Or is this burning an eternal flame?

Globally there are 150 or so that are open to the public, with fully a third situated in the United States…including Elvis’ at Graceland and Jerry Falwell’s at Liberty University.   But as a long-held tradition in various cultures and religions, there are countless eternal flames throughout the world.

For example, it’s a Jewish tradition to have an eternal lamp set above the ark in many synagogues, while Hindu temples frequently feature them as well, some having burned for centuries. Eternal flames are also common in East Asia, carefully placed before a household’s spirit tablet in veneration of departed ancestors.

Often used to commemorate an event of national significance or to serve as a reminder of universal aspirations such as world peace, the first public eternal flame to honor a (known)  individual was the one consecrated in 1967 at the gravesite of JFK, a practice that has since become more customary.  Of course, many eternal flames were also lit in the decades following the Second World War, some to serve as a reminder of the Holocaust, others to commemorate a land’s unknown soldiers.

Which was the case in this picture, taken by the Kremlin Wall during the short Soviet premiership of Konstantin Ustinovich Chernenko.  To be exact, it was Wednesday 31 October 1984 and it never even occurred to me that somewhere far away, people were celebrating Halloween.

I’d happened along having just shuffled through a winding line full of weeping people to (sigh) satisfy my morbid curiosity and check in with the waxen but amazingly well preserved Vladimir Ilyich Lenin. But with its eternal flame illuminating a bronze inscription that (translated) read, “Your name is unknown, your deed is immortal,” this was by far the more poignant tomb.

The remains of the unknown soldier within had once been interred in a mass grave at the 41st km marker on the Leningrad Highway, an infamous landmark representing the Nazi invaders’ closest proximity to Moscow (in 1941) during the worst days of the “Great Patriotic War” as it is referred to there.

These newlyweds were actually part of a veritable procession of such couples who had come to lay flowers before the flame on their wedding day, a tradition that began in the days of Stalin when church weddings were very rare and visiting an eternal flame (which many Russian cities still have) was a fitting way to satisfy a basic, spiritual urge on such a supernal occasion.

Nowadays, with that benighted era long relegated to “the ash heap of history,” the honor guard, which once stood vigil outside Lenin’s Tomb, now stands vigil outside the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.  As for those wedding day visits to the eternal flame… they continue as one of the few Soviet-era customs to be embraced by Russians to this day.

Written by Billy Steinberg, Tom Kelly and Susanna Hoffs and topping the American charts when the Bangles released it in 1989, this song was very much inspired by an eternal flame.  According to Steinberg, Hofts had recently visited Graceland and seen the eternal flame there… “and as soon as those words were mentioned, I thought of the synagogue in the town of Palm Springs, where I grew up. I remember (how) they would walk us through the sanctuary. There was one little red light and they told us it was called the eternal flame.”

It also topped the British charts when Atomic Kitten released their version in 2001. First manufactured…I mean…established in 1997, the three-member girl-group was formed in Liverpool (where an eternal flame burns in remembrance of the 96 people who died in the stadium-related Hillsborough disaster in ‘89) and with a slightly shifting line-up through the years, Atomic Kitten had a number of hits throughout Europe, Asia and South Africa.

Here are two versions of the song.  The first was recorded live in 2004 at Atomic Kitten’s final concert. The second was the Bangles original release in 1989.

ATOMIC KITTEN LIVE VERSION – Thursday 28 March

BANGLES’ ORIGINAL VERSION – Thursday 28 March

Eternal Flame

 Call my name

Close your eyes, give me your hand, darling

Do you feel my heart beating, do you understand?

Do you feel the same or am I only dreaming?

Is this burning an eternal flame?

 I believe it’s meant to be, darling

I watch when you are sleeping, you belong with me

Do you feel the same or am I only dreaming

Is this burning an eternal flame?

 Say my name, sun shines through the rain

A whole life so lonely, and then you come and ease the pain

I don’t want to lose this feeling

 Call my name

Say my name, sun shines through the rain

A whole life so lonely, and then you come and ease the pain

I don’t want to lose this feeling

 Close your eyes and give me your hand

Do you feel my heart beating, do you understand?

Do you feel the same, am I only dreaming

Or is this burning an eternal flame?

 Is this burning an eternal flame?

An eternal flame?

 (Close your eyes and give me your hand

Do you feel my heart beating, do you understand?

Do you feel the same, am I only dreaming

Or is this burning an eternal flame?)

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