The word ‘balm’ was originally used for any aromatic preparation from Balsam. Corpses are embalmed or treated with balm in order to sanitize, preserve, and make them presentable for burial ceremonies. Currently, the term ’embalming’ entails all the processes used for this purpose. The history of embalming is traceable to the practice of mummification in Ancient Egypt. They used to remove the internal organs except the heart and followed by treating the bodies with various chemicals. Embalming is distinguished from taxidermy which is related with the preservation of the skin alone, while embalming is additionally concerned with the preservation of all the body cells and tissues. The Incas and Chinese also used to embalm bodies. In addition to the original use of balsam and other resins, the chemicals used in the process included: sodium, zinc, potassium salts, mercury, arsenic, camphor, ethanol, glycerol, and many others. In modern practice, formaldehyde and ethanol are the most-used chemicals.
1. Vladimir Lenin
Vladimir Lenin was born in Simbirsk, Russian Empire on April 22, 1870. He led the Bolshevik Revolution and, after founding the Russian Communist Party, became the first head of the Soviet State. He was one of the most influential politicians of the 20th century. He died in Gorki at 18:50 hrs. Moscow time on January 21, 1924 at the age of 53 years. After his death, it was proposed by Krasin and Alexander Bogdanov, the leaders of the Communist movement, that Lenin’s body should be cryopreserved by a specialized method of subjecting the body to extremely low temperatures. The required equipment for the purpose was also procured, but the process was not applied. During the four days while Lenin lay in state, his body was viewed by more than 900,000 people in the Hall of Columns. His body was embalmed and was displayed in Lenin’s Mausoleum in Red Square, Moscow on January 27, 1924. It is one of the most famous embalmed bodies, and according to the museum’s curator shall remain for another hundred years.
2. Hugo Chavez
Hugo Rafael Chavez Frias, better known as Hugo Chavez, was born on July 26, 1954 and died on March 5, 2013. He was the President of Venezuela from 1999 until his death, and was known as a staunch critic of the U.S. To pay him tribute, thousands of people stormed the streets of the capital Caracas as soon as the news of his death broke. The government announced seven days of mourning. More than 750,000 people lined up for hours in the bitter cold to have a last glimpse of their leader. His deputy, Nicholas Maduro, presiding for the funeral commented that ‘The body of Hugo Chavez would be embalmed just like Lenin, Mao Zedong, and that it would be laid to rest in the military museum so that the future Venezuelan generations might see their great leader.’
3. Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin
Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin, better known as Stalin, was born to Besarion Jughashvili and his wife Ketevan Geladze in Gori, Russian Empire, on December 19, 1879. In May, 1945, Stalin’s Red Army captured Berlin and emerged as one of the two superpowers in the world, the other being the U.S. He died in Kuntsevo Dacha near Moscow, Soviet Union on March 5, 1953 at the age of 74 years. His body was embalmed on March 9, 1953. Until October 31, 1961, his body was preserved in Lenin’s Mausoleum. It was later removed and buried in the Kremlin Wall Necropolis.
4. Mao Zedong
Mao Zedong was born to Mao Yichang and his wife Wen Qimei in Shaoshan, Hunan, China on December 26, 1893 and died in Beijing, China on September 9, 1976 at the age of 92 years. He was the founding father of the People’s Republic of China and ruled it as Chairman of the Communist Party of China from 1946 until his death. In November, 1956, he signed the proposal that all central leaders be cremated after death. However, in view of his follower’s sentiments, his body was embalmed. It has been kept in The Chairman Mao Memorial Hall located in the middle of Tiananmen Square in Beijing. The embalmed body is open for public display. Strict rules are implemented to keep the sanctity of the mausoleum.
5. Diana, Princess of Wales
Diana, Princess of Wales, was born to John Spencer, 8th Earl Spencer and the Honorable Frances Shand Kydd in Norfolk, England on July 1, 1961. She died in Paris, France in consequence of a car accident. Her companion Dodi Fayed, driver Henri Paul, and an acting security manager of the Ritz Hotel, Paris were also killed in the accident. Immediately after her death she was embalmed by arterial injection, and this gave rise to conspiracy theories including that it was done to destroy the evidence of fetal presence in her womb. Officials stated that the process was required to prevent deterioration of the body in the warm conditions of the chapel where her body was laid to rest.
6. Pope John XXIII
Pope John XXIII was born to Giovanni Battista Roncalli and his wife Marianna Giulia Mazzolla in Sotto il Monte, Kingdom of Italy, on November 25, 1881. His body was embalmed and formed adipocere, a waxy film produced by anaerobic bacteria which help preserve the body rather than putrefy and decompose it. Anaerobic bacteria grow in the absence of oxygen and decompose the body’s fat to form a waxy material. His body is on display in excellently preserved condition in an altar on the main floor of the Basilica of Saint Peter.
7. Ted Williams
Theodore Samuel Williams, better known as Ted Williams, was born to Samuel Stuart Williams and May Venzor in San Diego, California on August 30, 1918 and died in Inverness, Florida on July 5, 2002 at the age of 83 years. He was twice the American League Most Valuable Player and was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1966. According to his will, he was to be cremated and his ashes were to be scattered in the Florida Keys. However, his son John Henry and youngest daughter Claudia chose cryopreservation of their father’s body. Ted William’s head and torso have been cryopreserved by Alcor, and the company hopes to have a revitalization in the future.
8. N. I. Pirogov
Nikolay Ivanovich Pirogov was born in Moscow, Russian Empire, on November 25, 1810 and died in Vishnya, Russian Empire, on December 5, 1881. He is considered the father of field surgery and is best remembered for his first use of ether as an anesthetic, the use of anesthesia in field surgery, and the use of plaster for fractures. His body was embalmed in accordance with his prescribed method and lies preserved in excellent condition in the Pirogov Museum near his birthplace. Unlike Lenin’s embalmed body, which is treated weekly, no treatment except dusting is required for the embalmed body of Pirogov.
9. Abraham Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln was born in Hodgenville, Kentucky, U.S. on February 12, 1809 and died in Petersen House, Washington, D.C. on April 15, 1865 at the age of 56 years. He was the 16th President of the United States and remained in office from March, 1861 until his assassination in April, 1865. His body was embalmed by Dr. Charles Brown and Dr. Harry Cattell. They opened an artery, flushed the blood, and replaced it with Brown’s patented embalming fluid through and incision in the thigh. The funeral train carrying the embalmed body of Lincoln finished the 1,654-mile journey in 13 days including many intermittent stopovers.
10. Rosalia Lombardo
Rosalia Lombardo was an Italian child born in Palermo, Sicily, Italy in 1918 and died on December 6, 1920 at the age of just 2 years. General Lombardo, her grief-stricken father, asked the famous embalmer of the time Alfredo Salafia to preserve her body. He preserved it using a combination of formalin, ethanol, zinc sulfate, zinc chloride, and glycerol. The mummy is kept in a glass showcase on a marble pedestal. On account of its excellent preservation, the life-like mummy doll is known as ‘Sleeping Beauty.’
The mortal human beings have been in the quest for eternity since day one of their creation. The ancient Egyptians mummified the bodies hoping for the return of the soul. With the modern cryoscopic preservation, a few hope that someone in the future might revitalize the preserved brain as well as other body cells and tissues. Cryopreservation is the latest mode of embalming. This utilizes extremely low temperatures in a controlled manner to avoid ice crystallization by using cryoprotectants or the chemicals like glycerol. The body is emptied from its internal organs, and then a mixture of formaldehyde and ethanol is injected into the circulatory system.