Mortician Tells Of Preparing Jfk's Body

MINNEAPOLIS - The man who placed the body of John F. Kennedy in a casket - dressed him, tied his tie and put a rosary in his hands - says the memory of that long night remains burned into his memory.

"Put yourself in our place," said Joe Hagen. "We had those same feelings, the same emotions. We shed the same tears that many of you shed during those horrible, sad days."

Hagen, whose Washington, D.C., mortuary, Joseph Gawler's Sons, has been providing funeral services for major American statesmen since 1850, was in the Twin Cities recently to attend a convention.

In the three decades since the assassination, Hagen said he had been interviewed countless times about the smallest details of his role in the funeral - often by people seeking information to support offbeat conspiracy theories.

Typical questions:

Why were there two caskets?

The president's body was shipped from Dallas to Washington in a bronze casket, but he was put into a mahogany casket for the funeral and burial. Hagen's firm provided the wooden casket that was sealed in a vault at Arlington National Cemetery.

"They told us the bronze casket had been damaged (on the trip from Dallas)," Hagen said. He doesn't know what happened to it.

Was the body ever viewed?

Hagen said an open viewing took place in the East Room of the White House for the family. Items placed in the coffin by family members included three letters (two from the children), a pair of

gold cuff links, a scrimshaw with the presidential seal, a silver rosary and a PT-109 tie clip.

Did he examine the wounds?

Hagen said the body he prepared for burial had received an extensive autopsy. Embalming and preparation for viewing took place at Washington's Navy Hospital immediately after the autopsy, in the presence of dozens of witnesses. Jacqueline Kennedy, still wearing her bloodstained dress, waited in another room at the hospital and then accompanied the body to the White House.

Hagen expects people to continue to ask him about the Kennedy funeral because it remains one of the pivotal moments in American history.