Arlington is well known as the final resting ground of America's heroes, Presidents, and military greats, but it's rarely thought of as a literary destination. However, amongst its 300,000+ permanent residents, surely one or two would able to turn a phrase, right? Let's take a look at a few:
Entries in Kennedy's (7)
So, you are in DC on Christmas Day and everything is oh so silent (during the day too--not just at night), but do not despair, we at DC Like a Local have some suggestions for you.
If you have a car, enjoy the free and abundant parking downtown. Yeah, Christmas is the one day of the year the Smithsonian is closed—which might account for the abundant parking—but enjoy parking without having to have a roll of quarters ever present or paying for parking via those annoying ticket machines. Ugh!
We are going to assume that you are reading this because you do not want to do the religion thing. If you wanted to do the religion thing, you would just go to church. Here we look for things you could do that do not involve church services.
First of all, the monuments do not close. No, neither the Tourmobile nor any of the other tour companies running tours to the monuments will be operating, but get yourself a good pair of shoes and walk it. Don’t tell anyone, but you could be standing in front of Lincoln without the maddening hordes just gazing up at Daniel Chester French’s statue by your lonesome. In the evening, check out the National Christmas Tree on the South Side of the White House (the side that faces Constitution Avenue, NW, behind the Treasury). Unfortunately, the seasonal entertainment wraps up(pdf) on the evening of December 23rd, but the tree will still be up and lit for you to enjoy. You could even take your photo among all the Christmas lights.
If you’ve done the monuments and/or don’t fancy walking all over the Mall, Arlington Cemetery is open 365 days a year. The Tourmobile will not be running, but the guard at the Tomb of the Unknowns will still change every hour on the hour and walking up there is not so bad if you take your time. The Tomb Guards do that 24/7. Christmas does not stop the show. Before or after the Changing of the Guard, stop by the Kennedy graves. You will see where Edward Kennedy was recently buried next to his brothers John and Robert. It is recommended that you take the Metro; the subway will be on a holiday schedule, so allow extra time.
Hands down favorite for me, however, on Christmas Day is Mount Vernon. Yes, Mount Vernon is open 365 days a year. For some families a Christmas Day visit there is annual tradition. According to the website, the National Treasure tour should even be up and running for Christmas Day (you see areas where the popular film was made). As usual during the holidays, the rarely seen third floor of the mansion will be open to visitors. Unlike The Smithsonian (where you don’t have to pay to get in because you’ve already paid on April 15th), Mount Vernon is privately run and you must pay an admission fee. Mount Vernon is open 9:00am to 4:00pm Christmas Day on its regular winter schedule.
If you want to have a more relaxing day, there is always the “Jewish” solution to Christmas—eat Chinese and see a film—you can do that as well. DC has a small Chinatown on H Street, NW, between 5th and 8th Streets, NW, and H and I Streets, NW. No, it is nothing like Chinatown in San Francisco, but DC does have the world’s largest Chinese Arch. Have the kids count the dragons on the arch; there are 272 of them. So what if they get the number wrong, the purpose is to amuse them, right? Then go get a bite to eat in one of the area’s many Chinese restaurants.
At 604 H Street, NW, in Chinatown take a look at the plaque outside the building. In the 19th century it was the Mary Surrat boarding house--where the Lincoln assassination was planned. Yes, it's open to the public, but only if you want Chinese food. It has morphed into a Chinese carry out called the Wok 'n' Roll. Great name!
Before or after your Chinese meal, drop into Landmark E Street Cinema, 555 11th Street, NW (despite the address actually on E Street between 10th and 11th Street, NW). The Landmark shows a lot of independent and foreign films.
Of course, there is nothing to prevent you from spending a nice relaxing day at home on Christmas preparing for the sales on the day after Christmas!
Once I've taken visitors to the various Kennedy grave sites, an inevitable question arises: Where's John John buried? Why is he not with his father?
Those of you who read my discussion of President Kennedy's grave, may remember that although the site work was paid for by the Kennedy family and the 3.2 acres is dedicated to his remembrance, the plot remains the property of the U.S. Government and part of Arlington National Cemetery. As such, JFK, Jr. would have had to meet the eligibility requirements on his own to be buried with his parents, and as he was not a minor child nor a permanently dependent one, he would not have, much less his wife and her sister, who both died with him in a plane crash off Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts on July 16th, 1999. While certainly the Kennedy family could have asked for an exemption, it doesn't appear that this was ever considered.
So, now that Arlington was out, the Kennedy and Bessette families were faced with a new problem. Part of the attraction that Arlington Cemetery has for high profile burials is the idea that as it is directly controlled by the military, a sense of decorum will be preserved. As it is today. Millions of visitors have come by the Kennedy graves, thousands with me alone, and everyone from cemetery officials, security guards, tour guides, teachers, parents, and (sometimes) school kids keeps this in mind when they visit. Jackie was very wise to give her husband to the people; it relieved the family from what would have been an incredible logistical challenge: keeping her husbands grave secure and respected.
