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Senate Chamber Desks

The Vacant Chair.
“The Vacant Chair.”
Unidentified Artist, after Theodore R. Davis
Harper’s Weekly, April 04, 1874
U.S. Senate Collection

The Senate has recognized the deaths of incumbent members in many ways over the years. Procedures for memorializing departed senators were established as early as 1809, and many of the early traditions continue.

Today when a sitting member passes away, the senator’s vacant Chamber desk is draped in black crepe and adorned with flowers. The Senate adjourns the day’s session in memory of the late senator, and Capitol flags are flown at half-staff. A group of senators, typically the leaders of both parties, attend the funeral and memorial services in the late senator’s home state. For the next few weeks, senators often deliver eulogies on the Senate floor, which are published in the Congressional Record, and the Senate chaplain recognizes the departed in an opening prayer.

Some traditions have fallen into disuse. For example, senator’s deaths were often marked by a funeral or memorial service held in the Senate Chamber, and for the next 30 days all members wore black armbands to honor the deceased. The last funeral service in the Chamber was for Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) in 2013.