A partnership of HuffPost and the
12/11/2013 09:00 am ET | Updated Jan 25, 2014

8 Funerals That Showed Us The True Emotion Of A Nation In Mourning

Tens of thousands of mourners gathered in South Africa on Tuesday, braving the cold and the rain to bid farewell to the unforgettable Nelson Mandela.

Held at the massive FNB Stadium on the outskirts of Johannesburg, Mandela's memorial service was attended by nearly 100 heads of state, including U.S. President Barack Obama, British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Francois Hollande. Former U.S. Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton were also in attendance.

The Independent wrote Monday that Mandela's memorial "may be the biggest send-off in history." Clayson Monyela, a spokesman for South Africa’s foreign ministry, told the news outlet that the funeral service was "unprecedented."

“I don’t think there has been a funeral service like it in recent memory,” Monyela said.

The loss of life is always tragic -- but it takes someone truly unique to provoke the outpouring of love and grief of thousands.

Since 1945, only a handful of people have, in death, been so honored. Here, we list eight of them:

  • U.S. President John F. Kennedy
    On the morning of Nov. 24, two days after 46-year-old President John F. Kennedy was killed, his flag-covered casket was carried by horse-drawn caisson to the U.S. Capitol to lie in state.

    That evening, the line of mourners who had come to pay their respects "stretched over nine miles," according to the library archives of the University of Texas, Arlington. It is estimated that around 300,000 people braved the near-freezing temperatures that day to say their final goodbyes, while thousands more lined the streets the next day for his funeral procession.

    Kennedy was laid to rest on Nov. 25 in Arlington National Cemetery. Hundreds of dignitaries from more than 90 countries, including French President Charles de Gaulle, Soviet Deputy Prime Minister Anastas Mikoyan and Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie, attended the ceremony.

    "Our nation is bereaved," said Earl Warren, the U.S. Chief Justice, in a brief eulogy to the slain president on Nov. 24. "The whole world is poorer because of his loss. But we can all be better Americans because John Fitzgerald Kennedy has passed our way, because he has been our chosen leader at a time in history when his character, his vision, and his quiet courage have enabled him to chart for us a safe course through the shoals of treacherous seas that encompass the world."
  • Diana, Princess of Wales
    Anwar Hussein/Getty Images
    On Sep. 6, 1997, more than 1 million people lined up in the streets of London to watch as the funeral cortege of Princess Diana made its way from Kensington Palace to Westminster Abbey, where the funeral service was held.

    Two thousands invited guests -- including Hillary Clinton, Tom Cruise, Steven Spielberg, Luciano Pavarotti, Cliff Richard, Donatella Versace and Henry Kissinger -- attended the service, while an estimated 2.5 billion people around the world watched it on TV.

    During the service, Elton John sang a special rendition of the song "Candle in the Wind," which had been rewritten as a tribute to Diana. "Goodbye England's rose," the song began. "May you ever grow in our hearts."

    Princess Diana died on Aug. 31, 1997, in a car crash in Paris. She was survived by her two sons, Princes William and Harry.

    (In the photo above, Earl Spencer, Prince William, Prince Harry, Prince Charles and the Duke of Edinburgh follow the coffin of Diana, Princess of Wales, as it arrives at Westminster Abbey.)
  • George Tupou V, King of Tonga
    Torsten Blackwood/AFP/Getty Images
    When King of Tonga George Tupou V died in March of 2012, the Pacific island nation plunged into mourning.

    According to the BBC, trees and buildings across the country were draped with Tonga's mourning colors of black and purple in the days following his death.

    Tupou's state funeral on Mar. 27 was a lavish affair that included a procession of 1,000 pallbearers. Thousands of mourners lined the streets to say goodbye to their king.

    "It's a big loss for us," Tevita Tonga, a local who had come out to watch the king's funeral, told The Associated Press. "He brought freedom to the people, for them to run the country."

    According to the AP, Tupou rose to the throne in 2006 after the death of his father, who "for 40 years had resisted giving up any powers of the monarchy." Unlike his father, Tupou wanted more democracy in Tonga. During his time as king, he instituted major political reforms, even relinquishing most of his own authority.

