Tomb Raider


DISCLAIMER:  I understand that Lenin was a very bad man. Stalin gets the lion’s share of notoriety in the history books thanks to his ruthless purges and war tactics; but Lenin bumped off a few people too. Perhaps his rallying speeches, cute little goatee and the general romance surrounding the revolution often distracts us from the evil.

Still, I am obsessed with the old fella.

It all began in high school when Hobbo, my Modern History teacher, told us Lenin got pickled when he died in 1924. A crack team of embalmers removed his innards, pumped him full of chemicals, dressed him up in a suit then popped him into a tomb on Red Square. Millions of Russians queued to see his body, and continued to do so for decades. After the fall of communism the crowds dropped off and it became the realm of curious tourists.

I was gobsmacked. I found it so bizarre, exciting and deliciously wrong that anyone could just rock up to Russia and see this man, dead for eighty years, who had sparked such monumental events in history.

It became my obsession for the next ten years. This whole moving to the UK thing was really just a convoluted stopover on my way to Red Square. All the frantic saving, all the weekend jobs, it was all done with Lenin in mind.

Enduring a three-week Contiki tour was just the final stroke in the master plan.

On the first night in Copenhagen, our Tour Manager outlined the itinerary. He mentioned the words “Red Square” and “Kremlin” but I didn’t hear any “Dead Revolutionary In A Box”. So Rhi and I bailed him up in a corner afterwards.


“Hello there girls!”

“Enough of the banter. Do we get to see Lenin or what?”

Thus began two weeks of harassment, much like The Simpsons episode where Bart and Lisa want to go to Mount Splashmore. Can we go to Mount Splashmore? Can we go to Mount Splashmore? Can we go to Mount Splashmore?

Tour Manager couldn’t guarantee we’d see Lenin. Our time in Moscow happen to fall on days where the Mausoleum was either closed or we were scheduled elsewhere when it was open. All the way through Scandinavia and St Petersburg we worried that we’d miss him, consequently never quite enjoying the journey as much as we should have.

I’ll never forget that first glimpse of Red Square. We approached in the Contiki bus; orange and obnoxious amongst the local black Mercedes and crumbly Ladas. We rounded past the stern walls of the Kremlin then finally the multi-coloured domes of St Basils Cathedral came into view. While the rest of the group were still fumbling for their cameras, Rhi and I were off the bus and running to the Square.

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Have you got some little thing that you always wanted to do? Some place you always wanted to see? The Pyramids, The Great Wall, The Big Banana? Your obsession may sound so stupid to someone else, but it’s your dumb little dream and it means a lot to you. So when you’re finally literally standing in it, it’s so exciting you think you’re going to explode.

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I opened my mouth to say something but could only manage a squeak. I was overwhelmed by all the things that had happened there, the military parades, the demonstrations, the Paul McCartney concerts.

And there was the mausoleum, L E N I N spelled out over the door in red, the first word I’d learned to read in Cyrillic.

I nudged my sister. “Holy fucking SHIT! Lenin is right over there!”

The next morning we got the news that the schedule had been shuffled. We would attempt to fit in Lenin that day between our Moscow Metro tour and the Museum of the Revolution. Woohoo!

The Metro tour was a whirlwind. Our local guide Galina took us to a half dozen different stops to show us the few remaining Metro stations with Soviet decor. It was fascinating stuff, hammer and sickles ahoy, I must post my photos sometime. But soon Rhi and I were antsy. Take us to the leader!

The queue for Lenin was long when we arrived at 11 o’clock. We had to be at the Revolution Museum by 1. We left Galina standing in her cloud of cigarette smoke and ran, barging past our undeserving comrades who thought Lenin was a dead Beatle. An anxious hour of queuing followed, with much clock watching and swearing as local groups arrived and were allowed in ahead of us.

Finally we were herded through the metal detectors and we skipped across the Square. I developed a slightly hysterical giggle as we entered the Mausoleum, but the monobrowed guard soon shhhhhed me into submission.

