The body of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez will rest in a glass case on public display. Forever.
At least, so said his deputy, Nicolas Maduro.
While the idea may seem alien to some, Chavez will be the latest in a line of leaders whose remains have been embalmed and put on show in a glass casket.
Perhaps the best known is Russia's Vladimir Lenin, whose body still lies in a mausoleum in Moscow's Red Square, nearly 90 years after his death.
Others include Stalin, China's Mao Zedong, Vietnam's Ho Chi Minh, and North Korea's founding leader, Kim Il Sung.
U.S. President Abraham Lincoln was also embalmed following his assassination in 1865, enabling his body to be taken on its winding, three-week train journey back to Springfield, Illinois, with open-casket memorial services along the way.
For Nina Tumarkin, author of "Lenin Lives! The Lenin Cult in Soviet Russia," the decision to embalm Lenin in 1924 -- the first modern leader to have his corpse preserved in this way -- was a reflection of a tumultuous period in early Soviet history.
"Many people feared that the regime could not survive his death, so after the announcement was made, Moscow became something of an armed camp," said Tumarkin, a professor of Russian history at Wellesley College, Massachusetts.
The leaders were unsure whether to hold a lying-in-state period, for fear that the people would not come, she said. As it turned out, some 750,000 braved the bitter January cold, standing in line for long hours to catch a glimpse of the corpse.
As a result, the leaders decided to make it a "going concern," she said, extending the period first to 40 days, the period in the Russian Orthodox tradition when Mass is said daily for the dead, and then installing his glass sarcophagus. They first placed it in a wooden mausoleum before building the stone one that stands today.
Nine decades later and half a world away, crowds of Venezuelans similarly lined up to see Chavez's body as it lay in state at a military academy before the funeral Friday.
So many came to see the body that the viewing was extended for another seven days.
Giving details of his funeral, Maduro said Chavez would be embalmed "just like Lenin (and) Mao Zedong" and laid to rest at a military museum where generations of Venezuelans will be able to visit a man who for many was larger-than-life.
In Lenin's case, the decision was -- and is still -- controversial.
Even at the time of the communist leader's death, many Russians were outraged by the idea of embalming him, Tumarkin said. Many more today would like to see the body buried.
But the polarizing move came against the backdrop of the discovery 15 months earlier of the Egyptian pharaoh Tutankhamen's tomb. "It took the imagination of the world by storm," Tumarkin said, and it sowed the idea that the body of a leader could be preserved for thousands of years to come.
It also tapped into a Russian Orthodox belief that the body of a true saint does not decay, she said.
"Most important from a political point of view, the leaders who followed Lenin at the time, or who would be competing for the mantle of general secretary of the party, were men who were really terrified that the whole system was going to come falling down," she said.
That fear had already prompted them to begin the process of "making Lenin eternal" through his writings and portraits. With his extended lying in state, the Russian people also had a kind of shrine to visit, Tumarkin said, again channeling the religious tradition.
When Lenin's body was put on display, the embalmers compared their work to that of the ancient Egyptians -- who actually had used very different methods -- and the message sent out to the rest of the world was that this should be seen as a demonstration of superior Soviet science, she said.
At the same time, Lenin's symbolic presence lent the next generation of leaders an extra legitimacy, she said.
And as the cult of Lenin swelled in the 1920s and 1930s, and was revived decades later, his body could still be viewed, Tumarkin noted. Other Communist leaders, such as Mao, followed his lead in later decades.
Civil War practice
In some countries, for example the Philippines and the United States, embalming ahead of open-casket funerals is now quite common.