Traditions of Presidential Funerals - Spicer-Mullikin Funeral Homes & Crematory

Traditions of Presidential Funerals

Patriotism & Presidential. Two words that in the funeral industry are momentous. Have you ever thought about what goes into planning a president funeral? From Lincoln to Roosevelt and JFK to Reagan, the traditions run deep, but some aspects have also changed over the years.

Abe Lincoln’s Funeral – April, 1865
The most elaborate funeral in the U.S. history, 20 days and a 1,654 mile funeral procession. Not until the death of President John F Kennedy in 1963 did so many millions witness a funeral.President Lincoln was laid to rest in a coffin, not a casket — the distinction of which is that a coffin has six sides (diamond shape) and a casket has four sides. The coffin was custom-made and the most elaborate of that time. On April 21, 1865, a train carrying the coffin left Washington, D.C. for Springfield, Illinois, where he was buried on May 4. It traveled through 180 cities and seven states on its way to Lincoln’s home state of Illinois. At each stop, Lincoln’s coffin was taken off the train, placed on an elaborately decorated horse-drawn hearse and led by solemn processions to a public building for viewing. Newspapers reported that people had to wait more than five hours to pass by the president’s coffin in some cities.From the original entombment to the final entombment, the Lincoln coffin had been moved 17 times. Ultimately, the coffin was placed in a cage 10 feet deep and then encased in 4,000 pounds of concrete.

Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt, January 1919
President Roosevelt may have had one of the most informal funeral services of his time. He died in his home state of New York on January 6, 1919. He was buried at Young’s Memorial Cemetery on January 8 after a simple service at Christ Church in Oyster Bay. Family members and dignitaries made their way up the steep snow-dusted hill, and a bugler played “Taps.” When the ceremony ended, one mourner stayed behind: Former President William Howard Taft—by turns a political ally and a foe, and stood by the grave weeping.

John F. Kennedy, November 1963
The state funeral of John Fitzgerald Kennedy, 35th President of the U.S., took place in Washington, D.C. during the three days that followed his assassination on Friday, November 22, 1963, in Dallas, Texas. His body was flown back to Washington and placed in the East Room of the White House for 24 hours. On the Sunday after the assassination, his flag-draped coffin was carried on a horse-drawn caisson to the U.S. Capitol to lie in state. Throughout the day and night, hundreds of thousands lined up to view the guarded casket. Representatives from over 90 countries attended the state funeral on Monday, November 25.After the mass at St. Matthew’s Cathedral, the late president was buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.

Ronald Reagan, June 2004
Ronald Reagan died on June 5, 2004. His seven-day state funeral followed. His casket was transported by hearse and displayed at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California, then flown to Washington, D.C. on June 9 for public viewing and tributes at the U.S. Capitol. After lying in state for 34 hours in the Capitol rotunda, a state funeral service was conducted at the Washington National Cathedral on June 11, a day President George W. Bush declared as a national day of mourning.

Pre-planning and Interment

Most presidential funerals are pre-planned by the president himself and his family. Otherwise, the Military District of Washington, along with family members of the president, plan the services. Presidents are automatically given full military honors in recognition of their role as Commander-in-Chief of the United States Armed Forces.”Taps,” a bugle call sounded over the grave dating from the era of the American Civil War, is performed by one lone bugler from the United States Marine Band, 30 to 50 yards away. Immediately after, the Marine Band performs William Whiting’s Eternal Father, Strong to Save as the final salute is given. During interment, fighter aircraft provided by the United States Air Force perform a flyover in ‘missing man’ formation After a ceremonial procession on Constitution Avenue in Washington D.C., a final 21 gun salute is fired at the gravesite.

What tradition would you like to see for a president’s funeral? If you were president, what type of funeral would you want?