Repair, Not Replacement, for the Tomb of the Unknowns

Posted on: August 20th, 2008 by National Trust for Historic Preservation 4 Comments

Preservationists took heart this week when Federal officials released a long-awaited report to Congress on the future of the Tomb of the Unknowns. Bowing to public outcry, the Department of the Army, the Department of Veterans Affairs, and Arlington National Cemetery have done an “about face” and have informed Congress that the Cemetery now will conduct much-needed repairs to the 1932 Tomb Monument.

While this is an important victory for preservationists, the report to Congress makes it very clear that replacement of the authentic monument still is seriously being explored as an option. The Cemetery’s stubborn fixation on replacement has amazed some observers, especially in light of the fact that officials now concede that replacing the 48-ton marble block would “diminish the integrity” of historic Arlington National Cemetery and cost taxpayers substantially more -- an estimated $2.2 million to construct a replica monument compared to only $65,000 to properly repair the original Tomb.

The National Trust and our allies in this fight will continue to closely monitor the Cemetery’s treatment of the Tomb Monument.

Many thanks to so many Members and friends who contacted Cemetery Superintendent John Metzler and Members of Congress about the historic Tomb Monument – your support was critical in this important victory. Visit to read a copy of the report or to find out how you can help.

-– Robert Nieweg

Robert Nieweg is the director of the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Southern Field Office.

Updated 8/21/2008 to correct the size of the Tomb (48 tons).

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National Trust for Historic Preservation

National Trust for Historic Preservation

The National Trust for Historic Preservation, a privately funded non-profit organization, works to save America's historic places.


4 Responses

  1. Burma L. Wilkins

    August 27, 2008

    Why can’t the tomb be repaired then a plexi-glass casing be put over it to protect it from the weather. Visitors should be able to view the tomb unobstructed and if weather pits or scratches it, they should be able to replace it for little or nothing if a company in the U.S. is willing to donate the material and labor. The original is better than a replacement. That seems so tacky and unfeeling to me. Why not try something that would keep the old and protect it as well. P.S. I do not work for any company that this idea would benefit. Thank you for listening.

  2. Bruce Brooks

    August 27, 2008

    So what if the marble is replaced? It is a piece of marble people, not the tomb itself. How is a repaired monument (a process which must be repeated for as long as the time and winter come to DC) any more historically accurate than an identical piece of marble that is solid and whole?

    They weren’t talking about plastic painted to look like marble – – -geez!

    OR … we could just wait a few more years and the cracks will be designated as a historically significant and preservationist will whine to preserve the cracks themselves.

  3. HTS

    July 6, 2009

    The tomb should be replaced. Period.

  4. HTS

    July 11, 2009

    In response to the comment by Burma L. Wilkins… with all due respect, what’s “tacky” is a plexiglass covering. Akaka and the preservationists have mislead the public and congress into thinking the tomb can be repaired. A two-year engineering study was already completed, and the conclusions were that the crack cannot be repaired and will continue to grow. What’s “tacky” is an enormous crack in a hallowed monument. Akaka and Moe suggest that it’s disrespectful to replace the tomb. What’s disrespectful is a shoddy looking monument.