5 Little Known Facts About the Kennedy Family Graves at Arlington National Cemetery

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.

While there is no fee to visit and pay your respects to the Kennedys buried at Arlington National Cemetery, I did pay full price to ride the shuttle bus through the cemetery. But you can count on me to always share my honest opinions, regardless of who foots the bill.

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? 

Have You Visited JFK's Grave at Arlington?

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A red carnation lies on the smooth gravestone of John F. Kennedy
President John F. Kennedy’s burial at Arlington National Cemetery established the plot for the Kennedy family graves. Photo by Canva.

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 people 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.”

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And so, in consultation with JFK’s younger brother, Bobby, and Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara, Jackie selected a plot just below Arlington House that 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

A black and white photo of President Taft's grave at Arlington
President Taft was the first US President buried at Arlington National Cemetery. Photo by Library of Congress.

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

JFK's grave covered with coins
An eternal flame burns at the top of JFK’s headstone in the Kennedy family plot at Arlington National Cemetery.

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

Four Kennedy family headstones at Arlington
President Kennedy is buried with several family members at Arlington National Cemetery including his brothers, his wife, and a son and daughter who died as infants. Photo by Canva.

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 was stillborn in August 1956, and Patrick lived only a few days, dying just a few months before his father in 1963.

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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

Honor Guard prepares to fold the American flag covering President John F. Kennedy’s casket and present it to his widow, Jackie Kennedy. Photograph by Abbie Rowe, National Park Service, in the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston.

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. 

Related Article:  Everything You Need to Know BEFORE You Visit Arlington National Cemetery

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.

Helpful Tips and Important Reminders for Visiting Arlington National Cemetery

What's the best way to get to Arlington National Cemetery?

The address for the Arlington National Cemetery is simply Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia. Most search engines and map applications can find the cemetery using that information. The cemetery is located just across the Potomac River from Washington, DC, and can be reached using the DC Metro via the blue line.

When is Arlington National Cemetery open?

The cemetery is open daily from 8:00 am to 7:00 pm April through September and 8:00 am to 5:00 pm October through March.

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.

What does it cost to visit Arlington National Cemetery?

There is no admission fee to visit Arlington National Cemetery. However, tickets are required for the tram that winds through the cemetery. Discounted tickets are offered to active-duty military, veterans, seniors, and children, and they can be purchased just inside the Arlington National Cemetery entrance.

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.

Kennedy Graves - Pin 1 - JPG
Kennedy Graves - Pin 4 - JPG
Kennedy Graves - Pin 3 - JPG

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12 thoughts on “5 Little Known Facts About the Kennedy Family Graves at Arlington National Cemetery”

  1. I visited Arlington in the 70 and enjoying all it represents.
    I had wish that maybe someday we would have another
    Kennedy in the White House ! His son unfortunately it didn’t turn out that way

  2. It is interesting how much coincidence, and even more so irony, occurs in less than two-hundred-fifty years. When the son of Robert E. Lee, George Washington Custis Lee, sued the federal government for the return of the Arlington Plantation, and won, his co-counsel was Robert Todd Lincoln.

  3. Question:
    Does anyone know if there is definitive reason for why the ‘Eternal Flame circular flagstone’ has a very obvious crack down its center? My personal guess is that it symbolizes the crack of tragedy that befell the nation on 22 November 1963 when our young President was tragically assassinated and this crack in the nation’s should has never healed, just as per the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln! We miss your President Kennedy and what this nation could have been if you had lived. RIP JFK!

  4. I believe that Jackie Kennedy Onassis got the idea of the ‘eternal flame’ from a French War memorial during one of her numerous visits to France and insisted that a similar tribute was fitting for her husband JFK.

  5. I visited the original Kennedy grave in April 1964! While on my honeymoon. It was very moving and simple with the little white picket fence surrounding it. I think I prefer that to the newer monument that I’ve only seen in pictures.

  6. I have visited Arlington national cemetery twice and still learned something new from this post! I think this is such a beautiful place and I’m glad you shared information about it.

  7. whereivebeentravel

    So much interesting information here! I’ve never visited Arlington Cemetery but am always moved when driving past. Thanks for these tips, they will be super helpful when I make it to Arlington!

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