James Medley stood back from the ropes with his arms folded and his head down. It was 4 a.m. yesterday in the Capitol Rotunda. The line of people waiting to view the casket of Senator Hubert H. Humphrey had thinned enough to allow people to stop instead of walking through quickly as they had been forced to do earlier.
Medley, 38, a bartender in Hyattsville, had been in the room for almost an hour. "I came this afternoon but I had to come back," he said quietly. "I didn't get a chance to do anything but walk right through before. I needed more than that."
Like many other black people who came to the Rotunda during the final moments of the 20-hour public viewing Sunday morning, Medley never mentioned Humphrey's years of fighting for civil rights specifically.
"He was about the only politician I ever trusted," Medley said. "He seemed to understand the problems of the little folks. It was nice to know someone was in our corner."
In all, there were 60,000 of them who filed by the casket in final tribute -- bartenders, ironworkers, teachers, students, maintenance men, congressional employees, civil servants, military people, unemployed people, secretaries, clerks, salesmen, lawyers, architects, firemen, computer programmers, garbage collectors -- people united by a genuine affection for Humphrey and what he stood for.
"Hubert Humphrey transcended party lines because of the great personal affection people, all people, had for him, said Sen. Jacob Javits, (R-N.Y.) who came in shortly after 11 p.m. "He was the last of a breed. You just couldn't challenge his belief in our destiny."
Others who did not know Humphrey personally were nonetheless in their own way equally eloquent.
One young couple dropped to their knees, clasped their hands, and bowed their heads in prayer. A policeman abruptly interrupted their meditation and told them they would have to get up.
"We were told to keep them moving," the officer said as a Secret Service man indicated the couple should be left alone.
Numerous visitors took photographs of the coffin, surrounded by a stern and expressionless military honor guard. Some visitors posed their children near the maroon velvet cordon that encircled the center of the Rotunda.
"I feel like this is the end of an era," said Pete Waldron, a Washington resident. "You can mark the dates of the New Deal liberalism from March 4, 1933 (Franklin D. Roosevelt's inauguration) to now. I wanted to pay my respects to him this last time."
"He lived to better other people's lives," said John Belin, a member of the Capitol maintenance staff who had volunteered to work overtime when he learned of Humphrey's death. "Lots of people say he fought for the poor. I always thought he fought for everyone, rich or poor. I'm glad I'm here tonight."
Like Medley, many of the latecomers said they had chosen the hour to avoid the crowds. "I wanted to come for the service in the morning but I knew that would be impossible," said Gayle Route, a student at Howard as she and companion Chuck Smith, also a Howard student, paused on their way through just before 5 a.m. "I thought this way, with less people around it would be more personal."
It was not unusual for mourners to kneel in prayer, begin weeping and then leave, usually comforted by a friend.
Edgar and Nadine Johnson set out from their home in West Philadelphia at about 5 a.m. yesterday and drove for 2 1/2 hours to Washington so they could spend a few short moments in the Capitol Rotunda.
Hubert Humphrey was "down to earth, just like us," said Johnson, an ironworker, "a great man. . . a labor man."
When by Humphrey's flag-draped coffin, Johnson said, "I was thinking about him. . . he could have been a President, he should have been a president. . ."
"There wasn't anything corrupt about him Johnson said. "He was a man of straight answers. . . straight advice. . ."
Tom and Janet Nickels, their 7-week-old son Travis bundled in a fuzzy yellow snowsuit, left their home in Burke, Va., at 6:30 a.m., headed for the Capitol.
They would have been happy, Nickels said, for just a glimpse of the catafalque and then they would go one to church services. But when they arrived in the Rotunda the crowd was thin, so they had a few extra moments to stop and think.
Hillard Jones of Washington, came to the Rotunda early yesterday after he finished his shift in the production department at The Washington Post, Jones, 34, dressed in a heavy blue snow suit, described Humphrey as "an inspiration to me. . . full of life. . . always smiling. . .
"I wanted to give my last respects to him because he has made my life very well by what he has done." Jones said as he left the Capitol building.
J. Jerome Bullock, U.S. Marshal for the District of Columbia said even though it was a small gesture it was important to me" to make the trip to the Capitol early yesterday.
Even though Humphrey's illness had been public for a long time, many in the late night crowd said they were shocked to hear of his death. "I knew, I knew," said Deborah Kornegay, a typist for the transportation department. "I just didn't think he would go so fast. My friends and I decided even though it was late (3:30 a.m.) we should come down."
"He cared about the everyday person," one of her friends, Jackie Smith added.
"The minute I heard I knew I had to come by," said Bruce Blume, a Georgetown law student as he watched the 5 a.m. changing of the honor guard. "I swung by earlier, about noon, but it wasn't open yet so I just decided I would come by after my date tonight. I figured the later the better.
"I knew he was sick but I guess I expected him to go charging along for at least a couple more years. There were times when I really disagreed with him, especially on Vietnam. But he won me back. I guess he did that with a lot of young people these last couple of years."
Young people and black people seemed to be more dominant as the hours ticked away. It was not until 2 a.m. that people were able to walk in without a wait in line. Even then the steam was steady.
Calvin Bussie and Richard Cunningham, both Washington residents who arrived shortly after 3 a.m. and did not leave until close to 5 a.m. said it was hard to leave.
"It's hard knowing this is the last time, "Cunningham said. "Even though he's not here what he did still is. I want to keep my memories of the warm person he was. We came a long way with him."
People rarely talked in specifics or mentioned Humphrey's record in Congress or as Vice President. They preferred instead to talk of the man himself. That was why, they said, they wanted more than just the quick final look an earlier arrival would have given them.
"I guess civil rights was what made him special," said Derky Kinard, an associate vice president for student affairs at the University of the District of Columbia, as he and his family prepared to leave. "He fought for it when it wasn't popular.
"But really, it wasn't any one thing. It was more than that. It was the whole thing that was special. Everything about him. The whole man was a special person."
Later, as the memorial service began, the sidewalk along the east side of the Capitol was lined with onlookers, huddled in coats and scarves against a bitter cold wind. They faced the Rotunda and listened over transistor radios to the tributes to Humphrey.
"I watched him as a man of God, as a leader. . ." said one man whose hands were shoved deep into the pockets of his light grey overcoat," . . . when he spoke, he spoke up for all people."