WASHINGTON — Sen. Robert C. Byrd, the longest-serving senator in history, often told his colleagues that he loved them, but he loved the Senate more. Fittingly, that's where Washington will bid him farewell on Thursday, when his body will lie in repose before returning home to West Virginia for a public funeral.
Byrd's final appearance on the Senate floor, where he became famous for soaring oratory and record-setting speeches, will be as historic as the senator himself. A senator's casket last lay in repose there in 1959, the year Byrd joined the chamber. He was the longest-serving member of Congress ever and was third in line to the presidency.
Byrd died early Monday at 92 after being hospitalized for dehydration, his office said. Few outside his family had known of his condition.
From Washington to Byrd's beloved West Virginia, lawmakers, aides, law enforcement officials and journalists spent much of Tuesday on preparations for the event. The Senate was expected to approve a resolution to allow Byrd's casket to lie in repose within the chamber.
Byrd's journey to his final resting place near his wife, Erma, stretches from Washington to Charleston, W.Va., to Arlington, Va., for burial on Tuesday.
Byrd's office said the hearse carrying the senator's casket will arrive at the Senate steps at 9:45 a.m. on Thursday, where an honor guard will carry it into the Senate chamber. There, it will be placed on the same catafalque built to support President Abraham Lincoln's coffin and has been used for those of Presidents John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, Ronald Reagan and others.
At 10:15 a.m. the public galleries above the Senate floor will be opened for viewing while Byrd's family receives members of the House and Senate. Chaplain Barry Black will offer prayer at 10:30 a.m., according to the schedule.
Six hours after the casket's arrival, Byrd will leave the Senate for the last time. A hearse will take it to Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland for a flight to Charleston.
West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin's office said Byrd's body will lie in repose in the state capitol's Rotunda from 9 p.m. Thursday to 9 a.m. Friday. The public will be permitted to pay respects to Byrd during the 12-hour viewing, which will be followed by a memorial service. The White House said President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden will attend.
Back in Washington, there is ample precedent for memorial ceremonies in the Senate chamber, but none has occurred since North Dakota Republican William Langer's funeral in 1959, according to the Senate Historian's Office.
Including Langer, 46 senators have lain in repose in the Senate chamber. One additional funeral, the first, was held there for a New Yorker who never was a senator: George Clinton, Thomas Jefferson's second vice president, lay in repose on April 21, 1812.
Others include South Carolina's John C. Calhoun in 1850, Kentucky's Henry Clay in 1852 and Wisconsin's Joseph McCarthy in 1957.
The Senate: http://www.senate.gov