It was a chilly November morning in 1963 when a horse-drawn caisson carried the coffin of former President John F. Kennedy down Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House. First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy orchestrated the event, modeling it after Abraham Lincoln’s 1865 state funeral. On a day of shock and grief, Kennedy’s funeral was nevertheless moving, unforgettable event.
The Assassination of John F. Kennedy
Only three days before the funeral, President Kennedy had been riding in a motorcade through Dallas, Texas when he was shot and killed by Lee Harvey Oswald. The car sped off to Parkland Memorial Hospital, where the 35th President of the United States was pronounced dead 30 minutes after the shooting. The news was announced by a solum Walter Cronkite on a CBS News special viewed by millions of Americans.
That afternoon, a grim Lyndon B. Johnson was sworn into office. A grief-stricken Jackie Kennedy attended the ceremony still wearing her bloodstained pink suit. After the brief ceremony, the new president and the late president were both flown on Air Force One back to the Andrews Air Force base. Once in Washington D.C., Kennedy’s body was taken to the White House’s East Room and placed on the same catafalque used at Lincoln’s funeral.
On November 24, President Kennedy’s casket was moved from the White House to the Capitol rotunda by a horse-drawn caisson and a Marine Corps honor guard. During the 21 hours that the president’s body lay in state in the U.S. Capitol, more than 250,000 mourners filed by to pay their respects.
The Day of JFK’s Funeral
On November 25, millions of television viewers tuned in to watch President Kennedy’s funeral. They watched as members of the Kennedy family — including Mrs. Kennedy and Robert F. Kennedy, and Edward Kennedy — along with government officials and other mourners accompanied the funeral procession to St. Matthew’s Cathedral, the place of the funeral mass. The somber parade included a military escort, band, and a symbolic riderless horse with boots reversed in the stirrups, in addition to the six horses pulling Kennedy’s flag-draped casket.
The funeral mass was presided over by the Archbishop of Boston, Richard Cardinal Cushing. The service was attended by former Presidents Truman and Eisenhower, in addition to more than 53 heads of state and 220 foreign dignitaries from 92 nations. After the funeral services, Kennedy’s three-year-old son, John Jr., saluted his father’s coffin as it left the cathedral. The horse-drawn caisson carried the president’s body to be laid to rest at the Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.
During the burial, fifty military jets soar overhead in three formations, followed by Air Force One. To close the stirring funeral, Mrs. Kennedy, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, and Senator Edward M. Kennedy light the eternal flame at the grave.