Surprising Things That Must Happen When a President or First Lady Dies
Ever wonder what happens when a president dies? From who decides on funeral plans (page 4) to the exact speed a procession must occur at (page 7) to the honors the receive at the time of burial (page 15), we share the surprising things that must happen when a president dies, ahead.
1. State funerals
Presidential funerals are called state funerals and are available to any sitting or former president, a president-elect, and other officials approved by the president.
Next: The presidents have to do this during their first week in office.
2. Presidents plan their funeral during their first week in office
One of the first things a president does after inauguration day is sit down with White House officials and plan their own funeral.
Next: Funeral traditions date back to the 1800s.
3. State funerals have deep-rooted traditions
When it comes to presidential funerals — for current and former presidents — there are specific rules and guidelines that must be followed. And while the president and family wishes are taken into account, the deep-rooted traditions must also be considered.
Presidential funeral guidelines may date back to the 1800s, but they aren’t as outdated as you might think. They haven’t seen a drastic change, but have been updated here and there over the years.
Next: Who decides on funeral plans
4. Funeral planners work with the family
Whether it’s the funeral of a current president or former president, the family is not in it alone. Following their family member’s death, they work with White House funeral planners to ensure all of their requests are met and the funeral plans fall in line with the presidential guidelines.
Next: Who escorts the family following an official death announcement
5. Military escort
Following the death of a president, former president, or president-elect, the commanding general of the Joint Force Headquarters National Capital Region will offer military escort to the family. This begins at the time of the official announcement and stays in effect until interment.
Next: What happens the day after a president dies
6. The day after a president dies
On the day after a president, former president, or president-elect dies, the military will honor the official with one gun fired every half hour.
On the day of the burial, a 21-gun salute is ordered at noon, followed by a 50-gun salute (in representation of the 50 states) and lowering of the flag.
Next: The funeral procession must be this speed.
7. The procession must move at 20 miles per hour
Every detail is taken into account — including, how fast the procession moves. Typically, the funeral procession is 20 miles per hour. Having this as the standard helps planners ensure ahead of time how to time everything out.
Next: Where the funeral takes place
8. Not all of it takes place in Washington
Presidential funerals are a big ordeal, and Washington, D.C., is usually involved. That said, not all of it has to take place in the nation’s capital. In fact, it’s not uncommon for a service to also be held in the president’s (or first lady’s) hometown.
Next: One of two services
9. Private service
Speaking of hometowns, it’s not uncommon for a private funeral and burial to be held for family members in the president’s hometown (typically at a building with significant ties to the family, such as a presidential library).
Next: How religion comes into play
10. National funeral service
In addition to a private service, a national funeral service is held at Washington National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. The service typically has a religious theme — depending on the president’s faith — and many heads of state, royalty, dignitaries, and government officials attend.
Next: Laws set in place during a presidential funeral
11. Flags at half-staff
Following a president or first lady’s death, the sitting president will issue a presidential proclamation that allows for all American flags to be flown at half-staff for 30 days. By law, all government buildings, public schools, offices, and military bases must participate.
Next: The president has to sign an executive order for this.
12. National day of mourning
A president will also sign an executive order that authorizes the closure of federal buildings, agencies, and departments for a national day of mourning.
Next: Before the burial, a president’s body rests here.
13. White House viewings
Sitting presidents and their immediate family members are the only ones allowed to lie in the White House for viewing.
Next: The place of burial
Presidents and first ladies are often buried in tombs, crypts, or in the grounds at a location close the the family’s heart. This could be a place of residence, a presidential library, or even inside a cathedral.
Next: A president receives this honor at the time of the burial.
15. Military honors
Presidents receive full military honors at the time of burial for their role as commander in chief of the United States Armed Forces. To mark this, seven honor guards form a rifle party and fire a three-volley salute over the grave site. In addition, a fighter aircraft from the Air Force performs a flyover in missing man formation.
Next: Jacqueline Kennedy’s funeral request for John F. Kennedy
16. Impression matters
For some presidents and their families, the funeral’s impression is very important. So much so that they will even model the funeral after a past president’s. Case in point: John F. Kennedy’s funeral. Jacqueline Kennedy modeled his funeral after President Abraham Lincoln’s.
Next: Who sits next to whom
17. Seating charts
Where does everyone sit at a State Funeral? According to Fox News, “The presidential party is followed by chiefs of state, arranged alphabetically by the English spelling of their countries. Royalty representing chiefs of state come next, and then heads of governments followed by other officials.”
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