Wednesday, August 18, 2010

August 17, 2010: Washington - Arlington Cemetery

Arlington Cemetery was my first venture across the Potomac into Virginia. I had re-read Connie Willis' "Lincoln's Dreams" to immerse myself in some Civil War trivia. The cemetery didn't look much like I'd imagined it from the descriptions (although the scene set there in the book takes place in a snowstorm in winter). It was bigger, with less sense of history - everything looked so new and well-maintained.

The only part that did seem a bit old and crumbling was Arlington House, the home of Robert E. Lee, leader of the Confederate army. They are in the midst of renovations to bring everything up to modern museum standards, so at the moment it's a bit tumble down. However, the view can't be beat - it's on top of a steep hill, with some fantastic old trees about.

The Kennedy grave sites were on the hill below: John F Kennedy, with some of his most famous speeches carved in stone along the perimeter of the plaza in front, Robert F. Kennedy, with one of his speeches carved in stone above a nice reflecting pool, and Ted Kennedy, with just a modest white cross (I would imagine there'll be plans to install something more momentous for him as well).

There was a huge amphitheater with the tomb of the Unknown Soldier. This was a surprisingly elaborate affair - roped-off areas for observers were filled with visitors who watched a military official march back and forth in front of it (with that eerie gait in which nothing seems to move except the feet).

On my way out I stopped in at the Women in Military Service for America Memorial. This was just outside the gates of Arlington, and was the only place to buy cold water. From the outside it looks like a typical archway of stone with some carvings and a fountain, but it turned out to be a very striking modern building, set in behind the stone with a glass ceiling roofing the space - I walked up to the top and was able to look inside to the roped-off area where a fancy reception was taking place.

I'd been interested in possibly visiting Mount Vernon, and while at Arlington discovered that the tour buses leaving from there were considerably cheaper than those at Union Station in downtown Washington. This bumps up the probability of visiting to much higher on the list.

Photos: rows of graves at Arlington; the massive pillars (and surprisingly stripey stone) of Robert E. Lee's house; tree behind Arlington House; grave marker of 2111 unidentified Civil War soldiers; JFK quote carved in stone; JFK and Jacqueline graves; Robert Kennedy's quote and pool; Ted Kennedy's grave; amphitheater; soldier at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier; grass refurbishment (in progress at left, completed at right); is it wrong that I've watched so much "True Blood" that a grave for Compton jumped out at me? the Challenger memorial (where oddly enough there's a need to have a sign to say "no coins" - there's no pool to toss them in!); exterior of Women in Military Service for America Memorial; interior of Women in Military Service Memorial

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