And in many ways, that's what the Kennedy family faced again. Without the U.S. Army guarding it, how would John F. Kennedy, Jr's grave remain untrammeled by thousand of well wishing but overwhelming visitors? Sometimes it's good to be the king, and if the family faced a unique problem, they were capable of unique solutions. Sen. Edward Kennedy reached out to the Defense Department and asked for a favor; a burial at sea. In of itself, unremarkable, the Navy handles thousands of these a year, the circumstances certainly were in this case. Even though JFK Jr had no military experience, a provision exists for for non-veterans who have made notable or outstanding contributions to the United States, as was ruled the case here.
And so the USS Briscoe was dispatched from Norfolk, Virginia to host members of the Kennedy and Bessette families to say good by to their loved ones. Although the Navy handled much of the details, the service was not a military one and did not include the traditional trappings such a the three round volley or the playing of taps that accompanies military and navel funerals. The family committed to the deep, to use the appropriate terminology, the remains of Kennedy and his wife and sister in law.
I myself reported aboard the good ship Briscoe a few months after the funeral, where stories abounded of the event. Someday, I might share some of them with you, but for now let me note on bit of the aftermath that followed the burial.
While, the burial was in keeping with regulations, the speed in which it was carried out bothered the families of many veterans whose remains had yet to be buried. As they had a good point, the Navy sought to clear the backlog as rapidly as possible, so we spent a good portion of 2000 bringing the ship to bare steerage way, donning our whites, and sending many old salts to the briny deep. It was a fun time to be the roommate of the burial officer, and we shared our stateroom had many new residents taking their last sea cruise until we could work through the backlog.
So, back to Arlington Cemetery, how do I answer the question? I normally hold off until walking back from the Tomb of the Unknowns along Roosevelt Drive. Just after you pass McClellan Drive on the left is the grave of Admiral Briscoe, pictured below. He is the namesake of the ship that buried John John, buried himself here at Arlington.
In a story replete with tragic irony, the speech Robert Kennedy gave the day Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated stands out even so. It fell to Robert to break the news to a crowd in a predominately black Indianapolis neighborhood that Dr. King was dead. Quoting from the Greek playwright Aeschylus, Robert acknowledged the crowds anger and added, in a rare personal confession, that he had felt the same at his brother's death. Perhaps in no small part to Kennedy's eloquence and empathy, Indianapolis was spared the violence that tormented so many other American cities that night.
Little did he or the crowd know that in many ways he was writing his own epitaph. In barely two months, Sen. Robert Kennedy would also fall to an assassin's bullet, just as his Presidential campaign was gathering steam. Like his brother's death five years before, plans for his death were hurriedly put together in the midst of the nation's grief.
If they had thought of it before, the Kennedy family had assumed Robert would be buried in Massachusetts. However, with his brother resting in Arlington, the consensus was not to separate the two brothers in death. Robert had briefly enlisted as a Seaman Apprentice in the Navy in 1943, where he served on the destroyer USS Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr., named for his oldest brother who had died in World War II. As a military veteran, as well as a member of Congress and former Attorney General, he was eligible for internment in Arlington.
Despite the military nature of his final resting place, Robert's wife Ethel asked that his funeral and accompanying events be without the trappings of military ceremonies. This was in stark contrast to the heavily military state funeral of President Kennedy. The only request made by the family, other than the location of the grave, was for a honor guard of Special Forces soldiers to be provided at the funeral in St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York. The Kennedy's had shared a special relationship with the Special Forces community, and it had been John who had authorized the distinctive green berets to be worn, which up to that point had been frowned upon officially. Special Forces soldiers had been highly visible at his funeral, and the 1st Special Forces Group had added a black border to it's yellow flash in recognition of the President's assassination.
Following the funeral in New York, the intention was for a special train to take the Senator's remains to DC and, ultimately, Arlington National Cemetery. However, due to the large number of mourners lining the railroad right of way, the train did not arrive until 9:09 pm at Union Station. Following a precession that stopped briefly at the Department of Justice (recently renamed for RFK) and the Lincoln Memorial, the procession arrived late in the evening at the Cemetery. Using candles rushed over from Ft. Myer's and St. Matthew's Cathedral, the family, close aides, and friends of laid Robert to rest a hundred feet from his brother. It was perhaps the most unique funeral ever at Arlington, with a minimum of military trappings, the only one held at night, and with the Harvard University Band playing "America the Beautiful".
The uniqueness of the ceremony was carried over into the design of the grave. Per the request of his family, Robert Kennedy is marked not by a grave of stone or bronze, but by a white painted wooden cross and a simple stone foot stone, engraved only with his name and his years of birth and death. I'm used to saying that it's the only wooden marker here in Arlington, but as of five days ago, I'm no longer correct.
As with his brother, with the luxury of time, the grave site was enlarged, with a granite plaza providing a viewing area. The work was designed by the firm of I.M. Pei, whose known for, among many other things, the design of the East Wing of the National Gallery of Art. The design retains the simplicity of the white wooden cross, but adds a somber water feature, as well as inscriptions from RFK's speeches, including the landmark one in Indianapolis, given just two months before he came here.
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.