We’d often said that we should visit the historic Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia but we never seemed to find the time or motivation to do so. We finally took the plunge and we were not disappointed! You may not think of a cemetery as a place to tour with the children but we found the stories of the men and women who had to perish to be buried here compelling and inspirational. The Spanish philosopher, essayist and poet George Santayana said “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”. History is on display with every gravestone and we can only hope that we as a family, a community and a nation can learn not just from the service of the famous presidents but also from the sacrifice of the anonymous infantryman who are buried here side by side.
We decided to take the tram tour because it operates every 20 minutes and stopped at each of the three main sites in the cemetery: the Tomb of the Unknowns (Changing of the Guards), the Kennedy Gravesite and The Arlington House (Robert E. Lee Memorial). We found this an ideal way to tour the cemetery because not only did the tram operator provide some history and point out some of the more famous grave sites, but maybe more importantly, we could take our time at each site and hop back on the next available tram on our own schedule. I would recommend the tram tour not only for the insights and convenience but also because it gives a reprieve to little (and big) feet.
We expected to spend a couple of hours visiting the cemetery but ultimately ended up spending about 6 hours! Some of the things we learned with our children were:
- What was “The Arlington House”?
- What was Robert E. Lee’s relation to George Washington?
- Why did Robert E. Lee resign from the United States Army?
- Why was this site chosen as a National Cemetery?
- Where is the best view of the Washington D.C. skyline?
- Who was Harry Blackmun?
- Who was Thurgood Marshall?
- Who was George Washington Parke Custis?
- Who was Audie Leon Murphy?
- What is the U.S.S. Maine Memorial memorializing and what famous phrase was used as a rallying cry for action during the Spanish American war?
- What were the space shuttle disasters?
There is a ton more to see and learn at the Arlington National Cemetery and we highly recommend a visit. We recommend preparing the children for the solemnity of the visit and helping them to understand that this isn’t a place to play or be loud. It is a place of respect and admiration; of love and sacrifice; of honor and gratitude.
Time Spent: About 6 hours
Cost: $26.50 for the bus tour, $12.75 for parking