John F. Kennedy’s coffin lies in state in the Capitol Building

John F. Kennedy's coffin lies in state in the Capitol Building, 1963

Kennedy was the first president in more than 30 years to lie in state in the rotunda, the previous one being the only president to ever serve as chief justice, William Howard Taft, in 1930. He was also the first Democrat to lie in state at the Capitol. Jackie Kennedy asked the Honor Guard to face inward looking at the coffin, because when she entered the Rotunda and saw them looking out towards the crowd, she thought her husband looked starkly alone.

Flag draped coffin is placed on the catafalque in the center of the Rotunda. Flag-draped casket was surrounded by combined Honor Guard. Mrs Kennedy, her children, Robert Kennedy, members of the family and large crowd of dignitaries standing near the casket. President Johnson and a Marine places a wreath at the head of the coffin.

The United States Capitol rotunda is the central rotunda of the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C.. Located below the Capitol dome, it is the tallest part of the Capitol and has been described as its “symbolic and physical heart”. The rotunda is 96 feet (29 m) in diameter and rises 180 feet 3 inches (54.94 m) to the canopy. The Rotunda is used for important ceremonial events as authorized by concurrent resolution, such as the lying in state of eminent citizens and the dedication of works of art. The Rotunda canopy features the painting entitled The Apotheosis of Washington, and the walls of the Rotunda hold historic paintings and a frescoed band, or “frieze,” depicting significant events in American history.

The Honor Guards at military funerals come from the same branch as the deceased. The president gets men from each branch of service because he was Commander in Chief of all of them. They’re actually supposed to be facing out, to protect the body of the president, but Jackie thought that JFK looked lonely and had the honor stand facing him. (Photograph by George F. Mobley, National Geographic).

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