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Many historians, such as Massie, mention that Lenin may have abruptly become ill in 1922, and died two years later, because he was poisoned. However, nobody ever mentions why this is thought, who may have done it, or what poison was used. Could someone explain what evidence is used to support the theory of Lenin's death by poisoning?
It's hard in history to prove that something did not happen, which is along the lines of the "impossible to prove a negative" concept. However, I think most historians do not believe Lenin was poisoned.
This article is a nice and quick write-up of the issues Lenin dealt with, which included infections and an assassination attempt. Beyond being a megalomaniac, he was also a workaholic and forming a government that was under siege from all sides, yet trying to revise almost all aspects of Russian life. Given the standards of health care for Russia in this period, Lenin's medical history, age, work habits and a guess at his stress levels, it's not surprising that strokes hit him when they did.
The article above also provides a bit of conjecture about the poisoning scenario but I think it is simply conjecture. The article talks about the rivalry between Lenin and Stalin, but I believe a lot of historians misconstrue it.
When Lenin's strokes started to occur, it sidelined Lenin who would have otherwise been front and center in all decisions. This created a large power vacuum that had to be filled if the Soviet movement was to put the civil war in the bag and move on. The vacuum had to be filled and Lenin didn't want anyone else to fill it, and so he chafed when moves were made to fill the void without him. I believe his Testament was to lash out at those who were closing out his involvement with the government and to still exercise the control he was used to wielding.
Also, Stalin at this time was not one of the central figures in the Party or government yet, although he was an up-and-comer. I don't think Stalin would have made such a move against Lenin either - Stalin didn't have the coalition to challenge Lenin while Lenin was alive and had such a plot been discovered, he would have had no effective coalition to save himself. Stalin didn't assemble the ruling coalition as we know Stalin's regime today for several years later after Lenin's death.
Vladimir Lenin died from syphilis, new research claims
Vladimir Lenin, the Russian revolutionary and architect of the Soviet Union, died from syphilis caught from a Parisian prostitute and not from a stroke as has always been believed, new research has claimed.
Helen Rappaport, an acclaimed historian and author, said that books, papers and journals charting Lenin’s last years show that he contracted the sexually transmitted disease and that it ultimately claimed his life.
She said Lenin showed many symptoms of syphilis and that many among the Soviet hierarchy believed he had it. But they were banned from speaking in public and threatened with death because of the embarrassment it would cause.
Instead, official documents show that his death was attributed to declining health following three stokes and an assassination attempt in 1918.
Central to Miss Rappaport’s case was a report written by the celebrated scientist Ivan Pavlov – famous for his Pavlov’s Dog’s theory – which claimed that the "revolution was made by a madman with syphilis of the brain."
While public criticism of Lenin was banned and anyone found guilty of doing so would be often be killed, Pavlov was free to be so scathing because Lenin had granted him immunity in order to trade on his pre-eminence in the world’s scientific community.
Lenin, the leader of the Bolsheviks, the vanguards of communism, led the 1917 October revolution, part of the Russian revolution which overthrew the Government and installed the Soviets. He became the first Head of State of the Soviet Union and remains one of the strongest political influences of the 20th Century.
He died in January 1924, aged 53, after suffering three stokes in the previous two years. By the end he was paralysed and dumb.
Blaming the strokes for his death, the Soviets made huge attempts to cover up whatever lay behind Lenin's erratic, manic behaviour, his bouts of rage and his untimely death.
Miss Rappaport, an expert on Russian history and a member of several societies, including the Society of Authors and the Oxford Writers’ Group, said evidence showed Lenin probably caught syphilis from a prostitute in Paris in about 1902.
She makes her claim in a new book "Conspirator: Lenin in Exile".
She said: "It was the unspoken belief of many top Kremlin doctors and scientists that Lenin died of syphilis, but a decades-long conspiracy of silence was forced on them by the authorities.
“But through it all, none was more vocal in his assertion than Prof Pavlov.”
Miss Rappaport said that proof of Pavlov’s assertion are in a documented conversation, held at Columbia University New York, he had with a fellow doctor, Mikhail Zernov, in Paris in 1928.
She said: "Pavlov maintained to Zernov that Lenin had suffered from syphilis and that during his time as Soviet leader he had manifested all the classic signs of someone sick with progressive paralysis brought on by the disease.
"Pavlov knew the eminent scientists who had been called in to examine Lenin's brain after his death in 1924 and they all concurred in this diagnosis. It was an open secret among them, but of course none stated it publicly and there are no official Soviet records documenting it.”
Lenin would not be the first leader to be struck down with syphilis. Other documented cases include Henry VIII, Ivan the Terrible, Adolf Hitler and Napoleon Bonaparte.
