Kurt's Historic Sites

Kennedy Arlington

John F. Kennedy

Interment Location Visited Sequence in Graves I Have Visited
Arlington, VA July 2003 3rd President visited

Photographed November 9, 2021.

Perhaps no presidential gravesite is more iconic than that of John F. Kennedy at what is regarded as the United States’ most hallowed ground, Arlington National Cemetery. More than three million people travel to the cemetery annually, and the Kennedy eternal flame is one of the shrine’s most visited locations. JFK, the youngest person elected U.S. president, was also the youngest chief executive to die when he was assassinated in Dallas, Texas, at age 46.

The Kennedy memorial site consists of 3.2 acres, the focal point of which is the 18-by-30-foot burial plot. The slain president is joined there by his wife of ten years, Jacqueline Kennedy, and two of their children — a stillborn daughter and their infant son, Patrick, who was taken by respiratory distress syndrome just two days after his birth. President Kennedy’s younger brothers, senators Robert and Ted Kennedy, are interred in other plots that are also located at the bottom of the Arlington House hill. In 2012 a cenotaph was added nearby for the oldest Kennedy brother, Joe, Jr., whose remains were not recovered after he was killed in action during World War II.

Photographed November 12, 2011.
Photographed June 11, 2004.

The website for the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum describes the gravesite as being “paved with irregular stones of Cape Cod granite.” The crevices between the rectangular rocks are filled with fescue and clover “to give the appearance of stones lying naturally in a Massachusetts field.” The eternal flame is encircled by a rounded, five-foot stone which is also granite, while the former first couple and their children are memorialized with bluish-grey slate tablets from Monson, Maine.

My family did not take any photographs at Arlington National Cemetery when I first visited with them in July 2003. This image is from the second time I paid my respects on June 11, 2004 — just a few hours after my father and I saw former President Ronald Reagan lie in state at the U.S. Capitol. We also stopped by the burial plot of former first couple Helen and William Howard Taft, which we inadvertently omitted from our 2003 itinerary. Taft and Kennedy are the only two presidents laid to rest at Arlington.

Photographed June 11, 2004.
Photographed November 12, 2011.

Separate from the burial plot, the memorial also includes granite slabs quarried from Crotch Island off Stonington, Maine, which bear excerpts from President Kennedy’s 1961 inaugural address. The inscriptions were carved by John “Fud” Benson and John Hegnauer of the John Stevens Shop, founded in 1705 in Newport, Rhode Island. Lots of Johns contributed to the John F. Kennedy Memorial, including its architect, John Carl Warnecke.

Fast Facts

Born: May 29, 1917 in Brookline, Massachusetts

Spouse: Jacqueline Lee Bouvier Kennedy Onassis (m. 1953-1963)

Highest Military Rank: Lieutenant — U.S. Navy

Political Affiliation: Democratic Party

House Tenure: 1947-1953

Senate Tenure: 1953-1960

Presidential Tenure: 1961-1963

Vice President: Lyndon B. Johnson

Presidential Medal of Freedom: Posthumously awarded by Lyndon B. Johnson (1963)

Died: November 22, 1963 in Dallas, Texas

Cause of Death: Gunshot Wounds

Age: 46

Interment: Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia

"Some say that it is useless to speak of world peace or world law or world disarmament--and that it will be useless until the leaders of the Soviet Union adopt a more enlightened attitude. I hope they do. I believe we can help them do it. But I also believe that we must reexamine our own attitude--as individuals and as a Nation--for our attitude is as essential as theirs. And every graduate of this school, every thoughtful citizen who despairs of war and wishes to bring peace, should begin by looking inward--by examining his own attitude toward the possibilities of peace, toward the Soviet Union, toward the course of the cold war and toward freedom and peace here at home."
- John F. Kennedy
June 10, 1963 commencement address at American University in Washington, D.C.

