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Wednesday, June 09, 2004

My First Funeral 

Called by the bizarre, unreasonable sight of Constitution Avenue empty and lifeless during rush hour, Claire and I headed out to check out the funeral procession for Ronald Reagan today.

This is sort of a weird event. It's a funeral, but it's more a spectacle to most of the people there. On the street in front of you, is the somberest of ceremonies, and it's a sad event. But all around you, no one is in anything close to formal attire, people are riding bikes, kids are playing with each other, or lifting cameras into the air to take pictures, others are sitting around bored, everyone is sweating in the first really summer-like day of the year, and it's basically another day for everyone behind the little restraining wall.

Claire and I found a spot to stand and watch near 16th and Constitution. This was the place where the procession started, and the casket was to be taken out of the hearse and loaded onto the caisson. We couldn't get very close to the intersection, as it was already packed, and the media got the little grandstand they built, but we did find a spot a ways down, with a good view of the intersection. In fact, we wound up standing right near the riderless horse and the unloaded caisson. The horse had a sword attached to the saddle, empty brown boots stuck backwards into the stirrups, and its hooves were painted black. A severe marine held onto it, but in those 45 minutes that we stood there waiting, it was just another horse, trying to walk around a bit, and somewhat uncomfortable in the middle of the crowd. Other uniformed officers stood guard at regular intervals in the street, mostly US Park Police, but there were also a huge number of guys in suits with earpieces about. We saw a motorcade leave the White House in the distance, but it didn't come by us (I can only imagine it was Cheney or someone like that leaving for the Capitol). A few suburbans with sirens did shoot by, though (and an ambulance, at one point).

Of course, there were also a large number of major asshats standing about, like the lady in front of us who whipped out an umbrella and held it up, blocking everyone's view, and whacking everyone in the immediate vicinity with it at some point. Or the tall guy in a white shirt who shamelessly disrespected other people's personal space while jockeying for position (and had no awareness of the fact that he was blocking the views of most of the women and children about him). And on a day this hot and humid, you really don't want strangers pressing up against you.

Eventually, the motorcade did come by. It was led by a long string of black Cadillacs, which had home-made signs printed on white paper in the windshield, with things like "PALL BEARER" printed on them. Then the hearse came by, followed by two more columns of black Cadillacs and suburbans. The first Cadillac of the right column, the side closest to us (we were on the south side of Constitution), had Nancy Reagan in the front seat. She waved as the car drove by. The hearse pulled into the road leading up to the Ellipse in front of the White House, and the riderless horse and caisson went up to meet it. Nancy Reagan got out of the Cadillac, to applause from the crowd (a man near me remarked, "She took good care of him, that Nancy. My brother had Alzheimers"). A tall marine took her on his arm, and she went over to the casket as it was loaded onto the caisson. Meanwhile, most of the Cadillacs had the people in them spill out and watch (I noticed they had boxes of Kleenex in the rear windshield, but the boxes were ornate gold and black). After the casket was loaded, Nancy Reagan was escorted back to the limousine, to more applause. Then there was a pause, and nothing happened for several minutes. Finally, the wall of white sailors way down Constitution started marching, and the rest of the procession resumed, to one last round of applause.

Keeping up wouldn't have been practical, so most of the crowd just started to disperse. I thought the applause was a bit weird. Usually applause signifies approval, or enthusiasm. That seems kind of inappropriate for a funeral, but then, how else would people express anything to her and the family.

There you go. Like being there.

Update: CNN has finally posted some pictures of the events I saw.
Nancy Reagan
Loading the Casket
You can keep clicking "Next," but everything else was too far down Constitution to see. Good picture of the riderless horse, though.

Another Update: Apparently Charles Paul Freund of Reason also thought the applause was strange.
Comments:
your post does a good job of placing us there.

i hate those rude insenstive people who act like they are the only ones there or that their actions aren't pissing other people off.

i'd be a little confused about the applause as well. what exactly are they clapping for? to give the reagan's moral support?

go figure.
 
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