Family Declined Option of Having Kennedy Lie in State

Posted August 27, 2009 at 11:20am

Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) had the option of lying in state in the Capitol Rotunda, following in the footsteps of his brother, former President John F. Kennedy.But his family chose instead to have his body lie in repose at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston, where the public will be able to say goodbye to the legendary Senator and last surviving Kennedy brother.Their choice is not uncommon: Though all Members of Congress can lie in state upon their death (with the approval of House and Senate leadership), most of their families never take advantage of the honor.Since Henry Clay became the first person to lie in state in 1852, only 11 Senators (including Clay) have lain in the Rotunda. Claude Pepper, a long-serving Senator and Representative from Florida, was the last Member to do so, in 1989.Assistant Senate Historian Betty Koed called it a “broadly defined honor— that is pursued or declined first by the families of the deceased. Many reasons, she said, could lead relatives to decline the honor — religious beliefs and privacy concerns among them.“There are families who prefer to keep these ceremonies private,— she said. “It’s a very emotional and traumatic experience. It’s not easy to go through that with television cameras around.—For Kennedy’s family, complete privacy was hardly an option: Kennedy’s battle with brain cancer over the past year was followed closely by the press, and his death Tuesday night spawned wide media coverage.His family ultimately decided to allow a public viewing in Boston on Friday but is keeping his burial service at Arlington National Cemetery on Saturday private. But it’s hard to believe an in-state funeral wasn’t discussed.Still, in-state funerals are still relatively rare, though they have become more common. The honor has also been broadened to include people who aren’t elected officials; in 1998, Congressional leaders coined the phrase “lying in honor— when the bodies of two slain Capitol Police officers lay in the Rotunda. The same phrase was used for Rosa Parks, the civil rights pioneer — and former aide to Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) — who became the first woman to lie in state in 2005.