The Funeral

While on Air Force One en route from Dallas to Washington, Jackie placed a phone call to senior members of the White House staff to discuss funeral arrangements and accompanying ceremonies. Jackie was inspired by the way the East Room of the White House had been decorated during Lincoln's funeral and had the aides contact an upholsterer to have the windows and chandelier in the East Room draped with the black fabric. She also wanted the ceremony to be simple, like Lincoln's. Having the funeral to focus on was a way for Jackie to deal with the initial shock and grief of the assassination. Bobby Kennedy met Jackie when Air Force One landed in Washington, D.C. She stayed in her bloodied pink suit until dawn the next morning.


“She was absolutely stoic during the entire time. Most of us journalists felt that she knew about Jack's philandering, and the consensus was that there had been huge fights between them. But Jackie was crazy about him and his death very nearly destroyed her.”

— Muriel Dobbin

Jackie and Bobby planned Jack's funeral together, although it was clearly Jackie who took the lead, supervising every aspect of Jack's burial. She directed the florist to pick flowers from the magnolia tree in the South Lawn. Andrew Johnson had planted it in memory of Abraham Lincoln. Jackie wanted Jack's funeral to echo Lincoln's not just because both men had been assassinated but because she believed Jack had been as much of a visionary as Lincoln had been, and that vision had played a part in his death.


Where did the tradition of the riderless horse come from?

The tradition of a riderless horse dates back to fourteenth century Mongolia, when a horse was sacrificed to accompany a fallen warrior to the next life. In modern times, a riderless horse is used in army and marine funerals. Abraham Lincoln was the first U.S. president to be honored with a riderless horse at his funeral in 1865. Ironically, the riderless horse at Kennedy's funeral was named Black Jack.

On Saturday, November 23, the president's body lay in state at the White House; on Sunday, in the Capitol Rotunda. His closed coffin was draped with an American flag. President Johnson placed a wreath by the casket and dignitaries gave eulogies. Jackie brought Caroline and together they knelt to pray, Caroline reaching under the flag to touch her father's coffin. That same day, millions of Americans watched in shock as Lee Harvey Oswald was murdered on live TV by a Dallas nightclub owner, Jack Ruby.

John F. Kennedy was buried on Monday, November 25, 1963. Jackie and her two children were accompanied by Bobby and Ted Kennedy as they walked behind the horse-drawn caisson that carried Jack's coffin and the riderless horse with empty boots reversed in hanging stirrups.

The funeral service was held at St. Matthew's Cathedral. Instead of burying Jack in Boston, Jackie chose to have him interred at Arlington National Cemetery, explaining, “He belongs to the people.” As the coffin passed by, Jackie leaned over and whispered to her son, who raised his hand in a salute to his father. Jackie kept her composure through the burial. While a formation of fifty fighter jets flew overhead, she lit the eternal flame gun salute was followed by a lone beside Jack's grave. A twenty-one gun salute was followed by a lone bugler playing the mournful notes of “Taps.” After the flag on the coffin was folded and handed to Jackie, the coffin was lowered into the ground.


“I have nothing else to do in life now except to raise my children well, to help them move forward through this terrible thing — otherwise they will be tied forever to their father's death. I have to make sure they survive.”

Jackie, Caroline, and John Jr. depart the Capitol building

Photo Credit: Abbie Rowe, National Park Service/John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston

Jackie leaves the burial site at Arlington National Cemetery

Photo Credit: John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston

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