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The Catafalque in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda

The Catafalque in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda

Here in Washington D.C. (where I am serving as a panelist reviewing applications at the NEA) the city is preparing for the two days of ceremonies honoring Ronald Reagan. A fleet of Air Force jets flew over the city today and guns were fired as the military rehearsed elements of the first state funeral in D.C. in more than 30 years.

Learning about the traditions of the event, I came across a new term. Reagan’s flag-draped coffin will be placed on a historic catafalque tomorrow evening when it is moved to the Capitol Rotunda by a horse-drawn caisson. According to the Architect of the Capitol, the simple wooden catafalque, constructed of “rough pine boards nailed together and covered with black cloth,” was first used to hold Abraham Lincoln’s casket when it lay in state in the Rotunda in 1865. (It is stored in a chamber called Washington’s Tomb that was to have been the burial place of the first U.S. president). A list on the Architect of the Capitol website details the 25 who have lain in state on the catafalque in the Capitol Rotunda.

Pictured: The lower walls of the Capitol Rotunda. Image from the Architect of the Capitol website.

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