Last Salute: Civil and Military Funeral, 1921-1969
Senator Robert A. Taft
Funeral Without Formal Classification
31 July-4 August 1953
Robert A. Taft, son of former President William Howard Taft and renowned
Republican senator from Ohio, died of cancer in a New York City hospital
on 31 July 1953. The Senate, promptly adopting a resolution offered
by Senator William F. Knowland of California, the acting Republican
floor leader, ordered a State Funeral to be held for Mr. Taft on 3 August.
Under funeral plans and policies published in 1949 and then in force,
a State Funeral was conducted only for a President, former President,
President-elect, or "other persons when specifically designated
by the President of the United States." The Senate resolution hence
was extraordinary. But since the U.S. Congress controls the use of the
Capitol itself and a State Funeral is distinguished by the period of
lying in state in the Capitol rotunda, there was authority for the Senate
Nor was established procedure followed in delegating the responsibility
for arranging the funeral of Senator Taft. According to current directives,
the Commanding General, Military District of Washington, was "the
designated representative of the President of the United States for
the purpose of making all arrangements including participation of all
Armed Forces and coordination with the State Department for participation
of all branches of the Government and Diplomatic Corps" for a State
Funeral. But in arranging the ceremonies for Senator Taft, the Senate
assumed responsibility and the Military District of Washington handled
only armed forces participation.
Except for the lying in state period at the Capitol, the ceremonies
planned by Senate officials, working closely with the Taft family, were
decidedly different from the current prescriptions for a State Funeral.
On 2 August Senator Taft's body was to be brought from New York to Washington
and taken to the Capitol to lie in state in the rotunda, which was to
be open to the public from 1500 to 2100. At noon on 3 August a memorial
service was to be held in the rotunda, attended by the Taft family,
invited civil and military officials, and members of the diplomatic
corps. Immediately after this service the Senator's body was to be flown
to Cincinnati, home of the Taft family, where, as the family wished,
a private funeral service and burial were to take place on 4 August.
In none of the
movements was there to be the large military escort and cortege described
in the existing concept of a State Funeral.
Early on 2 August Air Force officers from Mitchel Field, Long Island,
arrived by sedan at the Frank E. Campbell Funeral Home in New York,
where Senator Taft's body had been taken on 31 July, to escort the body
to the airfield from which it would be flown to Washington. The hearse
bearing the casket and the sedan carrying the escorts left the funeral
establishment about 0900. At Mitchel Field the casket was put aboard
a plane furnished by the Military Air Transport Service. Two of Senator
Taft's four sons, Robert A. Taft, Jr., and Lloyd B. Taft, and their
wives had come from Cincinnati to accompany the body on the flight to
Washington. Another son and his wife met the plane at Washington National
Airport. Body bearers and a guard of honor representing all of the armed
forces except the Coast Guard handled the casket and acted as escort
to the Capitol.
At the Capitol the Lincoln catafalque, which in 1930 had held the casket
of Senator Taft's father, stood in the center of the rotunda, with several
floral pieces nearby. (The Taft family had requested that no flowers
be sent, preferring that any offerings be made in the form of gifts
to charities.) When the small procession from the airport reached the
Capitol, the casket was borne into the rotunda and placed on the catafalque
and an honor guard, representing the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and Air
Force and organized into reliefs by service, immediately took post at
From 1500 until 2100 on 2 August, the rotunda was open to the public.
Persons paying their respects entered the west door of the rotunda,
filed by the closed casket in two lines, one on either side of the bier,
and left by the east door. By 2 100 between 30,000 and 35,000 people
had passed through the hall.
During the morning of 3 August, in preparation for the noontime memorial
service, the casket and catafalque were moved from the center of the
rotunda to a position near the west entrance, and the floral pieces
were rearranged around the bier. Some 900 chairs, which fairly filled
the chamber, were set up. No facilities for photographic, radio, or
televised coverage of the ceremony were allowed.
In the Senate resolution ordering the State Funeral for Senator Taft,
invitations to the memorial service were extended to President Dwight
D. Eisenhower and his cabinet, the entire House of Representatives,
all justices of the Supreme Court, the military chiefs of all the uniformed
services, including the chairman of the joint Chiefs of Staff, and representatives
of the diplomatic corps. General of the Army Douglas MacArthur, a friend
of Mr. Taft's for many years, received Mrs. Taft's personal invitation
to attend. An invitation from the Senate also had gone to former President
Harry S. Truman, but he was not able to attend.
Within the hour before the scheduled beginning of the service, the US
Marine Band took seats in the rotunda to play during the arrival of
the invited audience. At 1140, as the band began "America the Beautiful,"
the members of the Senate entered the rotunda by the north door, marching
two abreast but in no
special order of seniority. Next to enter were the Chief Justice of
the United States and associate justices of the Supreme Court. Then,
through the south door, came the members of the House of Representatives.
General and Mrs. MacArthur, and the general's aide, Maj. Gen. Courtney
Whitney, and Mrs. Whitney entered about the same time, followed by invited
military dignitaries. The diplomatic corps representatives were next
to arrive. Mrs. Taft, who was an invalid, then entered in a wheelchair,
escorted by two of her sons. Her other two sons followed. About five
minutes before noon the last of the guests-President and Mrs. Eisenhower
and the members of the cabinet-came into the rotunda.
Upon the arrival of the President and his party, the Marine honor guard
on duty at the bier was replaced by a relief that included a soldier,
a sailor, an airman, and a marine. After two minutes of silence
had been observed, the Reverend Frederick Brown Harris, the Senate Chaplain,
stood before the casket and offered the invocation. Senator John W.
Bricker, Mr. Taft's Republican colleague from Ohio, then rose and delivered
a eulogy. When Senator Bricker had finished, the Reverend Bernard Braskamp,
Chaplain of the House of Representatives, gave the benediction, and
the Marine Band concluded the service by playing the national anthem.
Shortly after the memorial service, Senator Taft's casket was taken
from the rotunda and, under escort, returned to Washington National
Airport, where it was placed aboard a plane of the Military Air Transport
Service for the flight to Cincinnati. Two of the Senator's sons, their
wives, and I. Jack Martin, who had been an administrative assistant
to Mr. Taft, accompanied the body on the flight. Mrs. Taft and the remaining
members of her family took a later plane for Lunken Airport in Cincinnati.
The plane bearing Senator Taft's body landed at the Greater Cincinnati
Airport in Boone County, Kentucky. Morticians of the Schaefer and Busby
funeral establishment of Cincinnati met the plane. Kentucky state highway
patrolmen and Cincinnati motorcycle police escorted the hearse bearing
the casket from the airport to the funeral establishment, where the
body was to remain until the funeral service on 4 August.
Actually, two funeral services were conducted for Senator Taft on 4
August, both at noon. The private service was held in Indian Hill Church,
a Protestant Episcopal-Presbyterian Church which the Tafts attended
in the suburb where they had lived for many years. A public service
was held in downtown Cincinnati in the Christ Protestant Episcopal Church
to accommodate the many friends of Senator Taft who would be unable
to attend the private service. Arranged by Mayor Carl W. Rich of Cincinnati,
it was conducted jointly by the Right Reverend Henry Wise Hobson, bishop
of the Episcopal Diocese of Southern Ohio, and the Reverend Morris F.
Arnold, rector of Christ Church.
The private service was conducted by the Reverend Luther M. Tucker,
rector of Indian Hill Church. Following the funeral service, Senator
Taft was buried in
Indian Hill Church Cemetery; he was the first person to be buried there.
It was Mrs. Taft's wish that her husband's grave be close to the Taft