    Upon his death, U.S. President Barack Obama praised Tupou as being a "visionary leader."
  • U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt
    Ed Clark//Time Life Pictures/Getty Images
    President Franklin D. Roosevelt had wanted a simple funeral and interment in the garden of his Hyde Park, N.Y., home. But after he died of a stroke in Georgia in April 1945, the funeral procession that brought him home was far from a simple affair.

    On April 13, 1945, the president's casket -- accompanied by 2,000 soldiers -- was carried to the railroad station at Warm Springs, Ga. There, according to author Robert Klara, who wrote a book on the days following FDR's death, it was placed on a funeral train, which soon embarked on a multi-day, "thousand-mile odyssey through nine states."

    According to Bloomberg, Roosevelt's family, as well as the family of his successor, Harry Truman, members the entire Cabinet and Supreme Court and many members of Congress were on board the train.

    "Moving no faster than 35 miles per hour, the train passed through the Carolinas and Virginia, arriving in Washington ... on April 14. All along the way sorrowful citizens turned out to pay their respects to the passing funeral train," writes the FDR Presidential Library and Museum.

    After a short funeral service at the White House, the casket was placed on a train yet again and on April 15 was buried in the Rose Garden of the Roosevelt family home.

    (In the photo above, Navy CPO Graham Jackson plays the song "Goin' Home" on the accordion as President Franklin D. Roosevelt's body is carried from the Warm Springs Foundation, where he died suddenly on April 12, 1945.)
  • Martin Luther King Jr.
    AP Photo/Toby Massey
    When Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated on April 4, 1968, in Memphis, Tenn., many Americans could barely contain their grief.

    "Many of those who filed past could not control their tears," writes Time magazine of the scene at King's casket as he lay in state in Memphis before his return home to Georgia. "Some kissed King's lips; others reverently touched his face. A few women threw their hands in the air and cried aloud in ululating agony."

    Two funerals were organized to mark King's passing. The first, a private service, was attended by more than a thousand people and held at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta on April 9, 1968. Jackie Kennedy and U.S. Vice President Hubert Humphrey were among the many dignitaries and celebrities who attended the service.

    Following the ceremony, more than 100,000 mourners followed King's coffin as it was carried to Morehouse College, where a second, public service was held.
  • Pope John Paul II
    AP Photo/Luca Bruno
    After the death of Pope John Paul II on April 2, 2005, about 4 million mourners gathered in Rome to say their final goodbyes to the beloved Catholic leader.

    Attended by four kings, five queens and at least 70 presidents and prime ministers, the pope's funeral, held on April 8, 2005, is believed to be one of the largest in history. According to CNN, millions around the world also tuned in to watch the service.

    "We've never seen a funeral like this, with the millions of people that are coming to Rome ... to be here to celebrate the life of John Paul II," Rev. Thomas Reese, editor of the Catholic magazine America, told the news outlet at the time.
  • North Korean leader Kim Jong Il
    (AP Photo/KRT via APTN)
    At the Dec. 28, 2011, funeral procession of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, tens of thousands of wailing North Korean mourners lined the snow-covered streets of Pyongyang to bid farewell to their "Dear Leader."

    As a black hearse drove Kim's casket through the streets, North Korean state media showed grief-stricken citizens shouting, crying and pounding their chests.

    An elaborate, three-hour affair, the funeral was organized by a 232-member funeral committee headed by Kim's son and successor, Kim Jong Un, according to South Korean news outlet Yonhap News.

    "This is a very scripted funeral," Lee Chung Min, dean of the Graduate School of International Studies at Yonsei University in Seoul, South Korea, told CNN in 2011. "They've expected this for the last several years."
  • U.K. Prime Minister Winston Churchill
    Angelo Cozzi Giorgio Lotti Sergio Del Grande/Mondadori Portfolio/Getty Images
    After Winston Churchill's death on Jan. 24, 1965, Queen Elizabeth decreed that the British leader's body should lie in state for three days in the Palace of Westminster.

    According to the BBC, a total of 321,360 people filed past Churchill's catafalque to pay their last respects.

    Representatives of 112 countries attended Churchill's funeral service, held at St Paul's Cathedral on Jan. 30, 1965. According to the Churchill Centre, the funeral saw "the largest assemblage of statesmen in the world until the 2005 funeral of Pope John Paul II." Millions around the world are also said to have watched the service on TV.

Subscribe to the World Post email.