It is difficult to identify any particular events in his childhood that might prefigure his turn onto the path of a professional revolutionary. Vladimir Ilich Ulyanov was born in Simbirsk, which was renamed Ulyanovsk in his honour. (He adopted the pseudonym Lenin in 1901 during his clandestine party work after exile in Siberia.) He was the third of six children born into a close-knit, happy family of highly educated and cultured parents. His mother was the daughter of a physician, while his father, though the son of a serf, became a schoolteacher and rose to the position of inspector of schools. Lenin, intellectually gifted, physically strong, and reared in a warm, loving home, early displayed a voracious passion for learning. He graduated from high school ranking first in his class. He distinguished himself in Latin and Greek and seemed destined for the life of a classical scholar. When he was 16, nothing in Lenin indicated a future rebel, still less a professional revolutionary—except, perhaps, his turn to atheism. But, despite the comfortable circumstances of their upbringing, all five of the Ulyanov children who reached maturity joined the revolutionary movement. This was not an uncommon phenomenon in tsarist Russia, where even the highly educated and cultured intelligentsia were denied elementary civil and political rights.
As an adolescent Lenin suffered two blows that unquestionably influenced his subsequent decision to take the path of revolution. First, his father was threatened shortly before his untimely death with premature retirement by a reactionary government that had grown fearful of the spread of public education. Second, in 1887 his beloved eldest brother, Aleksandr, a student at the University of St. Petersburg (later renamed Leningrad State University), was hanged for conspiring with a revolutionary terrorist group that plotted to assassinate Emperor Alexander III. Suddenly, at age 17, Lenin became the male head of the family, which was now stigmatized as having reared a “state criminal.”
On September 29, 1982, twelve-year-old Mary Kellerman of Elk Grove Village, Illinois died after taking a capsule of Extra-Strength Tylenol.  Adam Janus (27) of Arlington Heights, Illinois, died in the hospital later that day after ingesting Tylenol his brother Stanley (25) and sister-in-law Theresa (19), of Lisle, Illinois, later also died after taking Tylenol from the same bottle.  Within the next few days, Mary McFarland (31) of Elmhurst, Illinois, Paula Prince (35) of Chicago, and Mary Reiner (27) of Winfield all died in similar incidents.     Once it was realized that all these people had recently taken Tylenol, tests were quickly carried out, which soon revealed cyanide present in the capsules. Warnings were then issued via the media and patrols using loudspeakers, warning residents throughout the Chicago metropolitan area to discontinue use of Tylenol products. 
Police, knowing that various sources of Tylenol were tampered with, ruled out manufacturers, as the tampered-with bottles came from different pharmaceutical companies—and the seven deaths had all occurred in the Chicago area, so sabotage during production was ruled out. Instead, police concluded that they were likely looking for a culprit who had acquired bottles of Tylenol from various retail outlets.  Furthermore, they concluded the source was most likely supermarkets and drug stores, over a period of several weeks, with the culprit likely adding the cyanide to the capsules, then methodically returning to the stores to place the bottles back on the shelves.  In addition to the five bottles that led to the victims' deaths, a few other contaminated bottles were later discovered in the Chicago area. 
In a concerted effort to reassure the public, Johnson & Johnson distributed warnings to hospitals and distributors and halted Tylenol production and advertising. On October 5, 1982, it issued a nationwide recall of Tylenol products an estimated 31 million bottles were in circulation, with a retail value of over US$100 million (equivalent to $268 million in 2020).  The company also advertised in the national media for individuals not to consume any of its products that contained acetaminophen after it was determined that only these capsules had been tampered with. Johnson & Johnson also offered to exchange all Tylenol capsules already purchased by the public for solid tablets.
During the initial investigations, a man named James William Lewis sent a letter to Johnson & Johnson demanding $1 million to stop the cyanide-induced murders.  A check revealed that Lewis had a troubled background.  Lewis was placed into care as a infant and was adopted at the age of three.  As a child, Lewis at times, would burst into fits of rage.  In one incident, Lewis had chased his adopted mother with an axe and in another incident, was charged with assault for breaking his adopted father's ribs.  Diagnosed with schizophrenia, Lewis was placed in a psychiatric hospital after he attempted suicide by overdosing on over-the-counter pain medication.  Lewis later claimed the suicide attempt and incidents of violence was part of a plan created by his family to avoid being drafted into the army for service in Vietnam.  Lewis excelled at school and attended the University of Missouri where he met his future wife, Leanne.  After university, Lewis and Leanne married and settled down in Kansas City, working as bookkeepers for a tax accounting firm.  After an argument with the firm's owner, Lewis and Leanne left the firm and started their own firm.  They met a 72-year-old retired truck driver, Raymond West, who became their first client.  West was reported missing by a friend on July 24, 1978.  A note with the business letterhead from Lewis's firm was found stuck in the door saying that West was out of town and to see Lewis for details.  When the officers gained entry into West's home, another note with Lewis's letterhead was found on West's coffee table, telling that West was sleeping and not to wake him until after 1pm.  Police conducted a second search of West's home three weeks later on the 14 August and found West's dismembered body wrapped in sheets and garbage bags in the attic.  Investigators were unable to determine West's cause of death due to the decomposition of West's body.  Lewis was arrested after it was discovered that $5,000 was withdrawn from West's bank account and placed into Lewis's bank account.  A search of Lewis's home turned up rope, garbage bags and check books belonging to West. Lewis was again arrested and charged with West's murder.  In October 1979, days before his trial, the case, based only on circumstantial evidence, was dismissed. 
