When President John F. Kennedy’s burial was televised on November 25, 1963, it was the first time Americans from coast to coast could participate in the funeral of a leader without being physically present. And by selecting the 624-acre site in the nation’s capital, rather than a plot in the family’s home state of Massachusetts, Jackie Kennedy established a site for the Kennedy family graves that made Arlington National Cemetery a destination that Americans visit when they tour the nation’s capital.
Buried in late November 1963, President Kennedy was the first member of the family interred in the Kennedy family plot in Arlington National Cemetery. As tragedy struck again a few years later, JFK’s little brother was assassinated and interred nearby. You may know that JFK is buried next to his wife, Jackie, with an eternal flame encircled with Cape Cod granite burning above their gravestones, but are you aware of these five little-known facts about the Kennedy family graves at Arlington National Cemetery?
1. Why JFK Was Buried at Arlington National Cemetery
After President John F. Kennedy’s shocking assassination in November 1963, First Lady Jackie Kennedy wanted his gravesite to be as accessible as possible, saying, “He belongs to the people.” As preparations were made, many citizens from across the United States believed that JFK would be interred in Massachusetts where he was born and raised. After all, at that time, only two presidents were buried outside of their native states and in the nation’s capital.
While visiting Arlington National Cemetery on Veterans Day, just a few weeks before his death, JFK stood on the grounds of the Arlington House high on a hill above the national cemetery. As he took in the sweeping views of the rolling green hills and fall foliage, his eyes continued across the Potomac River to the Lincoln Memorial and Washington Monument. He wistfully said that the views were so spectacular that he “could stay here forever.”
And so, in consultation with JFK’s younger brother, Robert F. Kennedy (AKA “Bobby”), and Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara, Jackie selected a plot just below Arlington House. This established the site of the Kennedy family graves and offered her late husband the forever view he requested.
2. John F. Kennedy is NOT the Only President Buried at Arlington
Approximately three million people visit Arlington National Cemetery each year, and JFK’s grave is one of the most visited within the 624-acre site. But JFK is not the only US president buried at Arlington.
Related Article: 12 Graves to Visit at Arlington National Cemetery (After You’ve Paid Respect to JFK)
William Howard Taft (AKA POTUS #27) was laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery in March 1930 after passing away at his home. He was the first president and the first chief justice buried at Arlington National Cemetery, and he remains the only American in history to serve as both president and chief justice.
3. Why JFK’s Grave Has an Eternal Flame
Around the world, an eternal flame is a symbol of everlasting life. An eternal flame incorporated into a war memorial symbolizes a nation’s gratitude and desire to forever remember the sacrifices of those being honored.
As a veteran of World War II, Purple Heart recipient (the only president to earn the medal), and president assassinated in office, it’s easy to understand why Jackie wanted President Kennedy honored with an eternal flame. For it was at her request that it quietly flickers above his headstone in the Kennedy family plot.
4. JFK is Buried with Several Family Members at Arlington National Cemetery
First Lady Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis is buried next to JFK at Arlington National Cemetery. Resting on either side of Jack and Jackie are two of their four children who died as infants. Arabella Kennedy was stillborn in August 1956, and Patrick Bouvier Kennedy lived only a few days, dying just a few months before his father in 1963.
Related Article: 5 Places to Visit to Honor JFK’s Legacy
In addition to Jackie and two infant children, JFK is buried near two of his brothers. Assassinated after winning the California Democratic primary in 1968, Bobby Kennedy is buried a few steps away from Jack under a plain white cross with a simple marker. And his youngest brother, Ted, who passed away in 2009 at the age of 77, is also buried nearby.
JFK’s oldest brother, Joe, was killed in World War II when his plane exploded over the English Channel. Although he is buried at the Cambridge American Cemetery in England, Joe is honored with a white cross in the Kennedy family plot at Arlington.
5. The Gravesite You Visit at Arlington Today is Not JFK’s Original Gravesite
While grieving the sudden loss of her husband, dealing with the tragic loss of her infant son, and tending to her two small children, First Lady Jackie Kennedy played an active role in her husband’s funeral arrangements. She requested an eternal flame for JFK’s grave, which was fueled by copper tubing from a propane tank a football field’s length away from the gravesite.
