On Wednesday, monumental depictions of American history and life-sized statues of its icons served as the backdrop in the Capitol Rotunda as visitors, some entering the historic chamber for the first time, paid their respects to former President George H.W. Bush. The murals and frescoed dome only added to the remembrance of Bush, who lie in state aboard the Lincoln Catafalque, as guests orbited the center of the room.
As ABC News reports, Bush once asked whether anyone at all would attend his funeral and lying in state service.
President George H.W. Bush once said about his funeral and lying in state, “Do you think anyone will come?”
On Wednesday, after thousands of teary-eyed visitors waited hours in the December cold to pay their respects to the late president in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda, hundreds of dignitaries, heads of state and family members gathered at the Washington National Cathedral for a state funeral honoring his life and answering his humble question with a resounding “yes.”
“Soldiers, citizens in wheelchairs and long lines of others on foot wound through the hushed Capitol Rotunda on Tuesday to view George H.W. Bush’s casket and remember a president whose legacy included World War military service and a landmark law affirming the rights of the disabled,” Fox5 reports. “Bob Dole, a compatriot in war, peace and political struggle, steadied himself out of his wheelchair and saluted his old friend and one-time rival.”
Bush, even in his death, maintained his unique ability to motivate people to reach higher, be better, and respect one another amid their differences. Several of the visitors waited more than two hours in nearly freezing temperatures before they entered the Rotunda.
People lined up before dawn to pay respects to the 41st president, a son and father of privilege now celebrated by everyday citizens for his common courtesies and depth of experience.
“He was so qualified, and I think he was just a decent man,” said Sharon Terry, touring Washington with friends from an Indianapolis garden club. Said her friend Sue Miller, also in line for the viewing: “I actually think I underestimated him when he was in office. My opinion of him went up seeing how he conducted himself as a statesman afterward.”
Fred Curry, one of the few African-Americans in line, is a registered Democrat from Hyattsville, Maryland, who voted for Bush in 1988, the election won by the one-term president. “Honestly I just liked him,” he said. “He seemed like a sincere and decent man and you couldn’t argue with his qualifications.”
Official White House Photo by Joyce N. Boghosian
The New Yorker reports tens of thousands of people passed through the chamber between Monday and Wednesday:
There was no V.I.P. line, but there were V.I.P.s. In the early afternoon, a tall man in a black double-breasted suit walked in from the Senate side of the Rotunda, accompanied by a pair of Capitol Police officers. They uncordoned a stanchion, and allowed him to step in and view the casket; he did so for about fifteen seconds before stepping back out and walking away. Particularly important people are granted time very close to the casket. Former Senator Bob Dole’s assisted salute to it was televised and went viral. Another group admitted to the space on Tuesday afternoon included the Presidential biographer Jon Meacham, who eulogized Bush at Wednesday’s state funeral.
By that point on Tuesday, a docent with a hand counter told me that more than seventy-eight hundred visitors had come into the Rotunda. Ten thousand had come through on Monday.
A more personal and private service was held on Thursday for Bush in Houston. There, family and friends gathered for a final time to honor the fallen president.
ABC News has more:
The nation’s farewell to President George H.W. Bush is ending in his adopted home state of Texas, when, after a more intimate service for family and friends Thursday, he will be buried where he had long hoped to be: next to his wife, Barbara, and their daughter, Robin, who broke their hearts when she died at age 3 of leukemia.
At the Texas funeral, he was eulogized by his longtime best friend, James Baker, who became his secretary of state and was with him in his last days and hours.
Baker described Bush as “a truly beautiful human being.”
“Man’s glory begins and ends with friends,” Baker said, speaking highly of Bush and the relationship the two maintained for many years.
“I’m about to do something you always hated — brag about yourself,” Baker continued. “I will do this because it must be done.”
Baker praised Bush as a “charter member of the greatest generation,” one of the “finest” individuals to ever serve in the White House. He also said Bush would exemplified respect in choosing “humility toward and not humiliation of” his opposition.