Wednesday, September 9, 2015
Arlington National Cemetery and Robert E. Lee Memorial
We took a trip over Labor Day weekend to visit my sister and brother-in-law in DC. Even though we’ve been to DC over a dozen times we had never visited the national cemetery. It’s a very sobering experience to see row upon row of grave markers. The first people to be buried were Civil War soldiers. There are now over 400,000 graves. Most of the people buried at the cemetery were active, retired or former members of the armed forces, or high-ranking federal government officials and their dependents. Whitehouse police officers killed in the line of duty, astronauts from the Challenger and the Columbia, and free slaves who lived on the property are also buried there.
The cemetery is huge so we only saw Kennedy’s gave site, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the Robert E Lee’s Memorial. The cemetery property had been a large plantation that Lee’s wife, Mary Anna Custis Lee, inherited from her father. When Lee joined the Confederate Army in 1861 Mary Anna went to live with her sister and in 1864 the property was confiscated for the cemetery. The Lees never returned to their plantation home. Their house containing some original family items is opened for guided or self guided tours.
The cemetery property slopes up from the Potomac River so be prepared for hilly terrain. Wheelchair users will need help from an energetic pusher. An easier option is to take the shuttle bus tour which is accessible and free to visitors with a handicap placard and also free for one companion. The shuttle stops at most of the major sites.
The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier accessible viewing area allows only a sideways view of the tomb and changing of the guard. We could not find a ramp to allow access to the Memorial Amphitheater and the top tier of the steps where visitors sit and stand for the ceremony. I think there must be some other accommodations available when special memorial services are held in the amphitheater.
The Robert E Lee’s Memorial is partly accessible. The paths are loose gravel and hard to push through. The ramp to the entrance of the house does not have a landing and the door opens outward making entering awkward.. Most of the rooms on first floor of the house are accessible. The second floor is not accessible. The small museum is accessible. The slave quarters which have interpretive displays inside are accessible.
Follow the signs for RV parking. The fee is paid at the visitor center so take your ticket with you and pay as you are leaving. You have 20 minutes to exit after you pay. The parking fee is the only charge at the site. Cemetery 38.88119, -77.06367 Lee House Map