Lewis was identified via fingerprints and the envelope used, however police were unable to link him with the crimes as he and Leanne were living in New York City at the time. He was instead convicted of extortion, and later served 13 years of a 20-year sentence, and was paroled in 1995. WCVB Channel 5 of Boston reported that court documents released in early 2009, "show Department of Justice investigators concluded Lewis was responsible for the poisonings, despite the fact that they did not have enough evidence to charge him". In January 2010, both Lewis and his wife submitted DNA samples and fingerprints to authorities.  Lewis stated "if the FBI plays it fair, I have nothing to worry about".  Lewis continues to deny all responsibility for the poisonings.  
As the letterhead on the extortion letter was traced to a former travel agency where Lewis's wife worked, it was believed the extortion was used as a revenge attempt against his wife's former boss over money owed to Lewis's wife after the travel agency had gone out of business and closed down.  Lewis's handwriting also matched that of a second extortion letter sent to President Ronald Reagan, warning that the Tylenol poisonings would continue if a federal taxation overhaul wasn't conducted and threatening to crash remote-controlled airplanes into the White House. 
A second man, Roger Arnold, was identified, investigated and cleared of the killings. He had a nervous breakdown due to the media attention, which he blamed on Marty Sinclair, a bar owner. In the summer of 1983, Arnold shot and killed John Stanisha, an unrelated man whom he mistook for Sinclair and who did not know Arnold.  Arnold was convicted in January 1984 and served 15 years of a 30-year sentence for second-degree murder.  He died in June 2008.
Laurie Dann, who poisoned and shot a number of people in a May 1988 rampage in and around Winnetka, Illinois, was briefly considered as a suspect, but no direct connection was found. 
Ongoing investigations Edit
In early 1983, at the FBI's request, Chicago Tribune columnist Bob Greene published the address and grave location of the first and youngest victim, Mary Kellerman. The story, written with the Kellerman family's consent, was proposed by FBI criminal analyst John Douglas on the theory that the perpetrator might visit the house or gravesite if he were made aware of their locations. Both sites were kept under 24-hour video surveillance for several months, but the killer did not surface.  
A surveillance photo of Paula Prince purchasing cyanide-tampered Tylenol at a Walgreens at 1601 North Wells St. was released by the Chicago Police Department. Police believe that a bearded man seen just feet behind Prince may be the killer. 
In early January 2009, Illinois authorities renewed the investigation. Federal agents searched the home of Lewis in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and seized a number of items.  In Chicago, an FBI spokesman declined to comment but said "we'll have something to release later possibly".  Law enforcement officials have received a number of tips related to the case coinciding with its anniversary. In a written statement,  the FBI explained,
This review was prompted, in part, by the recent 25th anniversary of this crime and the resulting publicity. Further, given the many recent advances in forensic technology, it was only natural that a second look be taken at the case and recovered evidence.
On May 19, 2011, the FBI requested DNA samples from "Unabomber" Ted Kaczynski in connection to the Tylenol murders. Kaczynski denied having ever possessed potassium cyanide.  The first four Unabomber crimes happened in Chicago and its suburbs from 1978 to 1980, and Kaczynski's parents had a suburban Chicago home in Lombard, Illinois, in 1982, where he stayed occasionally.  
Hundreds of copycat attacks involving Tylenol, other over-the-counter medications, and other products also took place around the United States immediately following the Chicago deaths.  
Three more deaths occurred in 1986 from tampered gelatin capsules.  A woman died in Yonkers, New York, after ingesting "Extra-Strength Tylenol capsules laced with cyanide".  Excedrin capsules in Washington state were tampered with, resulting in the deaths of Susan Snow and Bruce Nickell from cyanide poisoning and the eventual arrest and conviction of Nickell's wife, Stella, for her intentional actions in the crimes connected to both murders.  That same year, Procter & Gamble's Encaprin was recalled after a spiking hoax in Chicago and Detroit that resulted in a precipitous sales drop and a withdrawal of the pain reliever from the market. 
