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The Lincoln catafalque is a catafalque hastily constructed in 1865 to support the casket of Abraham Lincoln while the president's body lay in state in the Capitol Rotunda in Washington, D.C. The catafalque has since been used for all those who have lain in state in the Capitol Rotunda, as listed below. When not in use, the catafalque is kept in the United States Capitol Visitor Center in a small vaulted chamber. It was previously kept in an area called Washington's Tomb, which was originally intended, but never used, as the burial place for the first American president.
No law, written rule, or regulation specifies who may lie in state; use of the Rotunda is controlled by concurrent action of the House and Senate. Any person who has rendered distinguished service to the nation may lie in state if the family so wishes and Congress approves. In the case of unknown soldiers, the President or the appropriate branch of the armed forces initiates the action.
Senators and representatives have lain in state on the catafalque elsewhere in the Capitol. An example of this was when the catafalque was used for the six hours that Senator Robert C. Byrd lay in repose on the Senate floor on July 1, 2010. The catafalque has also been used six times in the Supreme Court Building, for the lying in state of former Chief Justice Earl Warren on July 11–12, 1974; former Justice Thurgood Marshall, January 27, 1993; former Chief Justice Warren Earl Burger, June 28, 1995; former Justice William J. Brennan, Jr., July 28, 1997; Justice Harry A. Blackmun, March 8, 1999, and Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist on September 6–7, 2005. In addition, it was used in the Department of Commerce building on April 9–10, 1996, for the lying in state of Secretary of Commerce Ronald H. Brown.
The catafalque is a simple bier of rough pine boards nailed together and covered with black cloth. Although the base and platform have occasionally been altered to accommodate the larger size of modern coffins and for the ease of the attending military personnel, it is basically the same today as it was in Lincoln's time. Presently the catafalque measures 7 feet 1 inch (216 cm) long, 2 feet 6 inches (76 cm) wide, and 2 feet (61 cm) high. The attached base is 8 feet 10 inches (269 cm) long, 4 feet 3 1⁄2 inches (131 cm) wide, and 2 inches (5 cm) high. The platform is 11 feet 1 inch (338 cm) long, 6 feet (183 cm) wide, and 9 1⁄4 inches (23.5 cm) high. Although the cloth covering the catafalque has been replaced several times, the style of the drapery is similar to that used in 1865.
A list of those who have lain on the catafalque appears below.
- "Catafalque". Architect of the Capitol. Retrieved on September 30, 2009.