National Geographic : 1953 Jan
Across the Potomac from Washington Chiefs of Staff in World War II and died in Washington in 1944; later an Act of Congress authorized his burial in Arlington. A large audience waited to hear General of the Army George C. Marshall and President Harry S. Truman speak; only a few were aware that Mr. Truman's late arrival was due to the attempt a few minutes earlier to assas sinate him at Blair House in Washington. Even two members of the Cabinet on the front row of seats did not know of it until just before the President arrived. Cemetery Site Once Home of Lee The cemetery is part of the original 1,100 acre Arlington plantation of George Washing ton Parke Custis, grandson of Martha Wash ington and adopted son of George Washing ton, who became the father-in-law of Robert E. Lee. About a year before the end of the Civil War, 200 acres of the plantation were set aside as a resting place for soldiers who had died in the many near-by hospitals or whose bodies had been brought in from Bull Run and other battlefields; many Confederate dead were included. Arlington House, the Custis plantation mansion, more recently known as the Lee Mansion, is directly across the river from Washington at the Virginia end of the superb Arlington Memorial Bridge (page 9). On the axis of the Lincoln Memorial and the long time home of Lee, the bridge seems to sym bolize the union of the North and the South and the nobility of two great leaders, Lincoln and Lee. Lee Mansion, on the heights of Arlington, is one of the most attractive sights of the Nation's Capital. The view of Washington from its portico is positively breath-taking (pages 4-5), and, on the other hand, the old house absolutely dominates the scene as one approaches Virginia from Washington over the Memorial Bridge. The columns of its enormous portico stand out from across the Potomac. Wings were built on each side of the portico to balance the heavy columns, but large magnolia trees conceal them. Custis, who built the house and lived there most of his life, was an artist, playwright, and agriculturalist. His fairs, or sheep-shearings, were a pioneer inspiration for present-day farm progress. He wrote what is believed to be the first play in America about railroads and brought a locomotive on the stage. From the time Lee was married to Mary Custis at Arlington House in 1831 until he left 30 years later to become commander of the military and naval forces of Virginia, the mansion was the home to which he returned between tours of duty elsewhere. His father-in-law had been the "child of Mount Vernon," and was long a very close living link with George Washington. It is no wonder, therefore, that Robert E. Lee was profoundly influenced by the character of Washington. In April, 1861, Lee wrote his resignation from the United States Army in his bedroom at the house; two days later he left for Rich mond, never to enter the mansion again. Fed eral troops later occupied it, and it became the headquarters of a commanding general. The once quiet country estate was transformed into a vast military encampment (page 19). For many years the house was the office of the military cemetery that took the place of the plantation; more recently it has been taken over by the National Park Service as a memo rial. As many as 19,000 school children have visited it in the month of April, the proverbial spring vacation month when Washington over flows with high-school pupils from every State. Of about 75 forts which surrounded Wash ington in the Civil War, two remain in active service. One is Fort Myer, adjoining Arling ton National Cemetery to the west; the other is Fort Lesley J. McNair in the District of Columbia. The Virginia post was first called Fort Whipple for Gen. Amiel Weeks Whipple, of the Union Army, who died in the Civil War. It was renamed in 1881 in honor of Gen. Al bert J. Myer, first chief of the Signal Corps, and became a cavalry post in 1887. Fort Myer's horses are now used chiefly for ceremonial purposes. Its former riding hall serves today as a gymnasium. Fort Myer Guards the Capital This famous army post, however, has many practical, present-day uses. Besides providing men for official and ceremonial duties, its troops would protect the Capital in case of civil insurrection. It provides homes for the Army's highest ranking officers and serves as a services and supply center for the Washington area. It is also the home of the 131-piece Army Band, established in 1922 by General Per shing, who also designed its original uniforms. On a fine evening Washingtonians love to drive to Fort Myer to see the great flag lowered and hear the sunset gun and a recorded bugling of retreat. In what was a quiet, rural setting only a few years ago, Arlington Cemetery and Fort Myer now find themselves surrounded and crowded in upon by Arlington County, a teem ing, bustling metropolis of nearly 150,000 people. This "bedroom of Washington" suf fers from all the acute problems of sudden and phenomenal growth.