The Rotunda has become famous for memorials to fallen American notables, starting with Henry Clay, whom Lincoln admired all his life. In 1852 Clay was the first person to lay in state here after his death. Lincoln, the first American president to be assassinated, followed in 1865. On April 20, 1865 Lincoln's open coffin rested in the middle of the room while thousands of mourners filed by.

Benjamin French, commissioner of public buildings, ordered the room's sculpture and paintings covered with black crepe. He also designed the catafalque on which the coffin rested, a modified version of which now reposes in the Capitol Visitor Center.

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