zbarsky. This is a great book, which you can get from Amazon. There’s a newer book by the same title, but I haven’t read that one yet.

About Loren Rhoads

I am the author of the essay collection Wish You Were Here: Adventures in Cemetery Travel, co-author of the novel As Above, So Below, and editor of The Haunted Mansion Project: Year Two. My science fiction trilogy, The Dangerous Type, will be published by Night Shade in 2015. In addition to blogging at CemeteryTravel.com, I blog about my morbid life at lorenrhoads.com.
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4 Responses to Cemetery of the Week #121: Lenin’s Tomb

  1. coastalcrone says:

    It seems rather sad that his body has been preserved for so long, if it really has, when he apparently wanted to be cremated. Yet if I went there I probably would visit. Good post.

    Like

  2. Jackie Saulmon Ramirez says:

    That was interesting about Lenin’s tomb. :)

    Like

    • Loren Rhoads says:

      It’s hard to imagine Lincoln or even Kennedy (or one of our presidents who didn’t suffer a traumatic head wound) lying in state for decades. The world is so full of unusual tombs!

      Like

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