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U.S. capital to pay high honors to President Ford

WASHINGTON (AP) - The hallmarks of a presidential funeral, a rare and solemn spectacle, began to fall into place Wednesday as the nation mourned the death of Gerald R. Ford, the 38th U.S. president, and prepared to accord his memory the capital's highest honors.

Ford's body was expected to lie in state this weekend in the Capitol Rotunda, offering both dignitaries and the public a chance to pay final respects to the former Michigan congressman who rose to the White House in the collapse of Richard Nixon's presidency.

Ford died at his Rancho Mirage, California, home on Tuesday at age 93. Funeral arrangements were not complete but officials in Washington anticipated ceremonial events in the capital spread over about four days and capped by a service at the National Cathedral after the New Year.

A Republican leadership official said all events related to Ford's funeral in Washington would be finished by Jan. 4, opening day of the 110th Congress, meaning no delay was anticipated in the hand-over of congressional control to Democrats. The cathedral service was expected Tuesday.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity because funeral plans had not been officially disclosed.

Tentative preparations made before Ford's death called for a small, private ceremony in California, an opportunity for the public to pay respects there, plus Washington events and a final public viewing at Ford's presidential museum in Grand Rapids, Michigan, before his interment on the museum grounds.

He would be the 11th president to lie in state in the Rotunda.

One open question was how involved the funeral procession to the Capitol, often the most stirring of Washington's rituals of mourning, would be for a man whose modest ways and brief presidency set him apart from those honored with elaborate parades.

Tentative plans called for Ford's hearse to pause by the World War II memorial on the National Mall. Ford was a naval reservist in the war, serving aboard an aircraft carrier in the Pacific.

Planners are guided by the wishes of the family and any instructions from the president himself on how elaborate the events will be, how much of it takes place in Washington and more.

Ex-presidents routinely are involved in their funeral planning with the Military District of Washington, which turned to the task quietly but with increasing urgency as Ford went through several bouts of ill health in recent years.

The nation has only witnessed two presidential state funerals in more than 30 years _ those of Ronald Reagan in 2004 and Lyndon Johnson in 1973. Nixon's family, acting on his wishes, opted out of the Washington traditions when he died in 1994, his presidency shortened and forever tainted by the Watergate scandal. A probe into the scandal uncovered widespread evidence of political espionage by Nixon's campaign committee and illegal wiretapping of opponents. What happens in Washington, particularly, unfolds according to guidelines that go back to the mid-1800s and have been shaped over time.

No longer are government buildings draped in black, as they were in the time of Abraham Lincoln and before.

But if a chosen ceremony requires mourners to be seated, for example, seating arrangements are detailed with a precision dictated by tradition. The presidential party is followed by chiefs of state, arranged alphabetically by the English spelling of their countries.

Royalty representing chiefs of state come next, and then heads of governments followed by other officials.

Eight presidents have had funeral processions down Pennsylvania Avenue, including all four sitting presidents to die by assassination _ Abraham Lincoln, James Garfield, William McKinley and John F. Kennedy.

Two presidents are buried at Arlington National Cemetery, Kennedy and William H. Taft. Reagan was buried on the hilltop grounds of his presidential library in Simi Valley, California, in a dramatic sunset ceremony capping a week of official public mourning.

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