In 1986 a University of Texas student, Kenneth Faries, was found dead in his apartment after succumbing to cyanide poisoning.  Tampered Anacin capsules were determined to be the source of the cyanide found in his body. His death was ruled as a homicide on May 30, 1986.  On June 19, 1986 the AP reported that the Travis County Medical Examiner ruled his death a likely suicide. The FDA determined he obtained the poison from a lab in which he worked. 
Johnson & Johnson response Edit
Johnson & Johnson received positive coverage for its handling of the crisis for example, an article in The Washington Post said, "Johnson & Johnson has effectively demonstrated how a major business ought to handle a disaster". The article further stated that "this is no Three Mile Island accident in which the company's response did more damage than the original incident", and applauded the company for being honest with the public.  In addition to issuing the recall, the company established relations with the Chicago Police Department, the FBI, and the Food and Drug Administration. This way it could have a part in searching for the person who laced the capsules and they could help prevent further tampering.  While at the time of the scare the company's market share collapsed from 35 percent to 8 percent, it rebounded in less than a year, a move credited to the company's prompt and aggressive reaction. In November, it reintroduced capsules but in a new, triple-sealed package, coupled with heavy price promotions and within several years, Tylenol had regained the highest market share for the over-the-counter analgesic in the U.S. 
Pharmaceutical changes Edit
The 1982 incident inspired the pharmaceutical, food, and consumer product industries to develop tamper-resistant packaging, such as induction seals and improved quality control methods.  Moreover, product tampering was made a federal crime.  The new laws resulted in Stella Nickell's conviction in the Excedrin tampering case, for which she was sentenced to 90 years in prison. 
Additionally, the incident prompted the pharmaceutical industry to move away from capsules, which were easy to contaminate as a foreign substance could be placed inside without obvious signs of tampering. Within the year, the FDA introduced more stringent regulations to avoid product tampering. This led to the eventual replacement of the capsule with the solid "caplet", a tablet made in the shape of a capsule, as a drug delivery form and with the addition of tamper-evident safety-seals to bottles of many sorts. 
The murders inspired the plot of the seventh episode ("Poison") of the first season of Law & Order: Criminal Intent. 
2: CRUEL TYANT
Stalin was bad. But here's the ugly truth: Lenin was the same. There could not have been a Stalin without Lenin, and not just because the latter was the founder of the USSR. No: Lenin erected the very apparatus of the police state, and simply passed the baton of brutality to Stalin.
Let's consider the words of James Ryan, author of Lenin's Terror: The Ideological Origins of Early Soviet State Violence. Lenin, says Ryan, was "the first and most significant Marxist theorist to dramatically elevate the role of violence as revolutionary instrument". Under Lenin's rule, there were 28,000 executions EVERY YEAR. Consider that number for a moment.
As Richard Pipes says, Lenin had such "utter disregard for human life, except where his own family and closest associates were concerned." It was Lenin who instigated the "Red Terror", which saw widespread arrests and executions throughout the land. The aim of the Terror was described by one of Lenin's foot soldiers as being to "kill our enemies in scores of hundreds. For the blood of Lenin. let there be floods of blood of the bourgeoisie - more blood, as much as possible."
Lenin ordered the creation of the Cheka, the secret police organisation which was a model for Hitler's Gestapo. The Cheka were responsible for unspeakable cruelties - their methods included crowning victims with barbed wire, stoning them to death, dunking people in boiling water, and scalping them. Orlando Figes, author of A People's Tragedy, sums their violence up as "matched only by the Spanish Inquisition."
Lenin himself explicitly and proudly declared that "terror" was their aim. Anyone questioning the revolution was fair game. He called for striking workers to be "executed in large numbers", and sent a notorious telegram ordering the public hanging of peasants, to set an example to others.
Let there be no ambiguity: Lenin may not have had the tacky tastes of a typical dictator, but he most assuredly had the cruelty and bloodlust. The only reason he is not more widely despised is that he died at a relatively young age. If he hadn't, we wouldn't now be slamming Stalin. Because Lenin would have become Stalin.
Exhuming the Body
After weeks of investigating, the Cook County State’s Attorney Office filed for a petition to the court to exhume Khan’s body so that experts may perform further tests. The courts approved this request on January 11, 2013, and a week after, Khan’s body was exhumed.
The initial theory is that Urooj Khan was poisoned through him ingesting cyanide. To determine this, they needed to see if there were traces of poison in his stomach.
