The National Trust for Historic Preservation today commended Arlington National Cemetery, the Department of the Army, and the Department of Veterans Affairs for changing course and agreeing to conduct much-needed repairs to, rather than replacement of, the authentic Monument at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery. Details about the repairs are included in a new, congressionally mandated report from the Department of the Army released to Congress on August 11, 2008. However, the report also says officials have not foreclosed a decision to replace the Monument with a replica.
Arlington National Cemetery, the Department of the Army, and the Department of Veterans Affairs had planned to discard the original 1932 Monument and replace it with a replica because of cosmetic, non-structural cracks in the marble Monument. The National Trust for Historic Preservation raised the alarm in June 2007 and thousands of Americans contacted Arlington National Cemetery and Congress calling for repair rather than replacement. In response to the outcry, Congress enacted Section 2873 of the 2008 National Defense Authorization Act, calling for a "Report on Plans to Replace the Monument at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery, Virginia."
"This is a major victory for all Americans who cherish the authentic Monument at the Tomb, just as we love the tattered Star Spangled Banner and cracked Liberty Bell," said Richard Moe, president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. "We applaud Arlington National Cemetery for changing course and agreeing to properly repair this national icon. The National Trust for Historic Preservation is most grateful for the timely intervention of Senators Webb and Akaka, Armed Services Committee Chairman Senator Levin and ranking member Senator McCain to protect the authentic Monument at Tomb of the Unknowns from harm."
In the report delivered August 11, 2008, Congress was informed that Arlington National Cemetery anticipates the repairs, the first to the two cosmetic, non-structural cracks since 1989, will last twelve years with proper maintenance and cost just $65,000 (as compared to an estimated $2,200,000 for a replica). The new repairs are imperative to address any aesthetic concerns and to stem further deterioration due to water infiltration where the old repairs have failed. Arlington National Cemetery has turned for technical advice to the Virginia Department of Historic Resources and the National Park Service's National Center for Preservation Technology and Training. The Cemetery also has committed to conduct the repair work in compliance with the U.S. Secretary of the Interior's Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties.
Unfortunately, the report also indicates that Arlington National Cemetery has not entirely abandoned its long-term goal to replace the Tomb Monument with a replica quarried "from the original quarry and from the same marble vein." The original 42-ton monument, carved of Yule Marble in 1931, has since cracked along its natural grain. Cemetery officials continue to explore replacement because they believe high-quality white marble is in short supply: "The impetus for considering the replacement of the Tomb Monument now, rather than later, is the uncertainty of obtaining suitable marble in the future."
Importantly, in the report marble experts consulted by Arlington National Cemetery anticipate that the Cemetery's proposed replica of Yule Marble "will eventually crack." (An earlier1990 study referenced in the August 11 report to Congress states: "Testing of Yule marble by the National Bureau of Standards indicates a distinct tendency of the marble to fracture along the grain, as might be expected.")
The National Trust for Historic Preservation is a non-profit membership organization bringing people together to protect, enhance and enjoy the places that matter to them. By saving the places where great moments from history - and the important moments of everyday life - took place, the National Trust for Historic Preservation helps revitalize neighborhoods and communities, spark economic development and promote environmental sustainability. With headquarters in Washington, DC, 9 regional and field offices, 29 historic sites, and partner organizations in all 50 states, the National Trust for Historic Preservation provides leadership, education, advocacy and resources to a national network of people, organizations and local communities committed to saving places, connecting us to our history and collectively shaping the future of America's stories. For more information, visit www.PreservationNation.org.