U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings will lie in state in the National Statuary Hall at the U.S. Capitol on Thursday, joining a distinguished list of people to receive the honor.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said that a formal ceremony for members of Congress and Cummings’ family will be held Thursday morning in the hall. Cummings, a Baltimore Democrat who was battling cancer, who died early Thursday at the age of 68.
Cummings will join a rare group to “lie in state,” meaning his coffin will be displayed inside a state building along with a military guard. The practice has largely been reserved for politicians, military leaders and some presidents.
So what does it mean to “lie in state” and who else has received the honor?
Lying in state vs. Lying in honor vs. Lying in repose
While Cummings will lie in state at the Capitol Thursday, he will first lie in repose Wednesday at Morgan State University.
“Lying in repose” simply means a public viewing. At the Morgan State ceremony, a number of dignitaries will speak including former U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski and Baltimore Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young.
“Lying in state” is reserved for government officials and refers to the time their coffins or bodies are at the Capitol or a government building.
“Lying in honor” is used for private citizens whose coffins are displayed inside a government building. Only four private citizens have lain in honor at the U.S. Capitol Rotunda.
The New York Times notes that the definition of “lying in state” can sometimes also be used colloquially for private citizens, as was the case when Aretha Franklin’s body was brought to the Wright Museum in Detroit in August 2018.
Lying in National Statuary Hall vs. the Rotunda
The term “lying in state” — at least on the federal level — typically refers to those lying in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda. However, Cummings’ body will lie in Statuary Hall, a large room just south of the Rotunda that served as the House of Representatives chambers in the first half of the 19th century. Now, the hall is used for special ceremonies and to house a collection of statues honoring state figures.
The dead who have been honored
The last person lain in state in the Rotunda was President George H.W. Bush in December 2018 after he died in November.
Bush was the second person lain in state last year as the late Rep. John McCain’s body was also brought to the Rotunda in August 2018.
The very first to lain in state was Henry Clay, a long-time congressman from Kentucky who died in 1852.
While presidents, senators and representatives have all lain in state at the Rotunda, there are also several notable names who have chosen to have more private ceremonies.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the World War II-era president who is the only one to have served three consecutive terms, chose to be buried at his Springwood Estate in Hyde Park, New York.
As for private citizens, four have received the “lying in honor” designation in the country’s history: civil rights leader Rosa Parks, Rev. Billy Graham and two Capitol Police Officers Jacob Chestnut and John Gibson, who were shot and killed in the Capitol 1998.