The night before his death, Urooj had a traditional lamb curry dish prepared by his wife, Shabana Ansari. To remove any suspicion, Khan’s widow Ansari cooperated fully with law enforcement. She stated that the curry could not have poisoned her husband because she and her father partook the same meal that evening. Authorities also conducted searches in the Khan household, but officers found no evidence of cyanide.
Stephen Cina, the medical examiner handling Khan’s case, was unable to make conclusions about how the poison entered the victim’s body. After being buried for months, the body was too decomposed for an accurate exam. This was only hastened because Khan’s body was not embalmed, as per Muslim tradition.
But the second round of examination did confirm that Khan’s arteries were 75% block. Ansari’s defence lawyer highlighted this fact in the investigations, giving credence to natural death theory.
What evidence is there that Lenin died because he was poisoned? - History
Ullstein Bild Dt./Getty Images
It was the mid 1920s, during the height of the Prohibition era, and the United States government was at a loss for what to do.
America’s alcoholism was on the rise, there were too many speakeasies to count, let alone raid, and bootlegging empires were all but outright defying law enforcement to their faces. It seemed, for the prohibitionists, there was no way to control the masses.
Until 1926, that is, when the U.S. government decided to turn the tables on the alcoholic public, by using the very thing they were trying to prohibit to scare the people into submission.
Because grain alcohol and liquor were hard to get one’s hands on, people began turning to more easily accessible alcohol — such as those found in paint thinner and wood polish.
This “industrial alcohol” was essentially grain alcohol with chemicals added to it, through a process called “denaturing,” that rendered it undrinkable. Denaturing was started in 1906 as a way for manufacturers to avoid taxes that were levied on drinkable spirits.
However, desperate times call for desperate measures, and by the early 1920s bootleggers had derived a formula for “renaturing” the alcohol to make it drinkable again, and therefore, profitable.
During the prohibition era, the US Treasury Department, which was in charge of overseeing alcohol enforcement at the time, estimated that over 60 million gallons of industrial alcohol were stolen to supply the countries alcohol-deprived drinkers.
Chicago History Museum/Getty Images A copper still and bucket, like those used in the creation and renaturing of alcohol at home.
Upon realizing that bootleggers were renaturing industrial alcohol to turn a profit, the Treasury Department stepped in. At the end of 1926, they revamped the denaturing formulas and included known poisons such as kerosene, gasoline, iodine, zinc, nicotine, formaldehyde, chloroform, camphor, quinine and acetone.
Most dangerous of all, they demanded that at least 10 percent of the total product be replaced with methyl alcohol or methanol. Today, methanol is most commonly used as an ingredient in antifreeze.
Their plan rendered the renaturing process useless on industrial alcohol, as the process could not be used to separate out each of the chemicals, and it had almost immediate results.
On Christmas Eve, 1926, 60 people in New York City wound up in Bellevue Hospital, desperately ill from drinking the contaminated alcohol. Eight of them died. In two days, the body count was up to 31. Before the end of the year, it had climbed to 400.
By 1933, it was up to 10,000.
Those who didn’t die came close. The combination of chemicals caused drinkers to experience everything from excessive vomiting, to hallucinations, to blindness.
As soon as public health officials realized the cause of all the deaths, the city medical examiner Charles Norris organized a press conference.
“The government knows it is not stopping drinking by putting poison in alcohol,” he said. “Yet it continues its poisoning processes, heedless of the fact that people determined to drink are daily absorbing that poison. Knowing this to be true, the United States government must be charged with the moral responsibility for the deaths that poisoned liquor causes, although it cannot be held legally responsible.”
The health department issued warnings to civilians, detailing the dangers of consuming bootlegged alcohol. He even publicized every death by poisoned alcohol and assigned his toxicologist to analyze all confiscated liquor for poisons.
He also pointed out that there was a disproportionate effect on the poorest residents of the city. Most of those who were dying from the poisoned alcohol were “those who cannot afford expensive protection and deal in low-grade stuff,” he said. The wealthy could afford the expensive kind, and therefore most likely clean, liquor.
A rally in New York City protesting prohibition in 1933.
Teetotalers on the opposing side argued that the alcohol shouldn’t have been consumed in the first place, and if it had, the drinker brought the consequences on himself.
“The Government is under no obligation to furnish the people with alcohol that is drinkable when the Constitution prohibits it,” said advocate Wayne B. Wheeler. “The person who drinks this industrial alcohol is a deliberate suicide.”
Seymour Lowman, Assistant Secretary of the Treasury, added that if the result was a sober America, then “a good job will have been done.”
Surprisingly, the government never repealed their plan and continued poisoning the industrial alcohol, not even pretending that they didn’t know what was happening. They maintained that they never set out to intentionally kill drinkers of alcohol, though many health officials accused them of having a “callous disregard” for human life.
