Flag respect on display for Ford funeral; same for Bush

December 5, 2018

Actions convey messages. Actions communicate. How one acts in regarding the U.S. flag, at different times when action is required, tells something about character — whether one was even paying attention when respect for the flag, and the ideals it portrays, was explained.

President Ford's casket in the Capitol Rotunda - photo by Todd Heisler, NY Times

President Ford’s casket lies in the rotunda of the U.S. Capitol. New York Times photo by Todd Heisler.

Back in early 2007 I discussed some of the flag etiquette we saw at the funeral of President Gerald R. Ford. We see these things again at the funeral of President George H. W. Bush. Let’s repeat the observations.

Here are a few things you may have observed during the services for President Ford, which you may observe again at the funeral of George H. W. Bush, with minor edits:

1. On his coffin, the U.S. flag’s union will always be over President Bush’s left shoulder. This is a reversal from the usual display method for the flag; in display on a wall, the field should always be in the upper left as one observes it, the “northwest” corner (as if looking at a map); on a coffin, that would put the flag over the person’s right shoulder. Instead, on a coffin the flag is draped so the union is over the left shoulder, usually explained as being over the soldier’s heart. Also, note that a flag-draped casket should be carried foot first to the grave.

2. Since Bush is a military veteran, the flag should accompany the casket to the grave, but not into it (I believe this applies also to presidents if they did not serve, but in any case it applies to Bush). The flag will be folded in the traditional seafaring triangle fold, and presented to the Bush family before the casket is lowered into the grave.

3. When the flag is folded at the cemetery, watch how carefully the military people will work to get each fold just right. Their goal is a perfect fold, which will leave only the blue field of stars from the union showing, in a triangular fold. To get it right, the color guard (pall bearers, I presume in this case) will take its time. Occasionally the flag team will halt and unfold the flag, and refold, if the process is not proceeding just exactly right. But that is rare; the flag folding team sacrifices speed, for care. If the ceremony proceeds very quickly, I would be surprised.

4. It is unlikely that there will be any ceremonial reading during the folding of the flag. Any reading given, however, would be selected by the family. In the past couple of decades, presidential funerals have been planned out well in advance of the event. Differences between Bush’s funeral in 2018, Ford’s funeral in 2007 and Reagan’s funeral in 2004, are due to the different plans of the families, not due to any formal procedure required by U.S. law or tradition. We’re a democratic nation, and such ceremonies are not sacred writ. (I have written here before about the mistaken idea that there is an “official” flag folding ceremony with specific meaning given to each of the 13 foldings of the flag; there is no official ceremony. There is no official meaning ascribed to the folding of the flag; the triangular fold is a convenience at sea, where flags folded into the triangle will unfurl without fouling or snagging as they rise up the mast. We continue that tradition on land.)

In general, the flag will be treated respectfully. Do not expect to see a lot of flag waving during the service. When the flag is present, it will be treated soberly, with care, with special attention to getting official ceremonial details correct.

Students, Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts should pay attention.

  • Associated Press photo by Lawrence Jackson. Telephoto showing some of the 50 flags surrounding the Washington Monument flying at half-mast in honor of the late President Gerald Ford, with the dome of the U.S. Capitol in the background. The Capitol is more than a mile away from the Washington Monument; compression of the images by the telephoto lens makes the dome appear much closer.
Flags fly at half staff in honor of former President Gerald Ford at the Washington Monument, with the U.S. Capitol in the background, on Dec. 27, 2006. Ford will lie in state in the Capitol before burial in Grand Rapids, Mich. Credit: AP Photo/Lawrence Jackson

Flags fly at half staff in honor of former President Gerald Ford at the Washington Monument, with the U.S. Capitol in the background, on Dec. 27, 2006. Ford will lie in state in the Capitol before burial in Grand Rapids, Mich. Credit: AP Photo/Lawrence Jackson

Minor update: The Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, Press has an informative article about flag etiquette in this situation, here.

See also:

2018 update: President George H. W. Bush’s casket lies in state, in the rotunda of the U.S. Capitol, on the catafalk originally constructed to hold the casket of President Abraham Lincoln.

 Members of the public view the casket containing former President George H.W. Bush's remains as he lies in state in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda on Monday night. Cameron Pollack/NPR

“Members of the public view the casket containing former President George H.W. Bush’s remains as he lies in state in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda on Monday night. Cameron Pollack/NPR.” Compare with the photo of President Ford’s casket, in the photo at the top of this post.


July 12, 1855 – Liberty proposed for U.S. Capitol

July 13, 2012

Liberty statue, atop U.S. Capitol - Library of Congress photo

On top of the Capitol Dome, the Statue of Freedom faces east away from the National Mall and the White House. Image courtesy of Library of Congress

History from the Clerk of the U.S. House of Representatives:

The Statue of Freedom

July 12, 1855

Statue of Freedom

Statue of Freedom (Liberty) which appears atop the U.S. Capitol (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On this date, Architect of the Capitol, Montgomery C. Meigs received the conceptual drawings from Thomas Crawford, an American neoclassical artist, for the Statue of Freedom.  The statue was to be the crown jewel of the dome atop the Capitol Rotunda.  The first sketch of the statue featured a woman with a liberty cap. When Secretary of War Jefferson Davis objected to the allegorical allusion to a freed Roman slave, the artist revised the drawing to feature a statue with a helmet.  Although construction on the dome began in 1856, the dome and its final accouterments were not in place until December 2, 1863. Freedom’s story contains an ironic twist; a slave named Philip Reid played an integral part in placing Freedom atop the dome.  A contract dispute threatened to halt the project’s progress until Reid determined how to complete the complicated casting of the statue.  As a result, he oversaw the remainder of the its construction.  To commemorate the completion of the statue and its crowning of the dome, officials organized a dramatic ceremony with a 35-gun military salute echoed by salutes from the 12 forts ringing the federal city.

