Crowds at Capitol Pay Tribute to Ford

Visitors to the Capitol Rotunda pass by the flag-draped coffin of the 38th president. i i

Visitors to the Capitol Rotunda pass by the flag-draped coffin of the 38th president. Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images
Visitors to the Capitol Rotunda pass by the flag-draped coffin of the 38th president.

Visitors to the Capitol Rotunda pass by the flag-draped coffin of the 38th president.

Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images

Thousands of Americans are visiting the U.S. Capitol to pay final respects to former President Gerald Ford, who is lying in state at the Capitol Rotunda. But there are quiet moments, too.

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DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Debbie Elliott.

Coming up: the story behind a song we all think we know.

But first, today hundreds of people waited outside the U.S. Capitol Building to pay their final respects to former President Gerald Ford. His body will lie in state through Monday evening. NPR's Guy Raz went to talk with some of the people who made the pilgrimage.

GUY RAZ: About every ten minutes or so, under the imposing dome of the Capitol's Rotunda, Gerald Ford was alone. No visitors. No weeping supporters. No nostalgic citizens. There just weren't that many people clamoring to come see him. Perhaps it was to be expected. Ford was not a man of pretense or vanity.

Mr. SIDNEY JONES (Former Assistant Treasury Secretary): He was a fairly average person. He was a person the country needed at that particular time.

RAZ: This is Sidney Jones. He didn't travel far, just a few miles from Potomac Maryland. But Jones came down for personal reasons. He was the assistant treasury secretary under President Ford.

Mr. JONES: President Ford, I think, in history will be recognized as perhaps the only person at that particular time whose combination of experience, integrity and ability could have glued the country back together again. There are many outstanding people at any given time. But I do believe Ford was unique at that time.

RAZ: And that is for certain Mr. Ford's legacy. The statues that surround his casket inside the Rotunda immortalize great men in stone. There's Lincoln and Washington and Hamilton and Grant. Ford's likeness will probably never stand among them here in this hall. His moment in history was accidental but somehow, say the people who've come to see him, he was the right man.

Here's Keith Boone, who came up from Virginia.

Mr. KEITH BOONE: I think they'll remember him as a peacemaker trying to bring some looking forward, not looking back. Trying to bring some unity to the government as well as to the nation. But I think his honesty and just his, him being one looking like a normal citizen who ascended to the presidency, not as an object or objective, but just as he was the right man at the right time.

RAZ: It's not every day a president lies in state. And it's why Jitender Ishvanda(ph) wanted his family to witness a piece of history.

Mr. JITENDER ISHVANDA: An historic occasion and, you know, it's a great thing for our kids to also learn about how the presidents have served our country and, you know, to pay our respects to them.

RAZ: Jitender brought his seven-year-old son Nikhail(ph) and nine-year-old daughter, Pudish(ph).

Ms. PUDISH ISHVANDA: When the president died, all those guys were guarding him because he was dying in his funeral.

RAZ: What did you think?

Mr. NIKHAIL ISHVANDA: That he was a special president without being elected for it and it's really hard to believe that he died.

RAZ: On Monday, the public can view the presidential casket until 6:00 at night. Several prominent people are honored in the Rotunda every year, but only presidents can lie in state.

Guy Raz, NPR News. Washington.

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