A New York Times article I read this morning contains an interesting tidbit about the fate of Ferdinand Marcos, notorious former despot of the Philippines (married to Imelda Marcos, she of the 1,060 pairs of shoes).
“Mr. Marcos died in exile in Hawaii in 1989, and although his body has been returned to the Philippines, it remains unburied. It lies embalmed in a crypt in his hometown as his widow, Imelda, waits for permission to inter him in an official ‘heroes cemetery’ in Manila.”
There’s a long tradition of embalming despots. After all, if you’re going to create a personality cult, why let it end at death? One of the best-known cases is Lenin, who died in 1924. According to Melanie King’s fantastic book The Dying Game, Stalin figured out the propaganda value of embalming Lenin after watching the public mourn him as he lay in state. At the time, no embalming method could preserve a corpse for very long. A team of determined Soviet doctors devised a new technique, involving glycerin, alcohol, and other ingredients, which has managed to preserve Lenin to this day. At least, so says the Scientific Research Institute for Biological Structures in Moscow, the people charged with maintaining his corpse. The same technique used on Lenin was later used on a whole host of other Communist dictators, including Stalin himself, Ho Chi Minh, Mao Zedong, and Kim Il-Song.
Today, Lenin is still on display today in a mausoleum on Moscow’s Red Square. Apparently, he gets both a new suit and coat of embalming chemicals each year. (See a picture of his bath here.) But there are rumors that a fungus is growing on his neck, and that his ears are beginning to turn blue. Even the Weekly Word News is getting concerned:
In fact, several scholars also doubt whether the Soviets had the technology to pull off such an embalming job in 1924. They think the body inside the mausoleum is actually made of wax. Visitors can only see him through a thick pane of glass, so it’s impossible to discern whether the corpse is real. I don’t know about you, but I think I’d feel a little better if it wasn’t.