The dome of the US Capitol building. Français ...

The dome of the US Capitol building. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Who are those Boy Scouts in 1943?

November 13, 2009

A posed photograph:  Three Boy Scouts, from at least two different units, holding a poster Scouts were distributing about international cooperation in World War II.  They are saluting, and behind them rises the dome of the U.S. Capitol on a brilliantly sunny day.

Boy Scouts at the Capitol, 1943? - Library of Congress image

Caption from the U.S. Senate Historical Office: "Boy Scouts aid the war effort by delivering posters that encourage a united fight for freedom, ca.1943. credit: Library of Congress"

1943?  Who were the Scouts?

The photo is online in the collection of the U.S. Senate Historical Office (a good source of images, by the way).

I just wondered, who are those Scouts, and where are they today?

Boy Scouts assisted war efforts in a lot of ways in a lot of American cities, towns and villages.  Affiliates at the Tom Harbin Scout Museum at Camp Wisdom in Dallas (Circle 10 Council) have papers documenting and detailing massive scrap and paper drives, and a lot of other activities we probably wouldn’t let Scouts get into today.

The three Scouts in the photo wear what appears to be two different neckerchiefs, suggesting they come from at least two different troops or other units.  All three wear the uniform of the Boy Scouts of America, but two of the three look as though they may be immigrants or children of immigrants.

The date given is a “circa 1943.”  But the poster plugs a “United Nations” — could it have been as late as 1945 or 1946 and the official organizing of the United Nations?

What do you think?  What do you know?

Update: Wikimedia puts the date of the poster as 1941Shorpy says the photo is 1943:

“Washington, 1943. “United Nations Fight for Freedom: Colored, white and Chinese Boy Scouts in front of Capitol. They help out by delivering posters to help the war effort.” View full size. 4×5 Kodachrome transparency by John Rous for the Office of War Information. What photo expert out there can tell us about the numbers on these Kodachromes — how and at what point in the manufacturing/ exposure/ developing process they were made, and what they signify.

All those details and not the names of the Scouts?  In comments at Shorpy we also see that the temporary patch for the Scout on the left is for a 1942 campout.  So we know the photo was later than 1941.  The community patch for the Scout on the right says Washington where the city patch should be, with no state patch (if they had separate patches then).  So it’s probably a Washington, D.C. unit — and it’s Troop 11.  Anybody from National Capital Council ever read this site?  Were all three of these Scouts from Troop 11?

I have found, but cannot yet examine, another photo from the same roll of film, showing just the Scout in the middle.

Update 2: This may identify one of the Scouts, with an astounding story:

1941, Boy Scout, poster urging water saving, Anderson Grimes

Caption from CityDesk.net: "July 1941. Local Boy Scout Anderson Grimes in front of the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, D.C., holding a copy of a WPA poster designed for the city’s landmark water conservation program."

That solo Scout is clearly the same one in the first photo, so we have one name:  Anderson Grimes.

But the entire story from CityDesk.net is more amazing, if true:

July 1941. Local Boy Scout Anderson Grimes in front of the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, D.C., holding a copy of a WPA poster designed for the city’s landmark water conservation program. Shortly after this photo was taken, he was to present the poster to local congressman Harford Collins in a brief ceremony. Tragically, Grimes, along with several local reporters and congressional aides, instead found Senator Collins slumped over his desk, dead from a heart attack.

Thirty years later, Grimes ended up serving the same seat in Congress for four terms. He did not die in office.
– RJ White

If true?  I can’t find a listing for a Sen. Harford Collins in the Congressional biography pages, nor for any Member in either house named Anderson Grimes.

More mystery.  Is the Scout even named Anderson Grimes?

Okay, after j. a. higginbotham wrote in, I finally got it:  CityDesk.net is a satire site.  They wrote a phony story to accompany the photograph.

That’s right:  I got hoaxed.

Still looking for information on the Scouts and their troop(s).

Update, November 15: Is the water conservation poster in the version above a PhotoShop addition?  Here’s a photo held by the Library of Congress:

Boy Scout after 1942 showing posters Scouts distributed; photo by John Rous, Library of Congress collection

From Library of Congress: "United Nations Fight for Freedom: Boy Scout in front of Capitol. They help out by delivering posters to help the war effort"

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David Bergman’s gigapan photo of the inauguration

February 3, 2009

Can’t embed the photo here.  Panoramic photos are cool things to use to capture history.  Photographer David Bergman made a colossal, 1,464 megapixel photo of the inauguration of Barack Obama — you gotta see it.

Bergman described it:

I made a panoramic image showing the nearly two million people who watched President Obama’s inaugural address. To do so, I clamped a Gigapan Imager to the railing on the north media platform about six feet from my photo position. The Gigapan is a robotic camera mount that allows me to take multiple images and stitch them together, creating a massive image file.

My final photo is made up of 220 Canon G10 images and the file is 59,783 X 24,658 pixels or 1,474 megapixels. It took more than six and a half hours for the Gigapan software to put together all of the images on my Macbook Pro and the completed TIF file is almost 2 gigabytes.

Bergman is offering prints for sale.

Were you at the inauguration, on the Capitol grounds?  Check Bergman’s photo, and zoom in to see whether you can see yourself in history.

A smaller version of Bergmans GigaPan photo of the inauguration of Barack Obama

A smaller version of Bergman’s GigaPan photo of the inauguration of Barack Obama; go see the zoomable version at Bergman’s site, and marvel at the detail of faces

Tip of the old scrub brush to julie@century.


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