Respecting Tradition at Arlington National Cemetery in DC
August 18, 2013
Cemeteries aren’t usually at the top of travelers’ priorities when going to a new city, and admittedly, we fall victim to that same description. The whole haunted stigma attached brings about eerie and spine-chilling vibes that really aren’t what vacationers are looking for. But, the beauty and order that is at Arlington National Cemetery overrules the former feelings, making it one of the most important and tranquilly influential places to visit in Washington, DC, and one every traveler should see.
The best-known military cemetery in the country, this serene green space was established as a cemetery during the Civil War, and since then, thousands of the military’s commanders, chiefs, soldiers, and essentially anyone who meets the criteria have been laid beneath. Notable tombs are those of President Taft, Kennedy, Senator Robert F. Kennedy, Thurgood Marshall, George C. Marshall, and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. There are of course many others—the cemetery conducts almost 7,000 burials per year.
Quite representative of the regimented fashion under which our military runs, the tombs themselves are arranged in a discreet and orderly manner, making for a visually appealing and uniform terrain of more than 600 acres. Don’t expect to see the tombs like those at Père Lachaise in Paris, for example. For starters, they are not above ground, nor are they elaborate expressions of art with flowers, candles, and ivy swimming up and around busts, benches, and decorative tiles. Instead, at Arlington, each person buried is giving the same, uniform white marble gravestone, which creates a stately ambiance when combined with the meticulously manicured grass and large trees throughout.
Arguably the most special part of the cemetery is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, which is pragmatically just that, though it represents so much more. The US government created this memorial to serve as a token of respect to all the soldiers that have passed away and remained unidentified, and it remains guarded at all times by soldiers from the US Army. Try to swing by during one of the guard changing rituals—one of the oldest traditions in the US military—a meticulous tradition that occurs on the hour or every 30 minutes (depending on what month it is).
As you might suspect, the burial traditions and funerals, we’ve heard, are particularly special and moving. If you are not privy to this ceremony, though, you can still pay your respects, while simultaneously taking in one of the military’s loveliest tributes, and one of the best sights in the city.
Read more about Arlington Cemetery and similar establishments in our Washington, DC Guide.