The Senate, said fellow West Virginia Democrat Jay Rockefeller, "was his place where he ruled and, you know, had all of his great moments. So it was very somber and that's the way it should have been.''
Byrd's casket was resting on the Lincoln Catafalque, a bier that was built for the coffin of Abraham Lincoln.
It was a homecoming of sorts for some mourners. Former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle and other past colleagues, including Don Nickles of Oklahoma, Charles Robb of Virginia, Bob Kerrey of Nebraska and Alan Simpson of Wyoming, conversed with current senators. One of the first in line was Hillary Rodham Clinton, a senator from New York before she became secretary of state.
Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., recalled the advice Byrd gave her after her election in 1986 when she asked how she could best succeed in the Senate. "Stay loyal to the Constitution, stay loyal to the constituents, and do what I tell ya,'' he replied.
Byrd is the second political great the Senate has lost in the past year, following the death last August of Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts. Kennedy was elected in 1962, three years after Byrd entered the Senate.
Kennedy's last motorcade took him to the steps of the Senate, where members of his staff and lawmakers gathered to pay their final respects, before moving on to Arlington Cemetery.
Byrd's hearse arrived at those same steps Thursday, where it was met by the Democratic senator's staff and about two dozen members of his family.
It is fairly common in recent years for people of national import to lie in state or in honor in the Rotunda, the great hall in the center of the Capitol. Former Presidents Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford were honored in the Rotunda in 2004 and early 2007, and civil rights leader Rosa Parks in 2005.
But while 45 people, including 19th-century Senate greats such as John C. Calhoun, Henry Clay and Charles Sumner, were commemorated on the Senate floor after their deaths, the last to lie in repose in the Senate was William Langer of North Dakota in 1959.