4 Trivia Questions About the Burial of JFK at Arlington National Cemetery

On November 25, 1963, three days after his assassination, President John F. Kennedy was buried at Arlington National Cemetery. Try answering these trivia questions about the burial procession and gravesite of a president who was gone too soon...


Why Was Kennedy Buried at Arlington? # John F. Kennedy Jr. salutes his father's coffin. Photo credit: David Erickson/Flickr. Arlington National Cemetery is known for being the major military cemetery in the nation, and Kennedy was a decorated war hero -- but that's not why he ended up there. Presidents and military members who meet certain requirements can be buried there but are not required to, and most people thought Kennedy would want to be buried in his home state. In fact, most presidents are buried away from Arlington; Kennedy and William Howard Taft are the only two presidents buried there. Kennedy ended up there because, a few months earlier, he had toured the cemetery and admired the area, even remarking that he "could stay here forever." Jacqueline Kennedy thought such a spot would be a more appropriate resting place.

What Is Really Amazing About the Eternal Flame at the Gravesite? # At the heart of that somber flame is... a party accessory. Photo credit: Tony Fischer/Flickr. When Kennedy was buried, Jacqueline Kennedy wanted to have an eternal flame burning at the grave. There was just one problem -- no one had ever created an eternal flame before, or at least not one that was going to be exposed to every possible weather phenomenon as well as being surrounded by crowds. What was more concerning was that the First Lady had requested this feature the day before the funeral. 

Army engineers to the rescue. They knew they needed something tough, and what they found sounds laughable at first: a party lamp called a luau lamp. This was a lamp meant to be used outside at parties, and it survived everything the engineers threw at it, burning brightly through the whole ordeal. The engineers hooked the lamp up to a hastily (but properly) installed gas line and burner.


What Happens to the Flame if the Gas Line Needs Work? When the main line and burner need work, a temporary burner is installed and the flame actually transferred to that burner so that the flame keeps burning. That's not to say the flame has always burned continuously, though. The First Lady lit the flame with the intention of having it constantly burning, but accidents do -- and did -- happen. For example, shortly after the burial in 1963, the flame was doused with holy water when some Catholic schoolkids were sprinkling the gravesite with the water and they accidentally spilled the rest of the water all over the flame (a guard nearby had a lighter and fixed that quickly). A few years later, the weather at the site was so bad that a transformer was flooded, preventing the electronic ignition at the flame site from reigniting the flame.  

What Was the Significance of Having a Riderless Horse Trail the Procession? At the very end of the long funeral procession was a horse with no rider, led by a soldier. The horse had boots placed in the stirrups facing backwards, as well as having a saber placed in the saddle. The horse was black as were all the accessories. This riderless horse is a major military honor, reserved for Army and Marine colonels, as well as the president, who is technically the chief of the U.S. armed forces. The riderless status shows that the "rider" -- the deceased -- will no longer ride, and the other accessories pay tribute to the lost leader. This horse, also called a caparisoned horse, can be black with a black saddle, saddle blanket with white border, boots, and so on. If the horse is a different color, it also wears a cape and hood.

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