on April 6, 2008
Travelling out to Arlington Cemetery on the Blue metro line I braced myself for a somber experience, filled with moments of reflection and nostalgia. Arlington is the resting place of the Kennedy family and many US service men and women. However I had forgotten that Arlington attracts four million visitors per year, so my visit would not allow for much silent or solitary contemplation. We walked from the metro station to the visitors centre where you can pick up a map and other information to help you decide on the best course of action – tour on foot or buy a bus ticket. A quick look at the location of some of the "sights" showed us that the main points of interest were fairly well spread out over the 200 acres and opting for the bus tour appeared to be the better way to go. We paid $7 for a ticket that allows you to get on and off the bus at leisure and takes you to the Kennedy gravesite, The Tomb of the Unknowns and Arlington House. The drive between stops is actually quite brief and being part of the crowds piling on and off the bus made me feel more lazy and disrespectful than reverent. Despite signs requesting that cell phones should not be used, I spotted a few people sneaking in conversations and I started to feel like a reluctant tour group member on a side trip from a cruise ship. Given the short driving distances, the on-board narrations were brief and consequently not overly informative. The first stop is the Kennedy site, where John F. Kennedy, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and two of their children are interred. Besides Kennedy, the only other US president to be buried at Arlington is William Howard Taft, who was president from 1909-1913. A short walk away is the solitary white cross marking the gravesite of Robert F. Kennedy whose funeral at Arlington is the only one to have been conducted at night. After another short drive, the bus pulls up near The Tomb of the Unknowns. As with all the major stops on the bus route, the location of the Tomb offers impressive views over Washington DC. The large white marble sarcophagus has simple sculpted panels and is closely monitored by the Third United States Infantry Regiment, also known as "The Old Guard". We witnessed first hand what happens to any visitor that strays too close to a barrier. One poor photographer got a very loud and curt reprimand from a faceless soldier with a rifle perched on his shoulder, which rattled more than a few people in the crowd. The last stop is Arlington House, owned by the first president's adopted grandson, George Washington Parke Custis. Now a museum, its walls contain a fascinating history, as it was never intended to be a part of the cemetery or military reservation that now surrounds it.
©Travelocity.com LP 2000-2009