I’ve just returned from the Capitol Rotunda to view Reagan’s lying-in-state, with scant minutes to spare to the final cutoff. (Sorry, no pictures, as cameras were not allowed.) From the dawn line on the Mall to the public viewing in the Rotunda itself, a bit over two hours. After this come the preparations for the procession to the funeral at National Cathedral.
When I got there at 5:45am, the line stretched from the Capitol steps, down the south path, through a set of layered cordons on the Lawn, and across 3rd St to the National Mall. I was last in line for about half an hour, and I didn’t think I would make it. Around the time I crossed 3rd St, I was briefly interviewed by NBC4’s Jane Watrel as “last in line,” and I told Jane to the camera that I doubted I would make it. (I probably also said something stupid and incoherent about Ronald Reagan, which you can all see on the Channel 4 news at 4:00pm today.) By the time I had rejoined the line, however, dozens more people had been allowed to line up after me, and sunrise saw much faster movement as the crowd was shuffled through the cordoned dikes and through the security barrier.
At 6:00 AM, a man left the line holding a trumpet, stood in front of the Capitol Reflecting Pool, and played The Star Spangled Banner as the sun rose from behind the Dome.
I was enriched just as much by the people with me in line as by the whole experience itself, talking with a pair of guys from the area about real estate and international relations, and with a venerable old black veteran who had lived in the District since 1949. He had not been to the Capitol since 1963, and was here to “make me a little history,” as he put it.
Free water bottles were stacked at various points along the queue, and portable loos were strategically positioned from where one could run to them, and rejoin the line without losing a spot. We found a cracked bottle of Knob Creek somewhere along the way, too.
After the security barrier, the line dissolved, and it was a brisk, loose walk to the entrance. Up the marble steps in single file, and I was in the Capitol Rotunda. In the center lay the flag-draped casket, with five honor guards standing at attention around it. Two cordons circled the center, through which viewers could walk around the catafalque.
The kindly old black veteran I had been talking to stood at attention and gave a salute. “Finally got to do it,” he told me as we walked down the steps.
Then, it was to the visitor center exit one level down. Commemorative cards were being given out at the door, and I managed to snag two. Outside, on the marble terrace, it had begun to drizzle.
So yes, I made it to see the Gipper one last time, just barely. Now there’s just barely enough time to make it to work. All in all, a good morning to make a little history.