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Small But Poignant Details From JFK’s Funeral

Updated May 7, 2021 21.3k views12 items

President John F. Kennedy's funeral on November 25, 1963, was one of the most watched events in history. About 41.5 million (out of 50 million homes with TVs) mourned the shocking and tragic death of America's 35th president of the United States by viewing JFK's funeral and procession. Many Americans still remember where they were when they heard about his passing. 

But JFK's service was also a personal moment of grieving for the Kennedy family and other attendees. First lady Jackie Kennedy added many small details to the ceremony, honoring her husband's life and military career. Many of these personal touches have become some of the most unforgettable images of the 20th century.

  • Jackie Kennedy Used Details And Protocols From Abraham Lincoln’s 1865 Service

    The first lady modeled much of her husband's service on Abraham Lincoln's. As with Lincoln's body, Kennedy's was first brought to the White House East Room, and both presidents lay in rest at the US Capitol. 

    Lincoln's catafalque, a structure that covered the 16th president's coffin while it lay in rest in the Capitol, was brought out of storage for the display of JFK's casket. 

    But although Kennedy was buried three days after his assassination, Lincoln's body remained in Washington, DC, from April 15-21, 1865. The body then traveled on a multi-city train journey, ending in Lincoln's birthplace of Springfield, IL, where he was interred on May 4. 

  • A Young JFK Jr. Struggled To Learn The Proper Salute 

    The sight of 3-year-old John F. Kennedy Jr. saluting his father's casket, captured by UPI photographer Stan Stearns, is one of the most indelible images from President Kennedy's service, but a lot more went into it than it might appear. According to Clint Hill, a Secret Service agent assigned to the family detail, in the months before the service, Jackie Kennedy had requested that JFK Jr. visit the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier with his father. He tried to learn the proper saluting technique for the visit, but kept using his left hand, and struggled for months to get it right.

    On the morning of the service, a Marine colonel showed JFK Jr. the proper right-handed technique. As his father's casket passed by, JFK Jr. gave the correct salute. 

  • Photo: Abbie Rowe / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Jackie Kennedy Requested Two Priests Stay With JFK’s Body In The White House

    John F. Kennedy was the nation's first Roman Catholic president and deeply faithful. After the president's remains arrived from Dallas at around 4:30 on Saturday morning, his body was transferred to the White House East Room and stayed there for the rest of that day. 

    The first lady asked two Catholic priests to stay with JFK's body and pray over him for the night until he was relocated to the US Capitol the following day. Two priests from the Catholic University of America in Washington, DC, Msgr. Robert Paul Mohan and the Rev. Gilbert Hartke, were chosen for the task

  • JFK’s Body Was Carried From The Capitol To His Resting Place In A Horse-Drawn Cart That Had Also Carried FDR And The Unknown Soldier

    Kennedy received a military service with full honors, which every president is entitled to. For the procession from the Capitol Rotunda to the service at St. Matthew's Cathedral, and the president's interment at Arlington National Cemetery, his body was transported on a caisson, a wheeled vehicle traditionally used for military services since the time of Napoleon. 

    The caisson used for JFK's service was the same one used for President Franklin Roosevelt's in 1944, and for the dedication ceremony of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in 1921.