North Korea to Preserve and Display Kim Jong Il’s Body

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Kcna / Xinhua /

Kim Jong Il described himself as an “eternal ruler.” That description seems a bit more literal following the announcement that North Korea will embalm its Dear Leader for posterity.

“Great leader Kim Jong Il will be preserved to look the same as when he was alive,” KCNA, the country’s official news agency, announced this morning. Officials will also erect smiling portraits and “towers to his immortality” across the country. February 16, his birthday, will be recognized as “the greatest auspicious holiday of the nation” and called the Day of the Lodestar. That also happens to be the name of the long-range rockets North Korea began testing in 1998.

(MORE: Kim Jong Un Consolidates Power)

Speculation has been rife for weeks that Kim would enter a preserved state like his father, whose embalming in Moscow took nearly a year and reportedly cost $1 million. Some skeptics had previously suggested that North Korea is too impoverished to pay for another embalming. That may explain reports that claim North Koreans may carry out the embalming themselves, rather than outsourcing the process to the world’s leading lab in Moscow. They’ll need to take great care. Mao Zedong’s body, which Chinese undertakers pumped with 22 liters of formaldehyde in 1976, reportedly sprung a leak in the late ’90s.

Caretakers will seal Kim’s body inside a glass coffin before it goes on permanent display inside Kumsusan Memorial Palace. Built in 1976, the massive structure was the official residence of Kim Jong Il’s father Kim Il Sung, North Korea’s founder and first president. At the time of his father’s death in 1994, Kim Jong Il spent an estimated $100 million converting Kumsusan into a mausoleum. And it’s as eccentric as you’d expect. Inside, visitors travel on moving walkways, walk past bronze statues that depict people grieving, listen to narrations of grief and pass through a machine that blows dust. At the end of their journey they see Kim Il Sung’s remains in a glass sarcophagus.

It’s unclear whether Kim Il Jong will rest next to his father—or whether he’ll lie at the end of a separate moving walkway. Either way, expect plenty of weeping.

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William Lee Adams is a staff writer at the London bureau of TIME. Find him on Twitter at @willyleeadams or on Facebook. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.