On June 19, 1917, three-week-old John F. Kennedy was baptized at St. Aidan’s Church, located at 201 Freeman Street in Brookline. The Medieval Revival structure was built in 1911 and served the Kennedy family’s religious needs from 1914 to 1927. In 1999, the building was converted into 59 mixed income housing units. It is private property.

Photographed September 8, 2023.
Photographed September 8, 2023.

Kennedy attended the Edward M. Devotion School in Brookline from kindergarten in 1921 until the beginning of third grade, in 1924. Since 2021, the school has been known as the Florida Ruffin Ridley School, renamed after a Black writer and activist who lived in Brookline. The National Park Service webpage about the school states, “Each year, third graders spend time studying JFK and his legacy in Brookline and write about what JFK means to them.” The site at 345 Harvard Street does not appear to have any Kennedy-related historical marker.

One of Kennedy’s most celebrated speeches was the commencement address he delivered at American University in Northwest D.C. on June 10, 1963. A monument on campus memorializes the nuclear-disarmament initiatives advocated for in “A Strategy of Peace,” and its plaque, in part, offers the following historical note: “This address contained the policy declarations which led to the treaty banning nuclear weapon tests in the atmosphere, outer space, and under water[.] Signed in Moscow August 5, 1963 . . . . Approved by the United States Senate September 24, 1963, and entered into force October 10, 1963 with the signatures of one hundred seven nations.”

Photographed June 10, 2024.

Sources Consulted and Further Reading

Associated Press. “Kennedy Grave Reopens, With New Marker.” New York Times. October 8, 1994. https://www.nytimes.com/1994/10/08/us/kennedy-grave-reopens-with-new-marker.html.

Caldwell, Bill. “Maine Completes a Truly Monumental Task.” Portland (Maine) Telegram. August 21, 1966. http://abacus.bates.edu/muskie-archives/ajcr/1966/JFK%20Tomb%20Quarry.shtml.

Conrad, Sharron Wilkins. “’He Gave His Life for Us’: The Civil Rights Martyrdom of John F. Kennedy.” In Mourning the Presidents: Loss and Legacy in American Culture, edited by Lindsay M. Chervinsky and Matthew R. Costello, 222-243. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2023.

Kennedy, John F. “Commencement Address at American University,” June 10, 1963. Transcript. From John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum. https://www.jfklibrary.org/archives/other-resources/john-f-kennedy-speeches/american-university-19630610.

Klein, Rick. “Jacqueline Kennedy Reveals That JFK Feared an LBJ Presidency.” ABC News. September 8, 2011. https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/Jacqueline_Kennedy/jacqueline-kennedy-reveals-jfk-feared-lbj-presidency/story?id=14477930.

Lemman, Nicholas. “J.F.K.’s ‘Profiles in Courage’ Has a Racism Problem. What Should We Do About It?” New Yorker. July 23, 2020. https://www.newyorker.com/news/daily-comment/jfks-profiles-in-courage-has-a-racism-problem-what-should-we-do-about-it.

National Park Service. “Devotion School (Ruffin Ridley School).” Updated February 26, 2021. https://www.nps.gov/places/devotion-school.htm.

National Park Service. “Saint Aidan’s Church.” Updated February 26, 2021. https://www.nps.gov/places/saint-aidans-church.htm.

“President John Fitzgerald Kennedy Gravesite.” Arlington National Cemetery. Accessed January 1, 2022. https://www.arlingtoncemetery.mil/Explore/Monuments-and-Memorials/President-John-F-Kennedy-Gravesite.

“President Kennedy’s Grave in Arlington National Cemetery.” jfklibrary.org. Accessed January 1, 2022. https://www.jfklibrary.org/learn/about-jfk/life-of-john-f-kennedy/fast-facts-john-f-kennedy/president-kennedys-grave-in-arlington-national-cemetery.

“Visitor Rules and Etiquette.” Arlington National Cemetery. Accessed January 1, 2022. https://www.arlingtoncemetery.mil/Visit/Visitor-Etiquette.

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