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ArlingtonSoaring columns bring past to life at Arlington National Cemetery

Soaring columns bring past to life at Arlington National Cemetery

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Soaring white columns that date back two centuries now anchor an upgraded pedestrian gate on the northeastern boundary of Arlington National Cemetery.

The restored Ord and Weitzel Gate, which officials unveiled at a Nov. 8 ceremony, incorporates two 35-foot-tall limestone columns that formerly graced the circa-1820 War Department Building in Washington, D.C.

“What was old here at Arlington is once again new,” said Karen Durham-Aguilera, executive director of the Office of Army Cemeteries and Army National Military Cemeteries.

When the federal government razed the War Department Building in 1879 to make way for what now is called the Eisenhower Executive Office Building next to the White House, U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Montgomery Meigs had six of the War Department’s columns saved for use at Arlington National Cemetery.

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Two of the columns and elaborate ironwork were installed at a gate, designed by Meigs and Corps of Engineers architect Thomas Lincoln Casey, at the cemetery’s north entrance.

Officials in 1902 inscribed the names of two prominent U.S. Army generals in the Civil War, Edward Ord and Godfrey Weitzel, on the columns. (Ord is buried at the cemetery.)

The other four salvaged War Department Building columns formerly were positioned at Arlington National Cemetery’s Sheridan Gate.

Cemetery officials in the 1970s dismantled both gates in order to accommodate the cemetery’s expansion and permit passage of wider, modern vehicles. Officials plan to reconstruct the Sheridan Gate after the cemetery’s southern expansion is complete, Durham-Aguilera said.

Cemetery officials in 2015 kicked off a project to restore the Ord and Weitzel Gate, which involved collaboration with the Corps of Engineers, Maverick Regan Construction, Lorton Stone, WSP and Speweik Preservation Consultants.

The white-painted columns sit atop masonry bases and are capped with decorative urns featuring shields and drapery. The urns were in several pieces before the restoration and had to be reassembled with some reconstructed missing elements, officials said.

The gate is close to its previous location, but now faces north, as opposed to east as it did before. Its wing walls resemble those that previously supported the columns. Other improvements at the site include upgraded walkways and a new guard booth for enhanced security.

The project brought the columns to their current location safely, on time and within budget, said U.S. Army Col. Brian Hallberg, commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Norfolk District.

Hallberg attributed the effort’s success to consistent and open communication, collaboration and commitment among the participating parties.

“We all had to work together to solve tough problems,” he said. “In the end, we had an impeccable safety record for the contractor, with no incidents.”

The federal government established the cemetery in 1864 during the Civil War on the grounds of the mansion that had been inherited through marriage by Gen. Robert E. Lee, who in 1861 had resigned his U.S. Army commission to accept command of the Army of Northern Virginia. In the 1880s, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the seizure of the mansion and grounds had been illegal, ordering the federal government to pay Lee’s heirs the then-astounding sum of $175,000 in compensation.

The cemetery now has 639 acres and is the final resting place for about 400,000 service personnel, veterans, political figures and their family members. Two presidents, William Howard Taft and John F. Kennedy, are buried there.

The upgraded Ord and Weitzel Gate is located not far from the grave of Union Army Pvt. William Henry Christman, who on May 13, 1864, became the first person buried at the cemetery. Christman was only 19 when he died from measles.

Dignitaries cut a ceremonial ribbon Nov. 8, 2022, to dedicate the restored Ord and Weitzel Gate at Arlington National Cemetery. (Photo by Brian Trompeter)
Karen Durham-Aguilera, executive director of the Office of Army Cemeteries & Army National Military Cemeteries, talks about the restored Ord and Weitzel Gate at Arlington National Cemetery during a Nov. 8, 2022, dedication ceremony. (Photo by Brian Trompeter)
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