Arlington National Cemetery Pictures and History
Arlington National Cemetery may be one of the saddest places in America. More than 300,000 tombstones and memorials stand in the green rolling hillsides of this U.S. military burial ground. Many of their inscriptions tell of young lives cut short by war.
Four million people a year visit Arlington National Cemetery, which is located across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C. This area of Arlington was designated a military cemetery during the Civil War. Men and women (and in some cases, their family members) who served in the Armed Services have been buried here with military honors since that time.
The list of those interred here include Medal of Honor recipients, explorers, nurses, astronauts, Supreme Court Justices, and two U.S. presidents. The remains of veterans of the American Revolutionary War share the meticulously groomed hillsides with those who served (and often died) in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as all military actions in between.
Arlington National Cemetery History
The history of the property and the story of how it became America’s best known national cemetery go back to the early days of the United States.
Arlington House (also called the “Custis-Lee Mansion”), a Georgian-Revival house that is located on a hillside overlooking the Capitol, was built by George Washington Parke Custis, George Washington’s adopted grandson and ward (Custis’s father was Martha Washington’s son by her first marriage). Started in 1802, the house was completed in 1818.
Custis and his wife lived in the house until their death in 1857 and 1853, respectively, and are buried on the property. Arlington House was the wedding site of their only child, Mary Anna Randolph Custis, when she married a highly regarded West Point graduate and young Army officer, Robert E. Lee, in 1831. She inherited the house and its working plantation upon her father’s death.
Lee’s decision to resign his commission in the U.S. Army and serve in the Army of Northern Virginia during the Civil War came with personal sacrifice—federal troops crossed the Potomac and took possession of the 1,100-acre estate shortly after Virginia seceded from the Union. (In 1883, following a legal battle that went all the way to the Supreme Court, Lee’s eldest son received $150,000 from Congress as compensation for the property’s confiscation without due process.)
The remains of soldiers killed at the Battle of Bull Run (the First Battle of Manassas) were among the first to be buried at Arlington. Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton officially designated the area as a military cemetery on June 15, 1864.
Visitors may view the Arlington House, which is maintained by the National Park Service, during the hours that the cemetery is open.
Tomb of the Unknowns
The must-see during a visit to Arlington is the Tomb of the Unknowns (also known as the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier). Originally built to honor an unidentified American who served and died in World War I, the Tomb now also marks the final resting place of anonymous servicemen from World War II and the Korean War (DNA testing identified the remains of a formally interred Vietnam War serviceman whose crypt will remain empty).
The white marble sarcophagus and the graves marked with marble slabs are guarded 24 hours a day, 365 days a year by an elite group of Tomb Guard sentinels. The Changing of the Guard ceremony—every hour on the hour from October to March, and every half hour from April to September—is an elaborate and moving ritual.
Kennedy Grave Sites
Many people also visit the gravesites of President John F. Kennedy and Senator Robert F. Kennedy. Killed by an assassin’s bullet on November 22, 1963, President Kennedy’s body was buried at Arlington three days later in a ceremony that included the lighting of an eternal flame by his widow, Jacqueline, and brother, Robert.
Senator Robert Kennedy was killed by another assassin in June 1968. His body lies in a nearby grave site designed by architect I.M. Pei. Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis was buried next to President Kennedy in 1994.
by Katie Calvert