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About Traditions & Symbols | Funerals and Memorials

As a relatively small and traditionally collegial body, the Senate actively mourns the death of an incumbent member through funeral rituals that developed during the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Well into the 20th century, it was not unusual for the Senate to lose several members in a single year. For senators who died while Congress was in session, the Senate typically adjourned the following day's proceedings, conducted funerals or memorial services in its Chamber (with a large floral tribute resting on the deceased member's vacant desk and black crepe covering the chair), sent delegations of senators to attend home-state funerals, and authorized members to wear black armbands for 30 days. For those senators who died during an extended adjournment period, the Senate, upon reconvening, conducted a collective memorial service in its Chamber with appropriate prayers and tributes.

Today, thanks to improved health care, Senate funerals occur with much less frequency, but Senate funerals and memorial traditions for incumbent senators still reflect that earlier experience. The Senate still adjourns the day's session in memory of the deceased member, may send delegations to the funeral, and sets aside a portion of a day's schedule for memorial tributes, which appear as part of the official record of floor proceedings. Many of these tributes are subsequently collected along with printed obituaries and other pertinent documents into an official Senate publication. The American flag is flown at half-staff on the day of the incumbent's death and the following day. For senators who served particularly long and influential careers, funeral services may be held in the Senate Chamber or the Capitol Rotunda.

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