ARLINGTON: A NEW ROUTE AND PERSPECTIVE
The following article regarding Arlington was published in the December 2022 edition of The Itinerary, the quarterly magazine of the Guild of Professional Tour Guides of Washington, DC.
The opening of a clean and modern rest room facility at the United States Marine Corps (USMC) Memorial and the reopening of the Arlington National Cemetery (ANC) Ord- Weitzal Gate now allows guides to bypass the seasonal congestion at the ANC Visitor’s Center (VC.) Valuable time will be preserved and a more intimate experience can be delivered to our clients of any group size, by guiding this new route. For purposes of this article, the customer is assumed to be a group of fifty, are employing a motor coach, will walk the grounds, and have two and a half hours to experience ANC and the USMC Memorial.
Arrange for the coach to arrive at the USMC Memorial. After discharge of your party, instruct the coach operator to proceed to the ANC Motor Coach Lot and await your arrival there in two and a half hours. Guide the USMC Memorial as you are accustomed to while mentioning the purported and actual identity of the flag raisers. Then proceed to the rest rooms there. The rest rooms are open at 7:30 a.m. each day, so your group could arrive at the USMC Memorial as early as 7:40 a.m. There are three toilets in the male rest room, four on the female side, and one in the family bathroom.
After your rest room stop, proceed on the paved path to the Netherlands Carillon. This is attraction is not ordinarily visited due to its location and lack of nearby parking. This will begin a remote and intimate experience for your client group that ought to last for the next 30 to 50 minutes before you guide into the more traveled areas of ANC. Most of our clients have never seen a carillon, so an explanation of its purpose is desirable. Consider discussing that the nation in which we have the longest continuous friendly relationship with is the Netherlands and the importance of long-run friendships in the lives of people and nations. Turn around, and a unique view of the National Mall is available which may allow and introduction to or a review of those guided areas.
Proceed through security at the Ord-Weitzal gate which opens at 8:00am each morning. You will discover that this remote entry point is rarely used and will save valuable time otherwise consumed in line at the ANC VC. As of this writing, there is no magnetometer there so the two guards will have to wand each visitor. Prepare your group to carry their belt and cell phones above their head at the entry control point. Once through, there are water fountains available immediately to your left.
Walk left to the gravesite of Rene Gagnon, which is easily visible due to a bronze plaque affixed to the back of the grave marker. Be at the head of the security line and post yourself at the grave. Corporal Gagnon was, for many years, thought to be one of the flag raisers at the famous second flag raising at Mount Suribachi that’s depicted at the USMC Memorial. This is a great opportunity to tie the USMC Memorial to ANC and to discuss how history changes as new verifiable data is discovered.
Steps from Corporal Gagnon is the site of the first military burial at ANC, Private William Christman. There’s often a stone decoration on his grave marker left by a well-wisher. If you arrive early in the day, it’s recommended that you decorate with a medium-sized stone so that your fellow Guild guides that follow this route later in the day can make it out from a distance. It’s also a wonderful opportunity to discuss decoration at ANC in general and the ancient Jewish tradition of graveside decoration with stones. Many clients will not be familiar with these topics.
Now proceed left, between Sections K and 27 along the grass median, to pick up the Custis Walk and walk along its entire length. Between the Private Christman and Medgar Evers gravesites, perhaps it’s a good time to discuss that many of the Veterans from the Vietnam War are amongst you in Sections 40 and 39. Sergeant Evers’ grave marker is an excellent opportunity to discuss civil rights and the sacrifices made throughout our history to ensure equality before the law.
Proceed up the pathway to President Taft’s gravesite. If you will later, or have visited the Supreme Court, this is an excellent opportunity to discuss the Judicial branch of government. Robert Todd Lincoln’s gravesite is also a fair visit. Show your clients that they can see the Lincoln Memorial from that location. An explanation of a sarcophagus here is appropriate as there will not be an opportunity to have one at the plaza at the Tomb of the Unknowns.
Proceed up the Custis Walk to Arlington House. From this point, the attractions, landmarks, and routes are well known to Guild members.
I have walked this 2.34 mile route alone and have developed the following timeline:
0:00 Arrive USMC Memorial
0:00-0:08 USMC Memorial
0:08-0:12 USMC Memorial Rest Rooms (RR)
0:15-0:18 Netherlands Carillon
0:20-0:28 Ord-Weitzal Gate Security
0:29-0:33 Rene Gagnon (51-543)
0:33-0:37 William Christman
0:43-0:46 Medgar Evers (36-1431) (If time allows, General Omar Bradley)
0:48-0:50 President Taft
0:51-0:53 Robert Todd Lincoln
0:58-1:04 Arlington House
1:04-1:14 Arlington House Rest Rooms (If time allows, Civil War Unknowns)
1:17-1:19 James Tanner Amphitheatre or Pentagon View
1:24-1:27 Space Shuttle Memorials
1:27-1:30 Battleship Maine Memorial
1:33-1:37 National Amphitheatre
1:37-1:57 Changing of the Guard and Wreath Laying
2:07-2:14 Kennedy Gravesites
2:15-2:17 Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg
2:23-2:28 ANC VC Rest Rooms
2:30 ANC Motor Coach Lot (End)
This route can also be employed for those groups that desire or need to employ the trolley. It’s recommended, in this instance, that the trolley vendor be contacted early in the day to ensure that the trolley will stop at Ord-Weitzal and will not be re-routed from there due to funerary activity. Tickets will need to be pre-purchased on-line. Board the trolley at Ord-Weitzal, and proceed to the VC trolley station where a switch of vehicles will be required. Then proceed as usual for your ANC experience.
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