Tuesday, September 26, 2006

DC Travel Logs-III

Okay a quiz question first....

Think Hollywood...
Think long rows of white headstones...
Hear any bells ringing? ( I mean in your head, not in the church across the road!)

think........ think......... ok time's up!

The Arlington National Cemetery is the answer.

Now, the Arlington National Cemetery is the other place that I was looking forward to visiting (like the Capitol), and I'd been pestering my projectmates to come along with me ever since we got here. To which they replied, "What?! Are you crazy? you wanna go and visit a cemetery??!!" Now honestly, I didn't know much about it, but I'd heard about it ....from..I don't know where exactly....yeah maybe from watchin a lot of movies...! But anyways, just to atleast convince them to accompany me, I was like "C'mon guys...this is no ordinary cemetery...I've heard its special!...C'mon!!! please!!"

Truly speaking,
I had no idea how un-ordinary it was.
I had no idea how special it was.

Until we got there.

Techincally, the cemetery isn't actually in DC, its just opposite DC in Arlington County, Virginia, across the Potomac (the name of the river that runs along these areas, and the name of a good pizza outlet too :P). It's situated very near to the Pentagon and we went there on a hot sunny day, right after my excellent Pentagon photography lesson.

Now this place is steeped in history...I literally mean steeped..(cos major parts of it are atop a hill too). Well, it is an American military cemetery primarily, and it was established during the American Civil War. 260,000 people have been laid to rest here. It has graves of some of the most important people of the USA - Presidents, Chief Justices, but most importantly, the soldiers who served during the 1st World War, the 2nd World War, victims of the Iraq and Afghanistan US exploits, ranging all they way back to those slain in the American Revolution.

The place is huge, across many acres, and it is impossible for a person to walk and visit the cemetery's most important sites. Well, maybe not impossible, but very tough atleast. So there are plenty of bus tours that operate within the cemetery, and these take you to places..where..where a tourist would wanna go. And these tours are guide-accompanied, so you get to learn a lot too. Our guide was a cheery old guy called Mervin. We first went to well, the most important site of all - the grave of John Fitzgerald Kennedy. Not just his, his wife Jacqueline's, and their son's and daughter's too. Fours graves aligned in a row. And adorned by the Eternal Flame, that has been lit at the head of the tomb. The Eternal Flame supposedly is never put off and burns brightly throught the year, 365*24*7. Mervin told us that reportedly, after JFK was shot dead, he was going to be buried at their home estate, but Jacqueline said that he "belonged to the people" and so, America's most loved president was buried at the Arlington National Cemetery. Just a few yards away is the tomb of his brother, Robert F Kennedy, that is symmetrically just across and below the Arlington House - the mansion of Robert E. Lee (who once owned this whole estate and used to live here before it was converted into a cemetery).

From the JFK site, we went to the site which perhaps, is so famous, many people use it as an alias for the cemetery's name, 'The Tomb of the Unknowns'. Formerly known as 'The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier', this site is what can be picturised by the "long rows of white headstones" image. It has the graves of unknown soldiers from both the World Wars and the Korean War. Mervin told us that it used to contain an unknown soldier from the Vietnam War, but they later identified the person, and the body was exhumed and moved to another location as per his family's wishes. We got to witness the Changing of the Guard ceremony which takes place every half-hour at the tomb memorial, cos there is a guard standing at the Tomb of the Unknowns at any time of the day. It was brilliant watching the solemn ceremony take place, as a new guard took his slot and replaced the guard who had been there. Reminded me of the beginning scenes of 'A Few Good Men'. Anyways, after that we went to the Lee Mansion, which has been made a tourist location, however with a lot of the furniture in the house (used by George Washington too) preserved and kept the exact same way it has been since ages. A short walk to the Memorial Amphitheater was next - amazing architecture again, as a lot of DC is. We then covered the rest of the cemetery, and other famous tombs of people were pointed out. The whole place is so serene and peaceful, and the authorities have made sure that tourists respect and honour the rules within the cemetery.

Here's a piece of trivia - contrary to what most people think, atleast what I used to think, Mervin told us that the cemetery is still very much an active cemetery - in the sense, on an average, atleast 25 people are buried there! And this rate the cemetery would get saturated in another 20 years, and then it would cease to be active.

We spent half-the-day there...and then went on to our next tourist location...random tourists in a foreign land.

However....those long rows of white headstones will remain etched in our memories forever.

Unforgettable














JFK tomb











Changing of the Guard














The Amphitheater














View of DC and the Potomac - from the Lee tomb (in front of his mansion)

5 comments:

moi said...

Aweeesssssssssssssssssomeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee
dudeeeeeeeee :) :)

Anu Nair said...

I'm soooo JEALOUS!!!

stan_da_man said...

@moi: aawiteeee dude....

@anu: heheheee...don't be dumbo..u'll also come here n all sumday...

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