By STEVE SZKOTAK
CHARLESTON -- They came by the thousands to pay their respects to U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd, and they kept trickling in past midnight and into the early morning hours Friday to honor a statesman, a scholar and, above all, a proud West Virginian.
Under a shadow cast by a sprawling walnut tree, Janet Artrip, 67, wiped away tears for the man who played fiddle for her and her late husband and who chatted with them in Huntington.
Like Artrip, many visitors had a personal remembrance of the man who had served in the U.S. Senate for 51 years and who died Monday at the age of 92.
But most didn't have a direct connection to Byrd, who was known for enriching West Virginia during his unprecedented tenure.
John Hamon, 50, of Charleston stood outside the Capitol after midnight to simply honor "a great man'' he had never met.
"The state has lost a good man. The whole country has, actually,'' said Hamon, a medical technician.
Byrd's body lay in repose for six hours in the U.S. Senate chamber before he was returned to West Virginia on Thursday for a processional through the capital city. His casket, draped in a West Virginia flag, was carried to the lower rotunda of the statehouse under a glittering chandelier and encircled by 16 marble columns. The public viewing continued until the building was prepared for a Friday morning visit by President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and a who's who of national political figures.
On a perfect summer night, thousands of visitors quietly lined up along the corridor of the west wing lined by portraits of former governors, snaking outside the building hundreds of feet beyond the doors of the Capitol.
Only after midnight did the crowd thin to a scattering of people, some holding children in blankets against the chill night air. Many hustled in after working a late shift. As the morning drew closer, the line had dissolved to small knots of bleary-eyed people walking into the building every few minutes.