President Kennedy was laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery on November 25, 1963, as dignitaries from around the world paid their respects and millions of viewers watched by television. Toward the end of the graveside service, Jackie lit the eternal flame.
In the three years that followed, more than 16 million visitors stopped at JFK’s gravesite. Cemetery officials wanted to better accommodate the crowds and implement a safer, more permanent eternal flame. After two years of construction, officials exhumed JFK’s casket in March 1967 and moved his body to its current location just a short distance away.
In a private ceremony attended by just a few people, including Jackie, JFK’s two surviving brothers, and President Lyndon Baines Johnson, the 35th president was interred in his present location. At the same time, the couple’s two infant children, Arabella and Patrick, were moved from Massachusetts to their current resting place next to their father.
The eternal flame lit during JFK’s burial in November 1963 was replaced with a permanent natural gas line. It features a continuous electronic spark that reignites the flame in case it is extinguished by rain or wind.
Frequently Asked Questions About the Kennedy Family Members Buried at Arlington
Where is JFK buried?
John F. Kennedy is buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia.
How far is John F. Kennedy's grave from the Arlington National Cemetery Welcome Center?
The Kennedy family graves are about a half-mile directly west of the visitor’s center. It’s a ten-minute walk, and portions of the route are hilly.
Who is buried with JFK at Arlington Cemetery?
John F. Kennedy is buried next to his wife, Jackie, and a daughter and son who died as infants. Two of JFK’s brothers are buried a few steps away.
Where is Jackie Kennedy buried?
Jackie Kennedy is buried next to President John F. Kennedy in Arlington National Cemetery.
What killed Jackie Kennedy?
On May 19, 1994, Jackie Kennedy died in her New York City apartment surrounded by friends and family. She was 64 and had been battling lymphatic cancer for several months.
What Kennedy family members are buried in Arlington?
President John F. Kennedy and his wife Jackie are buried at Arlington National Cemetery along with their two children who died as infants. JFK’s brothers, Bobby and Ted, are also laid to rest nearby.
Where is Bobby Kennedy buried?
Bobby Kennedy is buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Northern Virginia just a short walk from JFK’s eternal flame.
Why was Bobby Kennedy buried at night?
After a high requiem Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Midtown Manhattan, Bobby Kennedy’s body was transported by rail from Penn Station in New York to Union Station in Washington, DC, for burial at Arlington National Cemetery.
The train was scheduled to arrive in the nation’s capital at 4:30 pm, but it had to travel at a greatly reduced speed due to crowds of mourners lining the tracks. The funeral train arrived in DC at 9:10 pm, and Bobby Kennedy’s casket arrived at Arlington National Cemetery at nearly 10:30 pm where the presidential candidate was laid to rest by the light of 1,500 candles.
Where is Ted Kennedy buried?
Ted Kennedy is buried at Arlington National Cemetery near his brothers, John and Bobby.
Where is Arabella Kennedy buried?
Arabella Kennedy was the stillborn daughter of John and Jackie Kennedy. She is buried with her parents at Arlington National Cemetery under a marker that reads “daughter.”
Where is Patrick Bouvier Kennedy buried?
Patrick Bouvier Kennedy was the youngest child born to John and Jackie Kennedy. He lived only a few days, dying a few months before his father was assassinated 1963. He is buried by his parents at Arlington National Cemetery.
Where is Rose Kennedy buried?
President Kennedy’s mother, Rose Elizabeth Fitzgerald Kennedy, is buried with her husband at Holyhood Cemetery in Brookline, Massachusetts.
Why are there coins on the Kennedy family gravestones?
According to our tour bus guide, it was a popular tradition during the Vietnam War to place a coin on military graves:
- A penny demonstrates that you knew them
- A nickel says you trained with them
- A dime shows you served with them
- A quarter indicates you were there when they died
At the Kennedy graves, it’s not uncommon to see visitors throwing coins at the graves. Do not join in this disrespectful behavior!
Have You Visited JFK’s Grave and Eternal Flame in Arlington National Cemetery?
What was your experience like? Any additional tips or advice to pass along to others who are planning a visit to Arlington? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.
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