As we enter the 24th day of the Government shutdown tomorrow, the Nation’s Capital is definitely feeling the effects. The shutdown means that the Smithsonian museums, National Zoo, many local parks and other sites run by the National Parks Service are all closed and many of those visiting Washington D.C. are looking for things to do. For those visiting D.C., Arlington National Cemetery is a sometimes overlooked site, but is a great place to visit and for reflection. It is also open during the shutdown.
Cemeteries may not interest you and you may be wondering why you would want to visit, but Arlington National Cemetery is not just any cemetery. It spans 624 acres and is the final resting place of over 400,000 military service members and their family members. As you walk around the cemetery you will see many memorials and monuments.
One of the most notable memorials of the cemetery is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier which holds the remains of unknown Service Members from World War I, World War II and the Korean War. Amazingly, there are Soldiers keeping guard there 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Their dedication to the unknown Service Members laid to rest at the memorial and those yet to come home is truly amazing. While you’re there, don’t miss the changing of the guard ceremony that occurs either every half hour or every hour, depending on the time of year.
December and January is a nice time to visit the cemetery as every headstone has a beautiful wreath laid by volunteers with Wreaths Across America. Each year, the group gathers volunteers to lay out wreaths to remember each of those who have passed. This year, my family and I braved the cold and the rain and participated in the event. It was definitely a wonderful experience and a great time for reflection. If you have never participated, I would highly recommend it as something to put on your to do list in December. Next year’s event will be December 14, 2019. Another opportunity to help occurs on January 19, 2019, where volunteers collect the wreaths for disposal. The collection of the wreaths we’re told has a lot less volunteers, so this would be a great time to visit and volunteer. You can find out more information about the pickup event here.
Arlington National Cemetery is also the final resting place of many notable Americans that have contributed to the history of the United States, the most notable being President John F. Kennedy and his family. As mentioned earlier, the cemetery is quite large and vehicle access is restricted to family members and funeral attendees only. As such, wear some comfortable shoes and plan on getting some steps in when you visit.
So while you may have had a wrench thrown into your plans due to the ongoing shutdown, Arlington National Cemetery is a site that is still open and I’d recommend it even if everything else was still open! It is truly a sight to see and also offers some great views of the city. The cemetery is open 7 days a week, 365 days a year (Oct 1 – Mar 31: 8 am – 5 pm and Apr 1 – Sept 30: 8 am – 7 pm). Directions (both via car and public transit) can be found here.