Saturday November 24, 1963
November 24 was the day President Kennedy’s body would be carried from the White House to the rotunda of the Capitol Building.
On Sunday morning at 11 a.m. a private Mass for the family and close friends was held in the East Room. That day, Jackie Kennedy asked for the casket to be opened. She placed inside three notes, one from herself and each of the children, a scrimshaw and cuff links. Personal items from her to him. She took a lock of his hair.
Now the moments would be public ones. Mrs. Kennedy understood that her husband was the President of the United States and that there were now formalities to observe. Her instinctive sense of style and propriety would be like a softly gloved hand covering the proceedings.
She emerged on the portico of the White House. Young Caroline and John-John in their matching pale blue coats by her side. Caroline wore a black mourning band in her hair.
While John was too young to understand the full import of the day, Caroline seemed to sense the mood perfectly and as we watched, mimicked her mother’s decorum.
Jackie Kennedy’s eyes would frequently seemed transfixed on the flag draped coffin as it was borne to the Capitol.
Three euologies were delivered at the Rotunda. First came Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield, then Chief Justice Earl Warren, followed by Speaker of the House John McCormack.
Young John became a bit restless and was taken to the Speaker’s office so as not to disrupt the solemn occasion.
President Johnson laid a wreath on behalf of the American people.Utterly unexpected and unplanned, Jackie Kennedy with Caroline approached the coffin. Perhaps she just wasn’t ready to leave him. Kneeling, she kissed the flag while Caroline’s little hand reached under to touch.
After the proceedings, the public was allowed to come inside and pay their respects. Some 250,000 people stood in line for hours and hours to pass by the coffin.
Later that night, Jackie and Bobby Kennedy quietly returned to the rotunda. They were recognized but people were too respectful to cause any trouble. Jackie Kennedy began walking outside, perhaps just to get a bit of air. After a brief time the Secret Service and Bobby managed to escort her back to the waiting limousine.
All through the night, they passed in quiet regard. When it became necessary to close the doors at 9 a.m. the next day, there were still thousands waiting.