Cemetery -- a burial ground for those who have died. Arlington National Cemetery is America's most revered burial ground, which shows the Nation's history through the stories of those buried there. The land was first explored in the early 1600s by Captain John Smith. In 1669, Robert Howsing received a 6,000 acre allotment of land from the royal governor of the Virginia colony for his work in bringing much needed laborers to the new colony. Howsing did little to develop the land which eventually was purchased by John Parke Custis.
The construction of Arlington House, the home of the Custis family, began in 1802. The house was later occupied by Mary Custis and her husband Colonel Robert E. Lee. During the Civil War, Lee joined the Confederate Army while Union troops occupied Arlington House, forcing Mary Lee out of her home. In 1862, Congress passed "An Act for the Collection of Taxes in Insurrectionary Districts." That Act levied property taxes on Confederate lands including Arlington House, which was assessed a tax of $92.07. Mary Lee sent representatives to Washington to pay the taxes, but the United States Federal Government would not accept the money, arguing that the property owner must pay the taxes in person. Because of the delay, Mrs. Lee defaulted on the taxes and the land was confiscated by the United States Federal Government.
In 1864, Private William Christman, 67th Pennsylvania Infantry, was the first person to be buried on the grounds of the estate. Later that year the cemetery was officially commissioned a military cemetery. Early burials were done in the vicinity of Mrs. Lee's rose garden to keep the Lees from returning to their home. The plan worked. When Mrs. Lee returned to Arlington House in 1873, she was distraught by its condition and returned to her home in Lexington, Virginia, where she died five months later.
A total of 2,111 Civil War Unknowns were buried in a memorial just outside of Arlington House in 1866. This memorial was the first of many built on the cemetery grounds to honor Union Soldiers. A small amphitheater was dedicated in 1874, to accommodate the large crowds that attended Memorial Day ceremonies to honor Civil War-era dead.
In 1882, the Supreme Court declared the United States Federal Government a trespasser on the Arlington grounds and ordered the lands returned to the Lee family. With over 10,000 grave sites already there, George Washington Custis Lee sold the land back to the U.S. Government for $150,000. During the following two decades, the cemetery annexed almost 200 acres of surrounding land from the government.
Interments of those who died in American conflicts began in 1892, with the first of several Revolutionary War casualties. In 1899, Spanish-American War Soldiers were brought back from the battlefields to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery, marking the first time that American Soldiers who died on foreign soil were brought back to the United States for burial. In 1902, the Spanish-American War Memorial was dedicated.
Lieutenant Thomas Selfridge was the first person to die from an airplane crash. In 1908, Orville Wright, one of the inventors of the airplane, brought a test model to Washington. In a test flight on the grounds of Fort Myer, adjacent to Arlington National Cemetery, Wright tried to demonstrate that airplanes could be used in military surveillance by the Signal Corps. During one test flight, Selfridge, who was a passenger, died when the plane crashed. Since he was in the military, Lt. Selfridge was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
Many influential people from the Nation's Capital were buried at Arlington National Cemetery, such as the designer of the city, Pierre L'Enfant. L'Enfant's tomb was placed directly in front of Arlington House overlooking the city he designed.Robert Todd Lincoln, the son of President Abraham Lincoln, was buried in 1921, with his tomb overlooking the Lincoln Memorial. In 1930, William Howard Taft became the first of only two presidents to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
Due to large crowds at Memorial Day ceremonies at Arlington, there was a need for more space to accommodate visitors. In 1915, President Woodrow Wilson laid the cornerstone to the new Memorial Amphitheater which was dedicated in 1920.
The United States' Unknown Soldier from World War I was interred in front of the recently refurbished Memorial Amphitheater on Armistice Day, November 11, 1921. In 1932, the carved top of the tomb, as it now stands, was set into place. The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was placed under a 24-hour honor guard in 1937, a duty which was assumed by the Third United States Infantry, "The Old Guard," a decade later. It is said that to be selected to guard "the Tomb" is the greatest honor in the Army. In 1958, unknown soldiers from World War II and the Korean Conflict were interred on the plaza in front of the World War I Unknown Soldier.
On November 22, 1963, President John Fitzgerald Kennedy was assassinated. He was laid to rest directly below Arlington House. Later, that year his two deceased children were buried alongside him. Senator Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1968 ,and was buried in a memorial site adjacent to his brother's.
Many well-decorated military men and women are buried at Arlington Cemetery, such as General John "Black Jack" Pershing in 1948; Audie Murphy, the most decorated World War II soldier, in 1971; Francis Gary Powers, the U-2 spy plane pilot, was buried after a helicopter crash in 1977.
In 1976, amidst the bicentennial celebration of the United States, the historian's office was created at the cemetery, and all headstones of Medal of Honor recipients had lettering highlighted with gold leafing. Many world leaders, such as Queen Elizabeth II, visited Arlington National Cemetery that year.
In 1980, three airman from the aborted Iranian Hostage Rescue Mission were buried at Arlington National Cemetery. In 1983, twenty-one of the victims of the terrorist bombing in Beirut, Lebanon, were buried at Arlington National Cemetery. In 1989, one casualty from Operation Just Cause was interred. In 1991, after the Persian Gulf War, twenty-seven casualties were buried at Arlington National Cemetery. And, in 1996, after the terrorist bombing in Saudi Arabia, one casualty was buried in the cemetery. With that interment, there is at least one person from each American war, conflict, and terrorist action buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
When the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded seventy-four seconds into its flight, the world mourned. Commander Francis Dick Scobee and Navy test pilot, Michael Smith, two of the astronauts, were buried at Arlington National Cemetery in 1986. In 1987, the memorial to the Challenger crew was completed and dedicated. In 1988, Frank Irwin, one of the Americans to walk on the moon, was buried at Arlington.
In 1984, the latest addition to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was added when the Vietnam Conflict Unknown Soldier was interred between the Korean Conflict and the World War II Unknown Soldiers.
Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis, the wife of President John F. Kennedy, died in 1994, and was buried next to her husband. In 1996, the airplane carrying Secretary of Commerce Ron Brown crashed in Dubrovnik, Croatia, killing all of the passengers. Secretary Brown was buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
Arlington National Cemetery remains the Nations most revered burial site, the final resting place for over 220,000 Americans -- its grounds consecrated by the sacrifice and dedication of its sons and daughters. Those who visit Arlington honor those who have served their country in war and in peace and who now rest forever in their final post.
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