President Kennedy’s Gravesite Under Construction in 1965

This is a fascinating old photo from October 6th, 1965 at Arlington National Cemetery. The construction site shows what would eventually become JFK’s gravesite, the Eternal Flame.

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The John F. Kennedy Eternal Flame memorial under construction in Arlington Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia
The John F. Kennedy Eternal Flame memorial under construction in Arlington Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia

Source: Library of Congress

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Tom founded Ghosts of DC on January 4th, 2012 as a blog to uncover the lost and untold history of Washington, D.C. He has lived in the city for over a decade and loves exploring every corner of the District.

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  • Sheila

    So now I want to know how they did that, and was he moved when they did this? Millions of questions.

    • Audrey Burtrum-Stanley

      MORE ANSWERS:
      The major construction of the Kennedy burial memorial area within Arlington (walkways; plaza or patio; carved quotes on a very low wall; steps; new landscape plants; etc…) had been essentially concluded. Then, the cemetery crew exhumed of the late-President from his temp. / nearby, 1963 burial site. The (then) new stone vault was ‘opened’ for the placement of JFK plus his first born and last child’s coffins (which had been brought from the Kennedy family graveplot in Mass.) The trio were placed within the below-ground vault at the same time.
      A select, intimate group was in attendance as well as minimal Arlington-staff. As these tasks were performed, the remaining pair of Kennedy brothers silently stood aside, cloaked in nightfall shadows… A brief religious ceremony followed. Workmen then toiled (by subdued, temp. electric lighting) throughout the evening installing rough Mass. granite to crown the burial chamber’s opening.
      During construction, a large, mature tree had been carefully preserved. It eventually lived to be over two centuries. It was dubbed: ‘The Arlington Oak.’ It was NOT centered in the grave-design’s circle walkway but rather was off to the side. The tree was an historic specimen but of secondary importance; Foremost, this site was aligned with the distant view of the Capitol city and monuments – and oft from these distant city locations, one can look back and glimpse the orange flicker of the gas jet on the green hillside. During all the activity of the final burials, there was also a transfer of the ‘Eternal Flame.’
      This special grave-adornment (inspired by the TOMB OF THE UNKNOWN SOLDIER in France, observed by JFK during a wreath-laying ceremoney during his 1962 state visit) was established at the conclusion of his 1963 cemetery-funeral ceremonies. The President’s widow set ablaze the special fire, then passed the torch to the (then) eldest Kennedy brother, who in turn, passed the lighting-torch to the President’s youngest brother.

  • Audrey Burtrum-Stanley

    JFK’s body was moved on 3-14-67. The Kennedy children – Arabella and Patrick – were moved from Mass. graves. I own unpublished photos taken at the midnight event. (The vault is very large.) Priests delivered prayers while RFK and EMK stood close together.
    John Carl Warneke was the gravesite designer. He was anxious NOT to kill a huge tree and included it in the grassy area ringed by a walk. (The tree died a few yrs ago.) Tiny details made a huge difference. The family wanted carved quotes not to distract from the view so they are presented low around a plaza. When Warneke hand-picked the rough granite, he noticed a discarded mill-wheel. That became the ‘holder’ or Eternal Flame’s collar. Even the greenery between the rough granite was chosen for durability and heigth.
    My Cousin was an Old Guard member. He said (pre-cell phone era) the area was networked with tsecurity elephones tucked into bushes.
    There are 3 periods – (1) orig. picket fence ; (2) before Jackie’s “96 death, when JFK’s headstone was centered; (3) and the final design of today.

    • R Owen

      1. Arabella and Patrick were buried net to their father in 1963 – and again in 1967.
      2. The 1967 reburial was at dawn, not midnight.
      3. Jackie died in 1994.

      But good observations overall – thanks.