Ford Funeral Reflects Modest Man, Modest Presidency

Synonymous with ceremony, state funerals for American presidents are coordinated with their family members so the event can be tailored to family wishes and reflect the personality of the deceased.

Americans recall images of the solemn gravity that marked President John F. Kennedy's funeral in the days following his 1963 assassination; the bypass of Washington altogether when President Richard Nixon died; and, most recently, the regal pageantry that accompanied President Ronald Reagan's state funeral two years ago.

In comparison, President Gerald Ford's state funeral is expected to be considerably more modest, a reflection of an unassuming man and an accidental commander in chief.

Ford assumed the presidency following Nixon's post-Watergate resignation and was said to have brought the quiet decency of his Midwestern upbringing to the White House for the two-and-a-half years he held office.

Ford sent shock waves through the nation a month after taking office when he pardoned Nixon, a decision he stood by for the rest of his life, though it cost him his re-election.

At the time, Ford said he pardoned Nixon so that the country could move forward. Audio tapes released this week revealed a close friendship between the two men that played a role in the pardon.

Speaking on behalf of the Military District of Washington, Barbara Owens told The Associated Press Thursday that the Ford family asked for several elements of the traditional state funeral procession to be excluded from the ceremony, likely according to Ford's own wishes.

Ford's casket will be driven to the Capitol in a hearse rather than in a horse-drawn wagon; the flyover of 21 fighter aircraft, which traditionally takes place in Washington, will happen in Grand Rapids, Mich., where Ford will be buried.

State Funerals Past

State funerals for deceased presidents have not always been the norm.

Many of the nation's founders shunned the idea of state funerals, citing the pomp, circumstance and pageantry that came with them as a vestige of British rule.

The United States proclaimed its first general mourning when Benjamin Franklin died in 1790. The next came nine years later with the death of George Washington. Washington's funeral was a local affair in Mount Vernon, Va., performed with military honors.

The first state presidential funeral was for William Henry Harrison who died in 1841, shortly after taking office.

The first nationwide period of mourning came after Abraham Lincoln's assassination in 1865. By that time, communications technology had evolved to a point where the news spread across the country and allowed the nation to mourn as one.

Lincoln was the first president to lie in state in the Capitol Rotunda. The catafalque, a wooden construction covered with black cloth and used to support Lincoln's casket, has been used for all those who have lain in state in the Rotunda since 1865 -- a total of 10 U.S. presidents.

Honoring the 38th President

On Friday afternoon in Palm Desert, Calif., eight U.S. servicemen carried Ford's casket past his widow, former first lady Betty Ford, into their hometown church. The public viewing that began at St. Margaret's Episcopal Church in California marked the beginning of six days of mourning for the former president.

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