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« Robert Joins His Brother | Main | An Eternal Flame »
Wednesday
Sep022009

JFK's Family

When last we saw him, President Kennedy was lying in his hurridly constructed grave at the base of the hill under Arlington House. He was not to be there alone for long. Two children who pre-deceased him were re-interred in a private cemetery on December, 4th 1963. A daughter had not been baptized and hence is simply remembered as "Daughter" (the Kennedy's had reportedly planned on "Arabella" as a name). His son, Patrick Bouvier Kennedy, was brought from the family plot in Holyhood Cemetery in Brookline, Massachusetts. Patrick had been born prematurely with hyaline membrane disease, a serious respiratory disease. He had lived only two days and died on August 9th, 1963. The trip to Dallas had been one of the first public events of Mrs. Kennedy following this, adding yet another layer of tragedy to an event that needed no more.

Before the Flame was even lit, it was apparent that the Kennedy grave site would require a more comprehensive approach. "Some time in the future an appropriate tomb will be raised above it" the Times of London reported in it's funeral coverage. The original grave was a simple mound with the Flame on top of it, with Patrick and his daughter buried nearby under traditional markers. The entire site was surrounded by a white picket fence. Pictures are available here if you don't mind scrolling down a bit.

Needless to say, this impromptu area was insufficient to the crowds that poured in to pay their respects, so planning on the grave site you see today was begun immediately. I won't go into the full details of that process, but suffice it to say, the new site was opened to the public on July 20th, 1967. While the Kennedy family payed for the grave, the land is not deeded to family but remains the property of the U.S. government, fulfilling Jackie's wish to give her husband "to the people".

The site you see (and is pictured above) is made of blocks of granite, originally quarried from Cape Cod in the 19th Century and chosen by the Kennedy family. As some souvenir hunters found in 1997, they weigh up to 500 pounds, go down several feet, and are interconnected. The space between them was seeded with clover and sedum, a nod to the President's Irish heritage and an attempt to give the area a natural feel. The Eternal Flame, now that they had some time to plan, was designed by the Institute of Gas Technology and now runs off of an installed natural gas line, as opposed to the impromptu propane tank originally used.

And here President Kennedy and his children laid, visited by millions of visitors. He was joined by his brother, Robert a few years later (more on that tomorrow) and, eventually, by his wife Jacqueline, who passed away on May 19th, 1994. As long expected, Jackie was buried next to her husband. The President's grave was moved 30 inches to the left to maintain symmetry with the Flame. Like her husband and children, a black slate marker was engraved with her name. While some discussion has emerged about her eligibility to be married here, the party line is that as Aristotle Onassis died before her, she is not ineligible. Per the guidelines a spouse widowed and remarried should not be eligible, but this caveat, if it exists, is not mentioned. I imagine the last name "Kennedy" doesn't hurt, either.

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