Friday, September 7, 2012

Presidential State Funerals in the U.S.

With the political convention season in full swing, remembrances and tributes are being made to those Presidents who came before. We have had 44 presidents in the U.S. since 1789.  Thirty-eight have died, eight while in office.  Thirteen Presidents have had the honor of having a state funeral.

To Lie in State
State Funeral
A state funeral is a public funeral held in the nation’s capitol, Washington D.C., usually for a current or past President of the United States.  It can also be held for a President-elect or someone the President has chosen to receive the honor.

President William H. Harrison
Harrison's Memorial
The first official state funeral was held for our ninth president, William Henry Harrison, in 1841.  Harrison was the first president to die while in office, only 32 days after taking his oath.  With no protocol established, Alexander Hunter, a Washington merchant was commissioned to plan the ceremony. Harrison’s casket was carried to a vault at Congressional Cemetery in Washington D.C.  He was later buried in North Bend, Ohio at the William Henry Harrison Tomb State Memorial.

President Zachary Taylor
Taylor's Mausoleum
Taylor's Funeral
President Zachary Taylor was given a state funeral when he died of cholera on July 9, 1850.  The procedure for the twelfth president was similar to that for Harrison.  Taylor’s horse followed the black and white caisson with a riderless saddle and a pair of riding boots reversed in the stirrups.  Taylor was first interred in a vault at the Congressional Cemetery.  He was later buried on the Taylor plantation in Louisville, Kentucky.

Lincoln's Tomb
President Abraham Lincoln

Lincoln's Funeral
When Abraham Lincoln was assassinated on April 14, 1865, a period of national mourning was issued.  The streets were lined for the sixteenth President’s rainy funeral procession from the White House to the U.S. Capitol Rotunda, where he lay in state for two days.  The funeral train bearing Lincoln's body traveled more than 1,700 miles back to his home of Springfield, Illinois for his interment in Oak Ridge Cemetery.

President James Garfield
Garfield's Mausoleum
Garfield Lying in State
Twentieth President James A. Garfield was shot on July 2, 1881.  He died ten weeks later, on September 19th of a massive heart attack and pneumonia.  Garfield's body lay in state in the Capitol Rotunda, viewed by over 100,000 people. He was temporarily interred in a vault at Lake View Cemetery in Cleveland, Ohio before being moved to a mausoleum there.

President William McKinley
McKinley's Monument
McKinley's Funeral
On September 1901, 25th President William McKinley was shot by an assassin.  At first it was thought he would survive, but on September 13, he became worse and died early in the morning on the 14th. Over a hundred thousand people filed past McKinley’s in the Capitol Rotunda.  His body was then taken to the Stark County Courthouse in Canton, Ohio where still another one hundred thousand paid their respects.  McKinley’s casket was placed in a vault at West Lawn Cemetery in Canton until his tomb was completed.

Harding Memorial

President Warren Harding
Harding's Funeral
In 1923, President Warren G. Harding died of a heart attack while traveling across the country. Harding’s casket was sent by train from San Francisco back to Washington.  On August 8, the casket was mounted on a caisson and taken to the Capitol Rotunda to lie in state. Flags were lowered to half-staff.  Harding was interred in a receiving vault at the Marion Cemetery in Marion, Ohio.  He was later moved to the Harding Memorial in Marion.

President William Taft
Taft's Marker
Taft's Funeral
It was March 8, 1930 when President William Howard Taft died. He was also the first President to be a Chief Justice of the United States. His casket lie in state at the Capitol Rotunda, before a funeral service was held at All Soul’s Unitarian Church.  Justices of the U.S. Supreme Court acted as honorary pallbearers for his funeral.  Taft was the first President to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

Roosevelt's Grave
President John F. Kennedy

Kennedy's Grave
Kennedy Lying in State
President John F. Kennedy had been in office less than two years when he was killed by an assassin’s bullet. He is the youngest president to die in office.  Kennedy’s state funeral followed the exact protocol of Lincoln’s.  Planned by military and government officials, the President lie in repose in the East Room of the White House.  Over 250,000 mourners filed past Kennedy’s casket in the Capitol Rotunda.  He was then interred in Arlington National Cemetery.

