STO­RIES AMONG THE HEAD­STONES

Ar­ling­ton Na­tional Ceme­tery turns 150 years old

The Washington Times Weekly - - Culture, Etc. - BY MERED­ITH SOMERS

The third man to walk on the moon is buried at Ar­ling­ton Na­tional Ceme­tery in the com­pany of more than 400 Medal of Honor re­cip­i­ents, 10 Rev­o­lu­tion­ary War vet­er­ans, civil rights ac­tivist Medgar Evers, and Abra­ham Lin­coln’s son, Robert.

The hal­lowed grounds of the North­ern Vir­ginia grave­yard are well-known as the site for the Tomb of the Un­known Sol­dier and the fi­nal rest­ing place of Pres­i­dent John F. Kennedy, but as the ceme­tery turns 150 years old this month, of­fi­cials say they’re hop­ing the mile­stone an­niver­sary will not be only about com­mem­o­ra­tion but also ed­u­ca­tion.

“The big thing for us is to get people off the beaten path, go to some of the ar­eas of the ceme­tery they wouldn’t nor­mally go to,” said ceme­tery spokes­woman Melissa Bohan. “We want to ed­u­cate vis­i­tors here on the breadth and depth of Ar­ling­ton Na­tional Ceme­tery, and the sig­nif­i­cant sac­ri­fice so many people have [made].”

The an­niver­sary com­mem­o­ra­tion be­gan Tues­day, with a wreath-lay­ing at the grave­stone of Army Pvt. Wil­liam Christ­man, for whom the first mil­i­tary burial was con­ducted at the ceme­tery.

Christ­man’s re­mains were the first in the ground on May 13, 1864, said cu­ra­tor Rod­er­ick Gainer, but “W.B. Blatt,” whose tomb­stone is next to Christ­man’s and who died one day ear­lier, was the first com­bat ca­su­alty buried in the ceme­tery. (Christ­man died of measles.) One row be­hind Christ­man’s tomb­stone is the stone for “Wm. McKin­ney,” whose fam­ily was the first to at­tend a burial in the ceme­tery.

Mr. Rod­er­ick said the ceme­tery’s first sec­tion was used be­cause of its prox­im­ity to the Po­tomac River, and it was far away from troops still fight­ing the Civil War.

It’s that sort of his­tory of­fi­cials are hop­ing vis­i­tors to the ceme­tery will learn in the com­ing month. “More than 400,000 people are buried here,” Ms. Bohan said. “Each of them has a story. We’re hop­ing through these five weeks to tell some of those sto­ries.”

To in­tro­duce vis­i­tors to the grave­yard, be­gin­ning Mon­day, the ceme­tery is host­ing 10 days of spe­cial guided tours. The tours cost $9 per per­son and high­light the Civil War, World Wars I and II, the Cold War, the wars of the late 20th century, and the burial sites of soldiers who earned the Medal of Honor.

“We have 10 days of tours so vis­i­tors get a chance to un­der­stand we have dif­fer­ent groups of people buried here,” Ms. Bohan said. “We have 407 Medal of Honor re­cip­i­ents here. That’s a sig­nif­i­cant story.”

Other events for the an­niver­sary in­clude a Dec­o­ra­tion Day ob­ser­vance on May 30, and the first ever evening pro­gram in the Me­mo­rial Am­phithe­ater, sched­uled for June 13. The show is called “Ar­ling­ton at 150 Ob­ser­vance Pro­gram: A trib­ute to Ar­ling­ton’s Past, Present and Fu­ture.”

A wreath-lay­ing cer­e­mony at the Tomb of the Un­known Sol­dier is sched­uled for June 16.

When the ceme­tery be­gan ac­cept­ing soldiers, the site con­sisted of about 200 acres — property taken from the site of Robert E. Lee’s house af­ter he fled dur­ing the Civil War.

To­day, the ceme­tery sprawls across more than 600 acres, in­cludes sev­eral me­mo­ri­als and mon­u­ments, and is close enough to the Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton Park­way to here the low rum­ble of com­muter traf­fic. High above the ceme­tery, planes reg­u­larly roar by as they ar­rive at and de­part from Ron­ald Rea­gan Wash­ing­ton Na­tional Air­port.

While the ceme­tery’s phys­i­cal as­pects have changed since Christ­man’s burial, of­fi­cials said the duty of the ceme­tery has re­mained the same.

“Ar­ling­ton Na­tional Ceme­tery has a very spe­cial place in the na­tion’s psy­che,” said Jack E. Lech­ner, Jr., the ceme­tery’s deputy su­per­in­ten­dent. “It’s not the people who work here, or the people who were put in charge. This ceme­tery is con­se­crated by the names of he­roes.”

Apollo 12 as­tro­naut Charles “Pete” Con­rad, the third man to walk on the moon, was buried with full mil­i­tary hon­ors on July 19, 1999.

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