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A Historic Loss

John F. Kennedy's gravesite at Arlington National Cemetery

John F. Kennedy's gravesite at Arlington National Cemetery. Credit: Kyle Rush

When Arlington House was built nearby in 1802, this tree was already 10 years old. When the 1,100-acre estate on which it lived was confiscated by the federal government during the Civil War, it was 70. When its shade was chosen as the final resting place of a beloved U.S. presi­dent, the tree was 170. When a hurricane swept through the eastern seaboard in August 2011, taking its life, this remarkable tree was 220 years old. Such was the life and history of Arlington National Cemetery’s famed post oak, affection­ately known as Arlington Oak.

Sprouted in the same years that the District of Columbia was established, Arlington Oak was a fixture in the Washington area for generations, but the tree wouldn’t become a national symbol until 1963 when John F. Kennedy was interred nearby.

Just a few months before his death, Presi­dent Kennedy visited Arlington House’s hillside cemetery, which overlooked the historic oak tree. President Kennedy claimed that the view was so magnificent that he could stay there forever. Months later, Jacqueline Kennedy would choose that same hillside for her husband’s grave, and architect John Warnecke would design the gravesite to incorporate Arlington Oak. Exten­sive plans were developed to ensure that the construction of the memorial would not disturb the old oak tree.

Almost 50 years later, Arlington Oak and five other large trees in the cemetery came crashing down thanks to Hurricane Irene. But American Forests is making sure that Arlington Oak’s legacy lives on.

On Arbor Day, American Forests will be planting three post oaks at John F. Kennedy’s gravesite in Arlington National Cemetery. These aren’t just any post oaks. They are Arlington Oak’s descen­dents, grown from that great tree’s acorns. By restoring post oak trees to President Kennedy’s memorial, we hope that generations to come will be able to reflect on the contributions of the late president while experiencing the same magnificent vista that he once did.

February 28th, 2012|