Happy Friday readers!
In anticipation of the upcoming long weekend and Memorial Day holiday (or the day we honor those who died in our nation’s service, for those non-US readers), I wanted to bring you something that really symbolized the holiday and honored the sacrifice of those who fought bravely for freedom. While there are some pretty amazing monuments out there, none of them really seemed to fit the bill as they are more structure and less dwelling. Then I got to thinking about what we do to celebrate Memorial Day and I remembered that we place flags on the graves of those we honor, which led me to think about cemeteries, and one in particular: Arlington National Cemetery in Washington D.C. (The cemetery is located in Arlington, VA not Washington D.C., even though people tend to think of it as DC, but just go with me anyway). I had the privilege of visiting the National Cemetery during a band trip when I was in 8th grade (I played the Bass Clarinet which is generally awesome, just FYI). The one thing that stood out most on the tour to me was not the Memorial Amphitheater (though it was beautiful) or the Eternal Flame (which was also something to behold) or even the sacred Tomb of the Unknowns. No, it was the Mansion in the cemetery that no-one seemed to be talking about. As a budding Preservationist, I REALLY wanted to see that house. Fast-forward a few years and I came to find out that house is Arlington House, the former home of General Robert E. Lee. (Photo Below from The National Park Service, NPS)
The mansion was built for George Washington Parke Custis, Martha Washington’s grandson and adopted ‘son’ of George Washington, in 1802. Custis hired English architect George Hadfield to design Arlington House, and he lived in the Greek Revival manse until his death in 1857. The house was left to George Washington Custis’s only surviving daughter, Mary Anna Custis Lee. Mary Anna had married Lieutenant Robert E. Lee, a young graduate of West Point, and the rest of his story is history. Still, General Lee’s history is closely tied to Arlington House, though he never set foot on the property again after the start of the Civil War. Shortly after the war began, Mary Anna fled from Arlington House, which was quickly occupied by the Union Army. Three years later, in 1864, the Federal government seized the property on account of unpaid taxes. * History says that this was an intentional insult aimed at the Confederacy to ensure that their guiding General could never return home, nor forget the repercussions of the civil war *<— MYTH! (Photo Below from NPS)
TRUTH ! —>The US government didn’t aim any kind of ‘dig’ at the Confederacy over Arlington House. They seized it for unpaid taxes, and Robert E. and Mary Anna chose not to contest the seizure, as he was old and not entirely in good health by the end of the war. Their eldest son did contest the seizure, though, and won Arlington House back, but he then sold it to the Federal government fair and square… but today I find that it serves more as a quiet reminded that war effects everyone’s “home-front” if you will and that those who sacrificed their lives for their Nation, freedom and justice will never be forgotten. (Photos Below from the National Archives via mikelynaugh.com)
Today the Arlington house is Maintained by the National Park Service and you can visit it. Good to their website here.
Have a great weekend everyone