Mourning the loss: Tens of thousands view Reagan casket
Boy scouts in khaki shorts and neckerchiefs, office workers with ID tags around their necks, tourists with children in tow, an American Indian in feathered headdress, all came to pay their respects and slowly file past Reagan's casket, draped in the stars and stripes of the American flag.
"I did OK until I got inside and then it was very moving," said Art Kreatschman, 52, of New Windsor, Md., who had stood in line for three hours. "I teared up little."
Jeff Peters of Crofton, Md., brought his 9-year-old son Brandon.
"He'll remember this the rest of his life," Peters said. "It was worth a day off school."
Nancy Reagan, resting at Blair House, the official guest residence across the street from the White House, planned to meet privately with dignitaries including former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, former Japanese Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone, U.S. Ambassador to Japan Howard Baker and his wife, former Sen. Nancy Kassebaum Baker.
"She plans to have a quiet day," said spokeswoman Grier Flinn.
House Speaker Dennis Hastert, a Republican whose district includes Dixon, said at the service there, "Millions of people walk in freedom. Why? Because Ronald Reagan stepped forward."
Official Washington hailed Reagan as "a graceful and gallant man," in Vice President Dick Cheney's words Wednesday night.
Hastert, speaking at the state funeral ceremony opening the 34-hour period of Reagan's lying in state, said, "It is altogether fitting and proper that he has returned to this Capitol Rotunda, like another great son of Illinois, Abraham Lincoln, so the nation can say goodbye."
Once the dignitaries had left, tens of thousands of average Americans began to stream through the Rotunda, undeterred by hours of waiting outside in sweltering heat. The public viewing goes on continuously until Friday morning.
The Capitol sergeant at arms office, which oversees security in the building, estimated 30,000 people had viewed the casket as of 7:30 Thursday morning, said Robert Stevenson, spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn.
At midmorning Thursday, several thousand people stood in a line that snaked along the western end of Capitol Hill and around the Capitol reflecting pool. The mood was serious but not somber. Large fans helped cool those waiting in the steamy heat, and bottled water was available as well. Inside the cool of the building were long, separate lines for congressional staff.
Among those moving through the Rotunda on Thursday were Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, former Sen. Bob Dole of Kansas, a onetime presidential contender, and Paul Wolfowitz, the deputy U.S. defense secretary. Another visitor was Glynn Crooks, 52, of Prior Lake, Minn., who said he is a vice chairman of a Sioux tribe there and wore traditional Indian garb.
He said of Reagan, "He makes me think of the old West, and this is part of the old West."
Reagan's casket lay in state in the center of the Rotunda, a room ringed with statues of some of his predecessors and paintings depicting the founding of the nation.
It rested beneath "that big white dome, bulging with new tax revenues," as Reagan would say in his frequent criticism of the Congress. But the scolding was forgotten Wednesday.
His body was flown in from California on one of President Bush's jets and brought to the Capitol on a century-old, horse-drawn caisson for an honor last accorded a president in 1973 when Lyndon Johnson died.
Crowds 15 deep watched the procession advance slowly up Constitution Avenue. A riderless horse with boots reversed in the stirrups followed the caisson, and drums sounded, marking the cadence of the marchers.
Cheers broke out briefly for Reagan's widow, Nancy, riding in a limousine at the head of the procession. She waved repeatedly, looking wan.
"God bless you, Nancy," a man cried out.
Most members of Congress, much of Bush's Cabinet, four Supreme Court justices and a large contingent of diplomats attended the service. Former Vice President Dan Quayle was one of only a few former officials who crowded into the Rotunda.
Reagan, who died Saturday at 93 at his home in Los Angeles, will be buried Friday in a sunset ceremony on the grounds of his presidential library in Simi Valley, Calif.
Bush planned to come back from the Group of Eight meeting of industrial nations in Georgia on Thursday and, with his wife, Laura, call on Mrs. Reagan and visit the casket.
Bush and his father, who was Reagan's vice president and
succeeded him in the White House, will be among the eulogists Friday.
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