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Welcome to my story blog. I will post one new story here every day. You are welcome to comment on any or all of them. Enjoy!
                   --Lee Pound

Day 128 - The World's Most Fascinating Cemetery

It’s in the heart of Moscow, just off the Moscow River and for almost 20 years following the death of Nikita Khrushchev in 1971 it was closed to the public because the leaders of the Soviet Union feared crowds would rush to see Khrushchev’s grave.

It’s the Novodevichy Cemetery, the place where the elite of Russia and the Soviet Union are buried. The only exceptions are the former Soviet leaders buried behind Lenin’s Tomb on Red Square.

When we went to Russia in 2000, one of the first places we visited was Novodevichy. We were staying with a Russian couple a few blocks away and walked over to the cemetery, which was wide open.

One of the things that struck me about the place was the memorials. It doesn’t have gravestones, it has monuments, some of them quite spectacular.

For instance, Andrei Tupolev, the builder of the Tupolev jet that was the mainstay of the Russian airline Aeroflot, is buried there. His monument includes his statue and a huge curved wall with one of his aircraft flying across it.

Another anonymous Soviet bureaucrat has his statue standing proudly erect, a telephone in his right hand held to his ear.

Another less glamorous one was again a statue of a bald man with a suit on. Its distinguishing feature is a large quantity of bird poop on his head.

Over 27,000 people are buried in the cemetery, including Stalin’s first wife, thousands of politicians from the Soviet era, Boris Yeltsin, the first non-Communist president of Russia, and many others. The playwright Anton Chekhov was one of the first to be buried there and was joined by huge numbers of artists, composers, and other public personalities.

We spent a couple of hours wandering around the cemetery and photographing the monuments. It’s lush and overgrown, trees are everywhere, and small paths lead you among the monuments. You never know when another familiar name will jump out at you. If you grew up, as I did, in the 1950s and 1960s, you will remember the Russian personalities who make news here in the United States during the Cold War. They are all buried there.

It’s most famous occupant, of course, is Nikita Khrushchev, who was head of the Soviet Union from 1953 to 1964. When he died in 1971, he was denied a burial spot beside Joseph Stalin for political reasons and was instead buried in Novodevichy. His death was kept quiet and his burial was in secret. However the word got out. The crowds who came to see his grave were so overwhelming that the government closed the cemetery and didn’t reopen it until after the fall of Communism.

The irony is that Khrushchev was the only Soviet leader who did not die in office, with the exception of Mikhail Gorbachev, who is still alive and who left office when his country officially dissolved December 26, 1991.

All in all, the cemetery was a fun place to visit. If you ever get the chance, by all means stop by and take in the great monuments in this most fascinating of cemeteries.

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