Today, Arlington National Cemetery’s Memorial Amphitheater celebrates its 100th anniversary. In 1920, for the first time, the nation’s Memorial Day ceremony (then known as Decoration Day) was held at the brand new Memorial Amphitheater. For a century it has served as the setting for the National Memorial Day Observance, at which the president of the United States traditionally gives a public address after laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
ANC will commemorate Memorial Amphitheater’s centennial anniversary with its first online exhibit, available to the public on the ANC website (www.ArlingtonCemetery.mil/Memorial-Amphitheater-100) beginning on May 13, 2020.
“As Arlington National Cemetery remains closed to visitors, the online exhibit will allow the public to explore these hallowed grounds,” said Karen Durham-Aguilera, Executive Director, Office of Army National Cemeteries and Arlington National Cemetery. “Virtual visitation is the centerpiece of the 100th anniversary commemoration, showcasing the resilience of the historical structure and our nation.”
Featuring original photographs depicting Memorial Amphitheater’s construction and evolution during the past century, along with interpretive text and a video, the exhibit will narrate the story of the building’s origins, design and ongoing preservation. Through the story of the Amphitheater, the exhibit explains how Americans have honored and remembered military service and sacrifice, from 1920 through today.
Historian Dr. Benjamin Brands provides an audio lecture, and his report for the Historic American Buildings Survey, “Arlington National Cemetery: Memorial Amphitheater and Tomb of the Unknowns,” is available free-of-charge as a downloadable PDF.
“The exhibit will appeal to anyone interested in American history, architecture or the military’s changing role in society, from international tourists to those within the national capital region who are currently unable to explore Arlington National Cemetery in person,” stated Ray Alexander, Superintendent, Arlington National Cemetery.
When construction on Memorial Amphitheater began in 1915, a memorabilia box was placed in its cornerstone. Untouched for over a century, this “time capsule” was recently removed and carefully opened by ANC experts, including a historian, a conservator, and a facilities maintenance staff. The copper box contained designs and plans for the Amphitheater; one of each U.S. coin and postage stamp in use in 1915; an autographed photo of President Woodrow Wilson; a map of Pierre Charles L’Enfant’s design for Washington, D.C.; a U.S. flag; copies of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and a Bible; and other documents pertaining to the history of the Amphitheater and the nation’s capital. In 2020, ANC plans to install a new time capsule to be opened in 100 years, continuing the tradition of commemoration and preservation for generations to come.
The ANC historian who unveiled the time capsule discovered that his great-grandfather’s name was listed in The Boyd’s City Directory, included in the contents. Connecting the past and the present, the historian wrote an accompanying blog post, “Memorial Amphitheater’s 100 Years of History: A Firsthand Look,” to share the personal and professional impacts of this coincidence.
Arlington National Cemetery’s virtual visitation initiative extends its mission to honor, remember and explore. The online exhibit uncovers the origins of Memorial Amphitheater, its design and construction, the ceremonies and events held there, and the work that ANC has undertaken, and will continue to execute, in order to preserve this hallowed building for the next 100 years.