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Mrs. Kennedy Follows Husband’s Coffin to Capitol Rotunda

Nov. 24, 1963 - Mrs. Jacqueline Kennedy, firmly holding the hands of her two children, followed the coffin bearing the body of her husband as it left the White House today for the last time. Her eyes swollen, she moved quietly to the edge of the steps of the North Portico and paused to watch the coffin placed in the caisson by military bearers. Her son, John Jr., tugged at her hand and pointed to a black, riderless horse, part of the ceremonial procession. She leaned down and spoke to him. John Jr. will be 3 years old tomorrow, and Caroline will be 6 on Wednesday. The eerie silence, as the three stood framed against the black-framed doorway, was broken only by the occasional sound of hoofs of the restless gray horses that were to pull the caisson up Pennsylvania Avenue to the Capitol. Mrs. Kennedy was composed but appeared to be on the verge of tears as she and the children stepped into the black limousine for the slow ride to the Capitol. In the car with her were President and Mrs. Johnson and Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy. Still holding the hands of her children, Mrs. Kennedy followed the flag-draped coffin into the Capitol Rotunda. She stared straight ahead as the coffin was placed on the catafalque, a simple funeral bier draped in black broadcloth. John Jr., wide-eyed and bewildered, was restless. Clutching a tiny flag, he was led away by a military aide. There were three brief memorial statements in the Rotunda ceremonies, by Chief Justice Earl Warren, Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield, and House Speaker John McCormack. The expressions could be summed up in one sentence from Mansfield: “He gave that we might give of ourselves, that we might give to one another until there would be no room, no room at all, for bigotry — the hatred, prejudice, and arrogance which converged in that moment of horror to strike him down.” Later, after the tributes had been spoken, Mrs. Kennedy walked slowly to the coffin, touched it with her fingertips, knelt and kissed it. Caroline was by her side. They were rejoined by John Jr. at the door. White House aides declined today to say if the children would attend the funeral service tomorrow at St. Matthew’s Cathedral or the burial, which will be held in Arlington National Cemetery.


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