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Funeral Security to Have 9/11 Edge

Diplomats from 170 countries have been invited. People paying their respects at the U.S. Capitol will have to clear a metal detector.

June 08, 2004|Johanna Neuman and Elizabeth Shogren | Times Staff Writers

WASHINGTON — The funeral of former President Reagan will be steeped in military and diplomatic tradition except for one concession to the times: Washington will cover itself in a blanket of security for the first presidential funeral since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Beginning at 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, Reagan will lie in state in the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol, which will stay open around the clock to allow the public to pay its respects before Friday morning's funeral at Washington National Cathedral.

Hundreds of thousands of people are expected at the Capitol. And every one of them, Capitol police said, will have to clear a metal detector.

Because the east entrance is blocked by construction of a new visitors' center -- recommended in part for security reasons -- Reagan will be the first to lie in state at the Capitol with those paying respects entering from the west.

Reagan was the first president to take the oath of office on the Capitol's west steps instead of the east. He wanted to face west for his 1981 inaugural, according to the Senate historian's office, and that tradition has been observed by the three presidents who succeeded him.

"This is the way nations say goodbye," said Richard A. Baker, Senate historian. "The Capitol is considered the people's house." Just as the president comes to the Capitol to be inaugurated, he returns after his death, Baker said, "as a gesture of the nation's esteem and farewell."

Diplomats from 170 countries have been invited to attend the funeral Friday, the first of a former president at the National Cathedral since Dwight D. Eisenhower's in 1969. As of late Monday, 20 nations had said they would send their heads of state.

Many world leaders who served with Reagan, most famously former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and former Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev, are planning to attend. All eight leaders of the industrialized powers, meeting this week in Sea Island, Ga., are expected to fly to Washington for the funeral. All four living former presidents -- Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush, Jimmy Carter and Gerald R. Ford -- have been invited.

A loyal core of Reagan's Hollywood friends, including entertainer-businessman Merv Griffin and Charles Z. Wick, a movie industry investor who once led the U.S. Information Agency, also are expected.

For the first time since Lyndon B. Johnson's funeral in 1973, a former president's body will be escorted to the Capitol on a caisson drawn by a riderless horse. Boots will be placed backward in the stirrups, the symbol of a fallen rider. Twenty-one F-15 fighter planes will fly north over 4th Street to accompany the casket, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.

And in the Rotunda, Reagan's casket -- wrapped in an American flag -- will be placed on the black-draped pine catafalque, or stand, that was first used when Abraham Lincoln's body lay in state there in 1865.

Thousands of people are expected to line the route from the Washington Monument to the Capitol on Wednesday night and again from the Capitol to the cathedral on Friday morning, saying goodbye to the former actor often called the Gipper, for his role as George Gipp in "Knute Rockne All American."

Out of respect, the campaigns of President Bush and Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), the presumed Democratic nominee, announced Monday that they would observe a truce in the presidential ad wars, suspending commercials Friday. Bush has declared Friday a national day of mourning.

The New York Stock Exchange, Nasdaq Stock Market and American Stock Exchange will be closed Friday.

The Department of Homeland Security has designated all Reagan memorial activities in Washington as a national special security event, which puts the Secret Service in charge of planning and coordinating security. The three-day tribute will see thousands of uniformed officers, plain-clothes agents and SWAT team members on duty.

Washington Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey said at a news briefing Monday that the city had received no threats, but added: "In a post-9/11 world, we have to be aware of the potential for something to happen."

Times staff writers Nick Anderson, Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar, Maura Reynolds and Rich Simon in Washington and Patt Morrison in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

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