In the end, it was the end of Prohibition itself that stopped the deaths, as now that people had real alcohol to consume, there was no need to risk poisoning themselves any longer
Enjoyed this article on the prohibition era? Check out these photos of people celebrating the end of Prohibition. Then, take a look at this 20th century anti-marijuana propaganda.
Medical sleuths discuss the forensics of death
Vladimir Lenin poses for a photographer in this 1922 photo. Syphilis probably didn't kill Lenin. Stress, on the other hand, didn't help, and poison may have done him in. That's the conclusion of a doctor and a historian who examined medical records and other evidence for an annual University of Maryland School of Medicine conference on the deaths of famous figures. (Anonymous/AP)
BALTIMORE — Death never dies here.
It just keeps getting more interesting, more beguiling. More, well, alive. Alive in every cringe-worthy detail, in every clue about its causes, in every shard of evidence waiting to be spliced to another shard . . . and another shard until a picture starts to form, an image assembled from nuggets of information collected decades or centuries ago.
Death, at least for the doctors and history buffs who gather each year at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, is the coolest of puzzles, leading them to the coolest of theories. Could Abraham Lincoln have been saved? (Yes.) Was George Custer as much a victim of a personality disorder as the Indians he was fighting? (You betcha.) What turned Florence Nightingale into a recluse? (She might have been bipolar.)
They’ve been at it for 18 years, poring over autopsy records, consulting historical texts and lobbing questions at nationally recognized experts who fly in for an annual conference hosted by the school’s Medical Alumni Association that has turned into a melange of old gore, old guts and old glories. Death might scare you, but to Philip Mackowiak, the professor who dreamed up the conference, mulling human expiration — no matter how ancient — can be “a tremendous amount of fun.” These folks were House way before House was House, but unlike the riddle-solving television doctor, their preoccupation is with the dead rather than the living.
Mackowiak presides over his realm of medical intrigue in a grand, old, semi-circular lecture hall where the air is musty, as if you’d just entered an ancient wine cellar or, more appropriately, a crypt. Light trickles into Davidge Hall through the windowpanes that spread out in the shape of spider webs — they’re windows that Alfred Hitchcock would have loved. Sturdy metal kilns are set into the back wall of the 200-year-old hall. They were used for chemical experiments, a conference organizer assures me, not for the cadavers that were once examined in the “anatomical hall” on the upper floor.
Mackowiak has a bucket list of historical figures whose deaths interest him. He’d love to dig into the medical history of Spanish painter Francisco de Goya: “According to his biography, he was deaf as a stump,” Mackowiak says. Or maybe Buddha or Confederate Gen. Stonewall Jackson.
But the subject in question on this day, it turns out, was a headbanger. Heavy metal may have played a role in his death. Parts of his brain had the texture of this: rock.
The dead dude, sadly, couldn’t be with them. He’s kept under glass in Moscow’s Red Square. But the vital data about his waxing then waning vitality were there in the lecture hall for all to see.
Vladimir Lenin, the long-gone Bolshevik revolutionary and Soviet leader, was born with short, weak legs and a giant head, these medical-history detectives learned. As a child, he had a habit of banging his head on the floor when he was upset, making his mother think that he might be developmentally disabled, according to the historical data.
An assassin’s only lead bullet resided near his right clavicle, introducing the notion of a heavy metal. But it was his brain that was really messed up. His cerebral blood vessels “were rock-hard,” Harry Vinters, a respected UCLA professor of pathology and laboratory medicine, said during his, ahem, deadly serious presentation.
But why? Why would a man who in 1924 died just three months shy of his 54th birthday have such unusually hardened cerebral blood vessels?
During his presentation and later among small clutches of attendees, Vinters went through his checklist of risk factors for stone-hard cerebral blood vessels. Diabetes? “No.” Smoker? A big “No.” Not only did Lenin not smoke, but he was apparently super fussy about other people not smoking around him.
Stress? Getting warmer. Stress might have played a role, Vinters theorizes. Family history? Ah, we’re on to something. Lenin’s dad croaked at age 54 after a series of strokes. Lenin also had strokes. In the audience of about 200, pens raced across notebooks and the backs of programs. Wheels were turning. Theories were forming.
Some have posited that Lenin was a victim of syphilis. Vinters doesn’t buy it. There’s no evidence to that effect, the professor said after his presentation as attendees descended on him with their best guesses.
