"You pump the chemical in, and as the formaldehyde hits the cells of the body, it firms up the protein of the cell, or fixates it," Fountain said. "That's what makes them stiff."
Fountain said that most embalmers mix formaldehyde with water to make a solution that works for each body. With a body that will have to be on display for years, it's likely to require a top-shelf, super-strong solution. The actual chemicals used to keep Lenin looking fresh remain a tightly held secret.
"If I were doing Hugo Chavez, I would strengthen the solution and use more preservative product," Fountain said.
Second, get a good moisturizer.
Formaldehyde preserves, but it also dries out the body. Over time, fingertips shrivel, eyelids sag and lips shrink. Vaseline or other moisturizers can preserve the look of skin, according to Melissa Johnson Williams, executive director of the American Society of Embalmers. She also suggests lanolin-based fluids to keep fingers looking alive.
Third, keep cool.
Heat also decomposes a body. That may not be a big issue in Moscow, where Lenin rested in public from his death in 1924 until 1991, but in Caracas, Venezuela, the average daily high ranges from 79 to 83 degrees Farenheit every month. The body has to be kept at the temperature of a standard kitchen refrigerator, somewhere in the mid-40s, Johnson said. It may be easier to keep the body cool under a glass case than cooling the entire display room.