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National cemetery's centuries-old 'Arlington Oak' felled by Irene

By Bob Kovach, CNN
The iconic oak tree in Arlington National Cemetery was a casualty of Hurricane Irene on August 27.
The iconic oak tree in Arlington National Cemetery was a casualty of Hurricane Irene on August 27.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The "Arlington Oak" was estimated to be 220 years old
  • It shaded the area near the graves of Kennedy family members
  • John Kennedy is said to have visited the area in 1963 and was taken with the view
  • The Arlington Oak was part of that view

Washington (CNN) -- For more than two centuries, it stood as a silent witness to history -- the "Arlington Oak," a tree that sprouted on land once owned by Robert E. Lee, and later consecrated as part of Arlington National Cemetery.

Last weekend, it fell -- one more casualty of the winds and heavy rains from Hurricane Irene.

"It is truly unfortunate to see it's now gone -- that tree had a significant legacy here at Arlington," said Steve Van Hoven, the cemetery's urban forester.

The Arlington Oak, estimated to be 220 years old, stood by in stoic silence as a nation's history spread out nearby, as the acres filled with the graves of veterans, dignitaries, presidents and the fallen from war after war.

For nearly half a century it shaded the area near the graves of members of the Kennedy family who were buried only yards below a slope that leads up to Lee's Arlington House mansion overlooking the Potomac River.

According to Arlington National Cemetery, the oak was most known for the role it played in the selection of the grave site for President John F. Kennedy.

Kennedy is said to have visited Arlington House -- now a national memorial -- in the spring of 1963 and said the view was so magnificent that he could stay there forever. The Arlington Oak was part of that view.

In addition to the Arlington Oak, five other large trees were lost to Irene, including a white oak estimated to be 240 years old, according to the cemetery. Crews have been working since the storm passed to clear debris left from broken branches and smaller trees that were uprooted.

It took several days to cut and clean up the trunk and branches of the majestic oak, according to the cemetery.

 
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