But it might have been possible that his doctors thought he had syphilis, a condition often treated with arsenic in those days, he said. Which got everyone around to a theory that has nothing to do with the medical evidence and everything to do with good old-fashioned historical dot-connecting. They were helped along by a Russian writer, Lev Lurie, who speculated that Lenin, even though his health was in precipitous decline because of the strokes, might have been finished off by a poisoning ordered by Joseph Stalin.
After the conference speeches, during the noshing and theory-sharing portion of the day, Dahlia Hirsch, a retired surgeon, rolled up all the evidence into a hero sandwich of a conclusion: It was the family history and the stress and the lead bullet and the arsenic! It made a lot of sense from a medical perspective, but Doris Cowl, a Towson University math instructor, pined for an answer that added up to a sexier historical yarn. “Poisoning is more interesting,” she offered.
In the parking area, the valets wondered what all the fuss was about. One of the participants told them about the subject of the conference, but their minds went to a homophone: Lennon, the rocker, not Lenin, the guy with rock-hard blood vessels. Once they were set straight, one of them exclaimed, “Oh, the Russian guy!”
Was Jane Austen poisoned? New evidence about the writer’s weakened eyes raises questions.
On July 18, 1817, novelist Jane Austen died at the age of 41. Much of Austen’s medical biography is murky, and how she died remains an enduring mystery. Historians, in the two centuries since, have dissected what little evidence exists. In her later letters she complained of bilious attacks, facial aches and fever. Austen experts fingered several possible killers, including stomach cancer, Hodgkin’s lymphoma or an adrenal disorder known as Addison’s disease.
An article published Thursday on the website of the nationally run British Library offered a theory of a more dramatic sort: What if poison, not cancer or faulty glands, did in the author of “Sense and Sensibility?”
If so, blame neither foul plot nor gentleman assassin. The arsenic likely came from a tainted water supply or a medicinal mix-up, the library suggested that is, of course, supposing the element caused Austen’s death. The claim has been subject to a fair bit of skepticism since Thursday, when the library published an article on its website linking her possible cataracts to arsenic.
The library’s reasoning hinged on spectacles. In 1999, the writer’s great-great-great-niece Joan Austen-Leigh donated a desk that belonged to Austen. The library discovered that the desk held three pairs of glasses, two tortoiseshell and one wire-framed. The British Library recently had the glasses examined, and found that the lenses were convex, suggesting a farsighted wearer.
Austen eventually suffered from very poor eyesight, if the eyeglasses indeed belonged to her. The glasses varied in strengths. One of two tortoiseshell glasses, according to the British Library’s analysis, was quite strong. Perhaps the glasses’ increasing diopters told a narrative.
“Could it be that she gradually needed stronger and stronger glasses for reading because of a more serious underlying health problem?” wrote Sandra Tuppen, a curator at the library, in the article. “The variations in the strength of the British Library’s three pairs of spectacles may indeed give further credence to the theory that Austen suffered from arsenic poisoning, albeit accidental.”
This was not the only evidence to suggest arsenic poisoning, the article noted. Austen complained of skin discoloration (“black & white & every wrong colour,” she once wrote), which may also be a symptom of accumulating arsenic in the body. And inadvertent arsenic poisoning in the 1800s was not unheard of. Crime writer Lindsay Ashford, one of the first proponents of the arsenic theory, told the Guardian in 2011 that, “I think it’s highly likely she was given a medicine containing arsenic. When you look at her list of symptoms and compare them to the list of arsenic symptoms, there is an amazing correlation.”
By the heyday of the Victorian era, arsenic was ubiquitous in Britain, present in medicines and occasionally confused for sugar or plaster of Paris. Green wallpapers and green dresses contained arsenic, according to the Chemical Heritage Foundation’s Distillations magazine, as did “beer, wine, sweets, wrapping paper, painted toys, sheep dip, insecticides, clothing, dead bodies, stuffed animals, hat ornaments, coal and candles.” In 1858, a British candy seller nicknamed “Humbug Billy” killed 25 and poisoned more than 100 others when, meaning to dilute the expensive sugar in his peppermint sweets, he accidentally added arsenic.
Revolutionary love: Lenin's amorous triangle with his wife and mistress
Reproduction of 'Portrait of Inessa Armand' by A.Lurye.
Mikhail Filimonov/RIA Novosti
Vladimir Lenin, founder of the Soviet Union, can hardly be accused of excessive sentimentality. Throughout his life he easily parted ways even with his closest friends when their political views ran counter to those of his own and after seizing power, he executed adversaries remorselessly.
One of the few instances when this energetic politician publicly demonstrated a weakness came on October 12, 1920, the day when Inessa Armand, his long-lasting comrade, personal friend, and lover, was laid to rest.
