Obama visits Kennedy grave. Why isn't JFK buried in Boston?

In the immediate aftermath of the JFK assassination, many assumed Kennedy would be buried in Massachusetts. On Wednesday, President Obama and others will participate in a wreath-laying ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery.

Carolyn Kaster/AP
Visitors gather around the eternal flame at the gravesite of President John F. Kennedy at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va., Tuesday, Nov. 19, 2013, looking toward Washington and the Washington Monument and Capitol. Friday, Nov. 22 will mark the 50th anniversary of the JFK assassination in Dallas.

President Obama is spending much of Wednesday honoring John F. Kennedy. In the morning, he’s presenting Medal of Freedom awards, whose modern version was established by JFK. Afterward, he and first lady Michelle Obama, former President Bill Clinton, and ex-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton will participate in a wreath-laying ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery. That is sure to be an emotional appearance.

The Kennedy grave site is one of the most striking spots in the national capital region. It sits on a long slope in Arlington National Cemetery below the Custis-Lee Mansion, which dates from 1802 and was first owned by an adopted son of George Washington.

Kennedy’s burial there was far from foreordained. In the immediate aftermath of his assassination, many assumed he would be buried in Brookline, Mass., which as one JFK loyalist put it was the “Hyde Park of the Kennedys,” referring to the New York hamlet that was the ancestral homeland of Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Only two presidents were buried in Washington, D.C.: William Howard Taft at Arlington National Cemetery across the Potomac River, and Woodrow Wilson at the National Cathedral in the upper northwest quadrant of the city.

Kennedy’s sisters assumed that Brookline, or perhaps Boston Common, was where JFK would be interred. So did his brother Robert and the so-called Boston mafia, his longest-serving aides.

But it was the widow’s choice to make. And Jacqueline Kennedy opted for Arlington, saying, “He belongs to the people.”

She was gently steered in this direction by Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, a forceful personality who felt the president should be buried on federal land, where he was accessible to the American people.

Early on the morning of Saturday, Nov. 23, the day after the assassination, McNamara was in his office at the Pentagon perusing alternative Arlington sites. As a steady rain began, he left to tour the cemetery with its superintendent. They looked at three possible locations: an area named Dewey Circle, a plot near a memorial to the USS Maine, and the hill below the Lee Mansion.

McNamara much preferred the Lee Mansion site. He then rounded up Robert F. Kennedy and JFK’s sisters and brought them to see the slope, as the rain got heavier, according to William Manchester’s “Death of a President,” the classic book on that terrible November week.

The family contingent was converted. At 2 p.m., the widow left to see the potential grave site.

“Jacqueline Kennedy’s first visit to Arlington was like the opening of the final act of ‘Our Town,’ ” Mr. Manchester wrote. “The steady rain was glacial, numbing.”

Her entourage was silent. A mass of soldiers held umbrellas over Mrs. Kennedy in an effort to keep her dry. She looked over the hill for about 15 minutes.

Later she said, “We went out and walked to that hill, and of course you knew that was where it should be.”

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
Real news can be honest, hopeful, credible, constructive.
What is the Monitor difference? Tackling the tough headlines – with humanity. Listening to sources – with respect. Seeing the story that others are missing by reporting what so often gets overlooked: the values that connect us. That’s Monitor reporting – news that changes how you see the world.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.

QR Code to Obama visits Kennedy grave. Why isn't JFK buried in Boston?
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today