MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — It’s a way for the country to pay its final respects.
More than 100,000 people filed past President Reagan’s casket in the rotunda of the U.S. Capitol in 2004. A quarter-million mourners came through the Capitol all night long to say goodbye to President Kennedy in 1963.
On Friday, the same honor will be bestowed on Sen. John McCain, lying in state at the U.S. Capitol. It’s an honor that’s only been allowed 29 other times in the last 166 years.
The list of the government officials who have lain in state start with Sen. Henry Clay from Kentucky in 1852. Since then, there have been 11 presidents (dating back to Abraham Lincoln), two vice presidents (including Minnesotan Hubert Humphrey), seven members of the U.S. Senate, one member of the U.S. House, three military leaders and the first director of the FBI, J. Edgar Hoover. The Unknown Soldier of World War I was also remembered in the Rotunda in 1921, followed by the Unknown Soldier of World War II and the Korean War in 1958.
Since 1965, each of these caskets were placed upon the Lincoln catafalque–the platform that was hastily built after President Lincoln was assassinated.
To lie in state, there is generally a congressional resolution or approval by congressional leadership. In Sen. McCain’s case, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the decision was made “…in coordination with Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer and House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi.”
Only government officials can lie in state. Private citizens can lie in honor, without the catafalque. That has happened at the Capitol’s rotunda four times, most recently when the House granted the honor to Rev. Billy Graham earlier this year.
Rosa Parks was also lain in honor in 2005, as well as Jacob Chestnut and John Gibson, the two U.S. Capitol Police Officers who were killed in the line of duty in 1998.