Tuesday, September 30, 2014

It's often interesting to see how hard it is find out specific things that happened in history. I wa doing some research on the East Room of the White House -- where boatloads of press conferences, treaty negotiations, legislation signings, weddings, and funerals have been held.

Of the eight president who died in office, all but one -- James Garfield -- had a lying-in-repose or funeral in the East Room. The two events are different, but historians often seem to confuse them. (Lying-in-repose usually occurs in a more informal setting, and out of public view. Lying-in-state usually occurs in a specific site -- like the U.S. Capitol Rotunda -- and is usually open to the public. In the U.S., the distinction between these two is not often important, as it is in other countries. But we're not talking about the repose/state issue...)

Garfield, of course, died in New Jersey. When his body was brought back to the capital, it went straight to the Rotunda for lying-in-state and a funeral.

William McKinley died in Buffalo, New York. His body lay in repose there for two days, to allow obsequies by the people of Buffalo. He lay in repose in the East Room of the White House less than 12 hours before being taken to the Rotunda for lying-in-state and a funeral.

Warren G. Harding died in San Francisco. His body lay in repose for less than 12 hours, too, before being removed to the Capitol rotunda.

Funny thing is, while there are many books about McKinley, few of them mention him lying in repose in the White House. Some blatantly get it wrong, and say he went directly from Union Station to the rotunda!

Not unexpectedly, there are few books about Warren G. Harding. Almost none mention his funeral in depth.

In order to learn about the history of the East Room in both cases, I had to go into newspaper stories from the era and glean the truth there.

One would think that historians would have done a better job here.........

(I can't find any photos of either funeral, so you get one of JFK being laid in place in the East Room. Notice Jackie, standing in blood-and-brains-spattered pink, by the main door. This photo was taken approximately 4:40 a.m. on November 23, 1963. The body had just returned from Bethesda Naval Hospital.)

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