April 1, 2012

Eisenhower's State Funeral, 1969

About Dwight D. Eisenhower, three distinct memories:

1. In his acceptance speech at the 1968 Republican National Convention, Richard Nixon starts off with mention of Eisenhower in the hospital, and that nothing would make him feel better than a Republican victory in November. “So let’s win this one for Ike!” The crowd roars.

2. In March 1969, Eisenhower is now gravely ill. Across the street from the South Minneapolis fourplex we live in is one of the regional headquarters of Northwestern Bell . (It has a large, rolling lawn that was just made for kids to have fun on, and we used to play football there on Saturday afternoons. This is, mind you, in the days before corporate buildings are fenced off from the rest of the neighborhood, or hidden within business parks.) I’m eating lunch (no school, it being what was at the time called Easter Break), and as I’m sitting at the table, we look out the kitchen window and see the flag on top of the Northwestern Bell building falling to half-staff. My mother nods; Eisenhower must have died.

3. Eisenhower, like Churchill, was quite the amateur painter, and many of his paintings were reproduced and sold in sets. We had one of those sets, along with a portrait of Ike – it wasn’t, as I recall, that we had an overwhelming affection for Eisenhower, but as Supreme Allied Commander he had won the war in Europe, and as the GOP nominee in 1952 he had ended 20 years of Democrat control of the White House, so in a Republican household like ours that was enough to generate some admiration, at least. At any rate, my grandparents worked at a department store just off Lake Street in Minneapolis , and they borrowed the Eisenhower portrait, which was framed. It was put in a front window of the store, which was otherwise bare except for yards of black fabric which had been draped along the bottom of the display. There may have been roses in the window as well; I can’t remember now. But this is the kind of thing that businesses used to do, at times of national mourning.

Eisenhower was given the choice, after his term ended, of the honoraria to be used - president or general.  He chose the later, which is why you'll often hear him referred to as "General Eisenhower" after his presidency.  Such is the case in much of the footage here.
Eisenhower’s funeral was, unless I'm wrong, the first American state funeral to be televised in color.  JFK had, of course, been in B&W; RFK's and MLK's hadn't been state funerals.  The procession to the Capitol took place on a rainy, cool Palm Sunday; the fact that people would have been in church probably accounted for the afternoon start.  CBS's coverage starts here, but we'll pick up the coverage with the Sunday procession.  You can follow the coverage with the succeeding segments.

An interesting footnote is that Eisenhower was also the center of attention in what has been referred to as the earliest surviving color videotape footage, as he appears at the dedication of NBC's new Washington facility in May 1958.  The color here is just brilliant; it would be completely realistic to assume that this event had been televised earlier today.  It also gives us another look at Ike, at the time the oldest man elected president.  We think of him as a figure out of the history books, but here he seems very much alive and relevant.  In many respects, he is more alive than the grainer, B&W footage of his successor a few years later. 



  1. I do remember that. I was in sixth grade at the time, and as that was the top grade at our elementary school, provided the flag raisers for the school. Eisenhower's death fell on my week, and I was the one who went out at midday and lowered the flag to half-staff.

  2. I believe the color tape of President Eisenhower dedicating the then-new NBC facility in Washington has been digitally remastered, and it's the remastered version that's on You Tube, et. al.

  3. What was that music when they removed him from the Herse/Coffin Car?

    1. A Mighty Fortress is our God.... and a little later...
      Onward Christian Soldiers...

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