President Herbert Hoover

Hoover's Grave
Hoover's Casket
In 1964, Herbert Hoover died at the age of 90.  Hoover was given full military honors when he died.  Military guards of honor were present during the funeral service held at St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church.  Hoover lie in state in the Capitol Rotunda for two days before his remains were flown to the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum in West Branch, Iowa for burial.

President Jimmy Carter
Carter Sworn In
Hoover was the longest retired President, having left office 31 years, 7 months, 16 days before his death. His was the longest retirement of any U.S. President – until today.  As of September 7, 2012, President Jimmy Carter is the longest retired President in the country’s history.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower

Eisenhower's Grave

Eisenhower's Funeral

In 1969, 34th President Dwight D. Eisenhower was given military rites in honor of his role as Supreme Allied Commander during WW II.  Flags around the country were lowered to half-staff for 30 days.  Eisenhower lie in repose at Washington National Cathedral for 28 hours before being moved to lie in state at the Capitol Rotunda. Eisenhower's funeral service was held at Washington National Cathedral.  He was interred in a chapel at the Eisenhower Presidential Library in Abilene, Kansas, buried in his WW II uniform.

President Lyndon B. Johnson
When Lyndon B. Johnson died of a heart attack on January 22, 1973, his period of mourning overlapped with that of former President Harry S. Truman.  Truman had died on December 26, 1972. Truman’s family decided not to have a state funeral and private services were held at the Harry Truman Presidential Library and Museum in Independence, Missouri.  Flags were flown at half-staff for 30 days for Truman and for Johnson.

Johnson's Funeral
Johnson's Grave
President Johnson did have a state funeral and lie in state at the Capitol Rotunda for two days.  The U.S. Air Force preformed a flyover during the funeral procession.  Services were held at National City Christian Church.  Johnson was flown back to Texas where he was buried on his ranch, part of the Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park, in Stonewall, Texas.

Regan's Grave

President Ronald Regan
Regan's Funeral
A state funeral was held for President Ronald Regan in 2004.  Regan was interred at the Ronald Regan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California. Over 200,000 mourners filed past Regan’s casket at the Capitol Rotunda during the four days he lie in state.  A national funeral service was held at Washington National Cathedral.  Regan was buried at the Ronald Regan Presidential Library in California.

Ford Grave

President Gerald R. Ford

Ford Lying in State
The last president to have died, and to have had a state funeral, was Gerald R. Ford in 2006.  Ford lie in state at the National Cathedral in Washington D.C. for three days. He was then flown home to Grand Rapids, Michigan where he was interred at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum. Ford was the longest-lived president in U.S. history – 93 years, 8months and 68 days.

As a side note:
Riderless Horse
Lincoln's Horse 'Old Bob'
The riderless horse is a tradition in a presidential funeral procession.  This first occurred in 1799 during George Washington’s funeral.  President Lincoln’s funeral train was met in Springfield, Illinois by his horse, “Old Bob,” draped in a black mourning blanket. The riderless horse is led by a single honor guard on foot.  A set of boots, reversed in the stirrups, symbolizes a fallen warrior who will never ride again.

~ Joy


  1. Fascinating post, Joy. Enjoyed it immensely. You put in such a tremendous amount of work. One can slice Presidential statistics in just soo many ways, I guess. Who was the youngest President to be elected: JFK perhaps? And the oldest possibly Reagan? Their resting places seem to be scattered all around the country, but many not accessible to us taphophiles. Or perhaps 'presidential libraries' are open to the public??

    1. Thank you Julie! You are correct on both accounts; Kennedy was the youngest at 43, and Reagan was the oldest at 69.

  2. Another amazing post. Thanks so much for all the trouble you take with these!