Lenin literally is six feet under, you walk down a sloping hallway into the tomb, it’s all black marble and dimly lit to give a beautifully creepy atmosphere. There’s been idle talk for years about removing the ol’ boy from Red Square and burying him with his family, which is what he wanted all along. But for now we can still experience this very surreal slab of history. No talking is allowed; even a smile earns you a glare from the guards. You have to shuffle past Lenin in single file without stopping.

And there he was. Finally. The great leader of the revolution, the idol of misguided university students, the yellow wax-like creature in the glass box. I felt that giggle fly up my throat and lodge somewhere behind my teeth. I clamped my mouth shut so only a faint eeeeee! eeeee! could escape, like a dying mosquito. I tried to focus, reminding myself that this was The Moment I’d been waiting for, that I’d never see Lenin again. I took in the blue/black of his fingers, the fine hairs of his little beard, the sickly pallor of his skin. He looked so small and sad, trapped beneath glass and fluorescent light.

It was all over in under a minute. Back out in the Moscow sunshine, we walked behind the Mausoleum to look at the graves of departed Soviet leaders. Each had his own bust: a pompous Brezhnev, a truly evil Stalin. Hats off to Josef’s sculptor, the evil eyes seemed to follow you as you tiptoed around the corner. It was the most terrifying lump of concrete since The Big Merino.

I expected to feel euphoric after finally fulfilling my lame ambition, but instead I was unsettled. I’d been in Russia over a week at that point and had seen such beauty and grimness, poverty and riches; a country that has weathered a shoddy monarchy, communism and now the confusion of democracy. Did Lenin’s body have a place in a country trying to move forward? Opinion is always divided when the topic comes up in Russia as to whether it’s a grim or glorious reminder of the Communist legacy. Watching scores of tourists in the queue, it seemed like a tacky, real-life Madame Tussauds.

All week I’d been feeling guilty for the romanticised view of Russia I’d had for all those years, and now my whole Lenin obsession seemed embarrassing.

And yet, just when I thought my Bolshie bubble had completely burst, I heard two of my tour mates yapping behind me.”That was, like, so creepy. That guy was totally fake!”

My eyes narrowed and I snarled, “His name is Lenin and he’s the real deal, dammit!”

That is when it all finally sank in and I starting cheering. I was in Red Square and I’d just seen Lenin. Whether it’s right or wrong, there’s no denying it was the coolest bloody thing I’ll ever see. And I don’t care what people say, that’s Lenin there in that box. I saw that revolutionary glint in his eyes, even though his eyelids were sewn shut.

lenin's tomb and dodgy police car

About Shauna Reid

Ahoy there! I’m Shauna, an author, copywriter and content mentor. I love telling stories about life and helping others to tell theirs.

Find out more about me and how we can work together – I’m now booking for January 2022.

19 thoughts on “Tomb Raider

  1. that’s seriously the coolest obsession I’ve ever heard of… I can totally understand why you’d want to see Lenin. Now I do, too!

  2. Obsessions are great, aren’t they?

    I was obsessed with seeing Windmill Lane in Dublin because of the U2 connection.

    The day I got there, after tramping all the way to the docks, there was a dodgy character hanging around that gave me the creeps so I got as far as photographing the street sign and that was it.

    I’m happy to say my second trip two years later was much more fruitful.

    Glad you saw Lenin on your first attempt!

  3. Ooooh The Big Banana. That’s where I live these days. Well not IN the Big Banana, but near enough to see it whenever I want to.

    Great post Miss S.

  4. I like the story, it was funny and well written. I don’t see how someone could be that obsessed about seeing a dead guy though. Are you some kind of weird goth girl or something? A vampire perhaps?

  5. i am not a goth! not that there’s anything wrong with that. i’m just a fool for a good revolution, tis all.

  6. I understand it all. I lived in Mockba for two years and went to the tomb many times. It has a very kitschy feel, all that red marble and heavy black drapes. Kept expecting Christopher Lee to jump out from behind something. Plus, on the way out you can spit on Stalin’s grave.

    Pity you didn’t get to visit Lenin’s estate, hagiography abungo.