&ldquoAs we were following the coffin, Lenin was barely recognizable,&rdquo recalled revolutionary activist Alexandra Kollantai. &ldquoHe was walking with his eyes shut tight, and was hardly standing on his feet.&rdquo
Several weeks earlier, Armand died suddenly of cholera in Nalchik (a town 850 miles south of Moscow), which came as a hard blow to Lenin.
&ldquoI fear lest Inessa's death should do Volodya [Lenin] in," his wife Krupskaya wrote. &ldquoHe has been crying, and his gaze is miles away.&rdquo
A French-born socialist, Inessa Armand found herself in Moscow at age 15, following the death of her father. She was brought up in Russia by her grandmother and aunt, and by the age of 35, she had been married twice. Her second husband was Vladimir Armand, who &ldquoinfected&rdquo her with revolutionary views.
Inessa Armand, 1895. / Photo: TASS
In 1904, Inessa joined the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party, and for her activities in the 1905 revolution she was exiled to the north of Russia, from where she fled to Switzerland in 1908.
When Armand's second husband died of tuberculosis the mother of five found herself alone but nevertheless continued to participate in the revolutionary movement. She maintained close contacts with other French socialists, translated revolutionary literature, and completed a degree in economics. Bolshevik comrades spoke warmly of Armand.
&ldquoShe stood out for her neglect of creature comforts, her attention to comrades, and her readiness to share her last portion of bread with them,&rdquo revolutionary activist Lyudmila Stal recalled.
Many contemporaries highlighted Armand's love of life, the happiness she would bring by her presence, as well as her natural beauty and charm.
Meeting her idol
Armand's fateful first meeting with Lenin happened in 1909. In fact, thanks to his writings she became a socialist. For a number of years the two were living and working in Paris, and many contemporaries suggested that their relationship had grown into something bigger than friendship during that period.
Inessa Armand, 1909. / Photo: TASS
&ldquoLenin could not take his Mongolian eyes off this small Frenchwoman,&rdquo French socialist Charles Rappoport noted. In his letters to Armand, Lenin would address her as &ldquomy dear friend&rdquo, and otherwise manifested his extreme care and fondness.
&ldquoAlmost all of my activity here in Paris was linked to my thoughts of you with a thousand threads,&rdquo Armand would write to Lenin several years afterward, in 1913.
The letter makes it clear that Armand was utterly in love with her comrade and teacher: &ldquoI so much loved to not just listen to you but also look at you speaking. First, your face becomes so lively when you speak second, observing you at such moments was very convenient because you did not notice my glances. &rdquo
Vladimir Lenin relaxes in sauna outside on deck in sun, 1918. / Photo: ZUMA Press/Global Look Press
By the time he met Armand, Lenin had been married to Nadezhda Krupskaya for 11 years. Apart from being a devout revolutionary and Lenin's trusted assistant, Krupskaya was also his faithful spouse. Despite the natural rivalry for the affection of the Bolshevik leader, the two women managed to establish a friendship.
Krupskaya wrote: &ldquoIt would get cozier and more fun every time Inessa came.&rdquo Armand, for her part, had this to say about Krupskaya: &ldquoI liked her virtually on our first meeting. She emits this special kind of tenderness towards comrades.&rdquo
Nadezhda Krupskaya, Lenin's wife. / Photo: RIA Novosti
Lev Danilkin, the author of a recently published biographical work on Lenin, notes that there is no documentary evidence of an amorous link between Lenin and Armand only the conjecture and gossip of contemporaries. He surmises that Lenin's relations with Armand and Krupskaya may have followed the new socialist moral concept proposed by Nikolay Chernyshevsky in his novel What is to be done: &ldquoEssentially, everything is allowed as long as it is based on mutual respect.&rdquo
This is why Danilkin believes that both Krupskaya and Armand managed to overcome any potential jealousy. They were like-minded persons who respected each other and had similar ideals that were radical for their era.
Whatever it was, the relationship between Lenin and Armand did not last long. The revolutionary leader eventually opted for fidelity to his wife with whom he had lived many years. In a letter from 1913, Inessa wrote with visible pain: &ldquoWe have parted, my dear!&rdquo
Lenin with his wife Nadezhda Krupskaya at Gorky, 1922. / Photo: Mary Evans Pictrure Library/Global Look Press
Armand remained true to Lenin and the revolution to the end of her life. Despite her French citizenship, which entitled her to a comfortable life in Europe, she joined Lenin and Krupskaya in their return to Russia in 1917.
Armand took part in the October Revolution and continued to support the fledgling Soviet Union while living in a decrepit cold apartment, Danilkin said. She eventually succumbed to cholera at age 46. Ironically, she contracted the disease during a holiday at a resort in the south.
Read more: Revolutionary First Lady: The life and struggles of Lenin's wife
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