Arlington National Cemetery isn't conveniently located right in the center of Washington, DC -- which may explain why it doesn't attract quite as many visitors as, say, the Washington Monument or the White House. But it's not that hard to reach, across the Potomac River and adjacent to the Pentagon; and if you have a friend or relative buried there, or a need to see the eternal flame at John Kennedy's grave site, then it's definitely on the "things to see" list when you come to town.
My mother's family has been in the Washington area since the Revolutionary War, so you would think that I would have been here several times during my various visits to the city. But for whatever reason, this weekend's visit to Washington was the first time that I actually got there. Rather than regurgitate all of the details about the history and layout of the cemetery, it's easier to just point you to the Wikipedia article
; it covers most of what you're likely to be curious about.
From a photographic perspective, it might have been more interesting to be here at dawn or sunset, or a misty morning when only a few mourners were wandering among the gravestones. Instead, it was a bright, sunny Easter morning; and there were a gazillion people wandering along all of the roads and pathways. But the rows and rows of stark white gravestones were still breathtaking to see, especially when surrounded by the carefully manicured grass and the bright pink of blossoming cherry trees.
I had assumed that virtually all of the gravestones were identical -- i.e., small, simple, rectangular slabs about a foot wide and two feet tall. But many of the older graves were marked by massive, ornate stones; there were even a few obelisks, of the sort that one would normally expect to see in Rome or Egypt. And there were a few gravestones constructed from some kind of black (granite?) stone, which seemed almost like a rebellious rejection of the standard stones. Maybe the rules changed somewhere along the way; I wasn't able to figure out that level of detail.
One reason for visiting Arlington, of course, is to see the gravesites of the Kennedy brothers. They're up on a hillside, at the base of the expanse of lawn that leads up to the Robert E. Lee mansion; and while JFK's is more ornate than that of his brothers, they are all quite elegant in their simplicity.
With 300,000 people buried here, and 20 new burials each day (according to the Wikipedia article
), there's probably no time when you could expect to be completely alone anywhere in this vast burial ground. But maybe I'll come back here someday when it's pouring rain, or freezing cold; I'd like to spend some time sitting quietly, alone, so that I can feel the collective history of all these men and women wash over me ...