The Capitol dome became the focus for a nation in mourning for former President Ronald Reagan, whose remains were delivered by horse-drawn caisson yesterday to the Rotunda, where he will lie in state through tomorrow morning.
Surrounded by statues of the nation’s greatest heroes, including George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln, Vice President Dick Cheney eulogized Mr. Reagan.
“Ronald Reagan was more than a historic figure. He was a providential man who came along just when our nation and the world most needed him,” Mr. Cheney said. “And believing as he did that there is a plan at work in each life, he accepted not only the great duties that came to him, but also the great trials that came near the end.”
Several groups of eight pall bearers, two from each branch of the armed services in each group, carried Mr. Reagan’s body up the steps of the West Front, over the spot where he was sworn in as 40th president in 1981, and into the nation’s grandest funeral parlor, the majestic Rotunda that stands at the center of the Capitol and, therefore, the city of Washington.
Mr. Reagan had been here before — he made history in 1985 when he took his second oath of office inside the Rotunda, the first president to do so, driven indoors by a bitter January day. And, in 1984, he honored the unknown soldier from the Vietnam War.
Attendance in the chamber was restricted to members of Congress, the Washington diplomatic corps, justices from the Supreme Court, President Bush’s Cabinet, and Reagan family and a few friends. Some of the members of Congress, trying to see over the standing-room crowd, stood on the benches.
Mr. Reagan’s wife, Nancy, sat throughout the solemn 45-minute ceremony, while her husband was eulogized by Mr. Cheney, House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert and Senate President Pro Tempore Ted Stevens.
Mr. Hastert, Illinois Republican, noted Mr. Reagan’s Midwestern roots.
“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,’” Mr. Hastert said.
Mr. Cheney said the former president was different from many of those Washington often honors, though, because his stature has only grown as history continues to judge him right.
“It’s the nature of the city of Washington that men and women arrive, leave their mark and go their way. Some figures who seemed quite large and important in their day are sometimes forgotten or remembered with ambivalence,” the vice president said. “Yet, nearly a generation after the often impatient debates of the Reagan years, what lingers from that time is almost all good. And this is because of the calm and kind man who stood at the center of events.”
Earlier in the day, crowds 30 deep in places lined Constitution Avenue in the 90-degree heat to watch the former president’s casket pass.
Thousands more lined up outside the Capitol to pay respects, waiting until the conclusion of the official, invitation-only state funeral ceremony for the opportunity to walk past the flag-draped casket.
Police have said that they expect up to 150,000 mourners to pass through before 7 a.m. tomorrow.
The remains of the former president, who died Saturday at 93 after years of battling Alzheimer’s disease, arrived at Andrews Air Force Base on board Air Force Two, and a funeral procession carried the casket to the corner of 16th Street and Constitution Avenue downtown.
Along the route into the District, flag-waving crowds lined Suitland Parkway, Interstate 395 and the George Washington Parkway, welcoming Mr. Reagan on his last visit to Washington.
When the hearse stopped in front of the White House at about 6 p.m. to deposit the casket to the caisson, the traditional two-wheeled military wagon, the crowd gave Mrs. Reagan, escorted by Maj. Gen. Galen B. Jackman, a spirited round of applause.
For much of the procession, however, the crowd was respectfully quiet as the casket passed, and a military band played. Behind the caisson came the riderless horse, Sgt. York, with Mr. Reagan’s own riding boots reversed in the stirrups — symbolizing the passing of a great leader.
At Fourth Street, 21 F-15 military jets flew over in tribute, drawing another round of cheers from the crowd. The fighters roared by in four formations, with one breaking away and racing skyward in honor of the “missing man.”
Inside the Rotunda, the closed casket was placed on a three-foot high catafalque, a simple bier of pine boards constructed in 1865 for the casket of President Lincoln and used for state funerals since then.
President Bush will pay his respects in the Rotunda at 7 p.m.
Before arriving in Washington, the body lay in state in California, where more than 100,000 waited in lines for hours to pay respects to the one-time movie actor and former governor.
There was one security scare at 4:35 p.m., when an airplane veered into restricted air space near the Capitol.
Wire services reported that the plane was carrying Kentucky Gov. Ernie Fletcher. Police evacuated the Capitol and everyone standing in line outside, in what was momentarily a chaotic scene.
“There is an inbound aircraft. You have three minutes. Run,” officers shouted at lawmakers, dignitaries, journalists and staffers rushing out of the Capitol, while others shouted, “This is not a drill.”
Some women took off their shoes and ran, as police directed people to get away from the Capitol. The run was hard on some staffers, and one woman collapsed in the grass near the Hart Senate Office Building. Within minutes, however, police issued a report of “all clear.”
Heat created some problems for those in attendance. The Associated Press reported that more than 100 were treated for heat-related health problems.
Metro provided free shuttle-bus service to the Capitol from RFK Stadium’s Lot Three through the night and will do the same tonight. Metro will run three 60-seat buses every 15 minutes, from 11:30 p.m. until 6 a.m. Metrorail will operate on its normal schedule of 5:30 a.m. to midnight. Parking at RFK is free and monitored by Metropolitan Police.
President Bush has declared tomorrow a national holiday in remembrance of Mr. Reagan, and the federal and city governments will be closed, though essential security and public services will remain in operation.
Mr. Reagan’s national funeral service tomorrow at the Washington National Cathedral is by invitation only, and the State Department has reserved seating for more than 100 foreign dignitaries, including more than a dozen heads of state.
President Bush will eulogize Mr. Reagan, as will his father, former President George Bush, former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney. Mikhail Gorbachev, who as leader of the Soviet Union had worked with Mr. Reagan to end the Cold War, also will be in attendance.
Former Presidents Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford also plan to attend, as do Supreme Court justices, members of Congress and foreign dignitaries. German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi will attend, and Britain’s Prince Charles will represent the royal family.
The ceremony could represent the largest gathering of world leaders ever in this country.
Because the Department of Homeland Security has designated Mr. Reagan’s funeral a special security event, the Secret Service is heading up security, coordinating the efforts of thousands of police and federal agents in a plan that had been in place but was finalized in less than a week.
The body will be flown back to Simi Valley, Calif., tomorrow afternoon for a burial at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library overlooking the Pacific Ocean. A spokesman said last night that the Reagan family could not release the names of all who will attend that ceremony.
James Morrison, Frank Petrignani and Tarron Lively contributed to this report.