In December 2018, many of us watched at least a portion of the funeral for President George W. Bush. State funerals for Presidents are a moving combination of solemn ceremony, patriotic traditions, and in the case of President Bush, even a bit of humor. Presidential funerals, however, are not held for every former president. In fact, since 1841 when the first Presidential funeral was held for William Henry Harrison, only 15 such ceremonies have taken place. Almost half of those have occurred since the death of John F. Kennedy in 1963.
What is a Presidential Funeral?
A Presidential funeral is a public, state-sponsored funeral generally held over a period of five days. It includes a public viewing at the Capitol Rotunda and other ceremonies held in Washington D.C. and are frequently followed by transporting the body back to a hometown for internment.
Any former president can request a Presidential funeral. As former Commanders in Chief, Presidents can choose to be buried in Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, though only two presidents, Taft and Kennedy, have been buried there.
There have been many notable presidential funerals throughout history, but perhaps none more notable or impactful than those of Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy.
Abraham Lincoln (1865)
After Lincoln’s assassination in 1865, the country went into national mourning for the first time in our history. Two then-recent inventions greatly impacted the funeral, the telegraph, and railroads. Due to the telegraph, news of the death spread quickly across the country. The existence of railroads now made it possible for his body to travel across the country and was viewed by tens of thousands of people along the route. Lincoln’s funeral ended up lasting about two weeks.
John F. Kennedy (1963)
The assassination of President John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963, shook the nation to its core. Kennedy was the country’s youngest President and left behind a beautiful wife and adorable young children. His murder took place at a time of progress and optimism in America that came to a stunning halt. Millions of Americans watch daily as lines of Americans solemnly passed the flag-draped casket at the Capital Rotunda. There was the indelible image of his little son, John-John, saluting as the horse-drawn wagon carrying his father’s casket passed. Services were punctuated with the lighting of the “eternal flame” at Arlington Cemetery.
At the funeral for George W. Bush, we were reminded of how far funerals have changed through the years. Here. In one of America’s most-beloved places of worship, we were witness to humorous stories and laughter in tribute to the former President. We learned that the President himself had made many of the choices regarding his services. It was a reminder that funerals do not have to be dark and solemn. They can, in fact, be celebrations of life.
If you are pre-planning a funeral, we invite you to contact the Cremation Society of Greater Cincinnati. We can help arrange the final services that you desire. Contact our professionals today. We would be honored to serve you.