  7. I know exactly what you mean about that surreal feeling, you’re actually there, looking at the damn eiffeltower/colosseum/lenin you’ve always imagined!

    I went Trafalgar tours though, but our bus was equally obnoxious.

  8. “His name is Lenin and he’s the real deal, dammit!”

    I almost wish I was there to witness that line.

  9. It is rather ironic that those born on the East side of the iron Curtain were obsessed with John Lennon and softish toilet paper, while you lucky bastards born on the western side of the Berlin Wall did not mind digesting the myths about theoretical Lenin … (worthy grin)

    These were people who believed everything about the Soviet Union was perfect, but they were bringing their own toilet paper.” — P.J. O’Rourke

  10. I know exactly what you mean; I’ve been to see Mao and Ho Chi Ming. Its an amazing feeling to be looking at the dead body of a historical figure who changed history in their neck of the woods instead of a photo or a statue of them. Its the real bloody deal. Its just a pity you cant have a bit of time to get a closer look, you have to keep walking and take in as much as you can on the single fly by. Still I suppose they want you to be in awe, not have the opportunity to see where they have sewn an ear back on. Apparently Mao and Uncle Ho head to Russia when they need a bit of work done!

    Love your posts

  11. After seeing Jim Jarmusch’s “Mystery Train”, I got it in my head that I had to see Memphis, specifically the hotel featured in the movie. I had the best luck… within 6 months, my job sent me to Memphis for 2 weeks! I found everything, including the seedy hotel… it is in a ratty section of town, and I got to see a pimp, dressed in head to toe bright yellow… hat, suit, shoes, etc. I was taking pictures until I saw the pimp, and decided it was time to haul ass outta there! But the whole trip was a wonderful feeling of accomplishment! (and not just because I got away from the pimp!)

  12. Oops. Seem to recall saying something tactless about Lenin’s authenticity (or otherwise) elsewhere. I apologise now.

    Really, though, I don’t think that Lenin’s body doesn’t exist at all. It just suits my cynical mind to imagine that the Soviet regime perhaps would have put a decoy Lenin in the mausoleum, and have a different, nuclear-shielded mausoleumette somewhere else with the Real Deal in it which you only got to see if you became a high-up in the party…

    But I admit it was pretty spooky waiting to see him. I was quite relieved that he didn’t look all that real, since I wasn’t really that keen on seeing a dead body. So maybe I’m just trying to convince myself that, in fact, I didn’t see one at all.

  13. And there is always the thought that “From each according to their ability, to each according to their need” has a tad greater lasting power than “Greed is good”.

  14. That’s so great! I must admit I’ve had my own bit of Lenin obsession as well, although I’ve never really had the desire to see him in person. I read a biography on him for history class once and after finishing it I instantly forgot everything in it, apart from two delightful bits of information: When Lenin was two, his head was so big in relation to his body that he was constantly falling over. His mother worried that he would get a head injury. Also, when he was exiled in Siberia, he tried writing poetry about the barren landscape. He stopped after two lines though. They went something like this:
    In the village of (something Russian)
    see the mountains of (something Russian).
    I so regret not copying this from the book.
    Also, my parents were communists, and I grew up with a Lenin bust in the living room. I thought he looked nice.

  15. I’m a bit embarassed to admit but you brought me to tears with this post, it was so good. Now I want to see Lenin too!

  16. Geez you’re good at this blogging caper, Shauny!
    Remember to pop by Magdelene College at the
    Uni of London when you get back to the Old Dart,
    mate. We need to know if ol’ Jeremy Bentham is
    still good viewing.

    What, with gay marriage bans, incarcerated
    children, Gitmo, corporate handouts,
    protectionist ‘free trade’ agreements and all
    these film bans going on, it’s time stoically
    to admit Jeremy’s legacy (except, sadly, the
    panopticon) is as dead as Vladimir Ilyich’s
    (except, sadly, ‘democratic centralism’).
    Gazing upon each corpse might just make for
    therapeutic closure.

  17. i’ve seen the big merino in a fog at night, with beams coming out of its eyes like it were some demonic herbivore intent on world domination… i don’t know that lenin could compete with that.

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