This Day In History: Stalin’s Stroke

In my recent post on why I enjoy teaching the history of the Cold War, I mentioned the odd pleasure I take in forcingencouraging my students to sing along as I play country-western songs about the evils of Communism…

(You wouldn’t think there’s anywhere else to go from there, but…)

Stalin's grave
Stalin’s grave in the Kremlin – Wikimedia

As it happens, today — March 1, 2013 — is not only the day that we come to the death of Josef Stalin in the Cold War class, but it’s the sixtieth anniversary of Stalin suffering the debilitating stroke that, days later, culminated in his demise. Famously, his staff didn’t even realize what had happened to him until many hours later, and doctors were scared to attend him — understandably, given his recent purge of their ranks. The whole affair has predictably generated lots of conspiracy theories, usually involving Stalin being administered poison by one of his underlings-turned-would-be-successors. (Meet prime suspect A. And B.)

In any event, the news of Stalin’s death generated different reactions in different places. When the vast crowd in Moscow pressed forward to get a glimpse of the dictator, something like 500 people were crushed to death. (Here’s footage of the funeral, though not the people being crushed to death.)

In America it inspired at least two gleeful songs to be written and recorded: “The Death of Joe Stalin (Good Riddance)” by Buddy Hawk and His Buddies (I’m not making this up); and “Stalin Kicked the Bucket,” by Ray Anderson, whose third verse alludes to the stroke that happened sixty years ago today (“While near the end, he couldn’t talk / He’s paralyzed and he couldn’t walk / He died with a hemorrhage in the brain / They have a new fireman on the devil’s train”).

It also rhymes “Eisenhower” and “power” in a verse that likens Stalin to Satan. We’ll be singing it in a couple hours. Happy weekend, everybody! 🙂

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