Jacqueline Kennedy and Robert Kennedy visit the casket again on Capitol Hill. As they enter the Rotunda, the crowd parts for them and they kneel by the catafalque in prayer. The card on the wreath: “From President Johnson and the Nation.”
|Hundreds of thousands waited through the night for a quick glimpse|
Instead of returning to their car, they decideto walk for a bit among the huge, silent crowds. Mrs. Kennedy speaks to a group of nuns. A reporter asks Robert Kennedy his impression of the crowd (now 200,000 and growing rapidly). Hs says “Fantastic, fantastic.”
Midnight: 100,000 people have passed through the rotunda and gotten a glimpse of the flag-draped casket. Behind them the line stretches three miles. They stand, all night in the November cold. Most know the doors will close before their turn comes. But they stand anyway, silently.
A Mother kneels on the sidewalk, telling her children: “We can pray right here.”
A young man tells his girlfriend they won’t make it to the Rotunda. “I don’t care, I want to stand in line anyway,” she tells him. “It’s the least we can do.”
Thirty-six nuns from New Jersey take their place at the end of the line. Two members of President Kennedy’s PT-109 crew could have gone to the head of the line but refuse.
A woman in a wheelchair, another on crutches limping along, all wait. “There were Virginia farmers in denim, New York women in mink, and – everywhere, it seemed-groups of students, of negroes, and of seamen” practicing their salute to the sailor in the mahogany box.
Among those with no chance of getting in: two teens who walked from Baltimore, 35 miles away and 40 students who arrived from Connecticut at dawn in a chartered bus. No one complains and no one leaves. “They were there,” William Manchester writes. “They had to be there, and just being there was enough.”
Mary McGrory, a journalist saw one young man with a guitar. “Do you know the President’s favorite song?” He didn’t and she told him. Together they sing:
“Won’t you come home, Bill Bailey, won’t you come home?
She moans the whole day long…
Then they sing “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” and the spiritual:
“Hush, little baby, don’t you cry,
You know your Daddy was born to die.
All my trials, Lord, soon be over…
*Manchester, pp. 562-64