Veterans Day 2008: Update on the Historic Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery

Posted on: November 11th, 2008 by National Trust for Historic Preservation 1 Comment
Tomb of the Unknowns, Arlington Cemetery

Tomb of the Unknowns, Arlington Cemetery

On this day when we honor the sacrifice of the men and women of our military, there now is hope that the authentic Tomb of the Unknowns will be restored rather than discarded and replaced -- thanks to the intervention of Congress, historic preservationists, and the American public.

Marble conservation experts agree that the monument’s cracks are cosmetic, nonstructural, and – most important – can be repaired to be virtually invisible to the millions of annual visitors to the Tomb of the Unknowns.

On November 7, 2008, Arlington National Cemetery convened a meeting, pursuant to the National Historic Preservation Act, to begin planning for what Cemetery officials call the “possible repair” of the 1932 Tomb Monument. Following this meeting, the National Trust for Historic Preservation can report that:

  • Arlington National Cemetery has agreed to consider conducting the high-tech tests and analysis necessary to understand the cause of the cracks and to design the most effective restoration techniques.
  • The Cemetery has agreed to invite a blue-ribbon panel of marble conservation experts to help select the marble conservator, if the repair project moves forward.
  • If the Cemetery agrees to repair the marble monument, the conservation work likely would be conducted in late Spring or early Summer 2009.
  • Cemetery officials expressed concerns on November 7th that the repair project would disrupt the visitor’s experience of the Tomb of the Unknowns. (On the contrary, preservationists believe the repair project would present an opportunity to educate visitors about the historic significance and proper treatment of the monument.)
  • Replacement of the Tomb Monument with a replica would cost $2.2 million, while preservation-based repair would cost $65,000.
  • Finally, Arlington National Cemetery has not committed to repair the marble monument and has not abandoned the Cemetery’s long-term plan to discard and replace the authentic monument with a replica.

Government agencies participating in the November 7th meeting included the Virginia Department of Historic Resources, Arlington County Historic Preservation Office, Department of Defense, Army Corps of Engineers, National Park Service, National Center for Preservation Technology & Training, and U.S. Commission of Fine Arts.

The nonprofit historic preservation community was represented by the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the American Institute for Conservation.

-- Rob Nieweg

Robert Nieweg is the Director of the Southern Field Office of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

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One Response

  1. Warren Randall

    November 11, 2008

    Your report makes it sound like Arlington National Cemetary is a private operation, answerable to no superior authority, and able to do what it pleases.

    I certainly would hope that older and wiser heads will prevail. I can hardly wait to see what the concept of the “new” Tomb shall unfold.

    Warren Randall
    US Vet