Grave Situation

It's a national landmark on hallowed ground, and its population outnumbers that of Arlington County.

More than 213,000 people live in Arlington, according to county estimates. But the number of souls laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery is nearly double that, at 400,000 and growing.

Although the county’s population is ballooning—it has jumped 12 percent since 2000 and is expected to top 252,000 by the year 2040—the cemetery is expanding its capacity at an even faster rate. A ninth columbarium (a structure of vaults containing cinerary urns), slated for completion by spring, will harbor up to 40,000 additional fallen veterans and their family members. Two more expansion projects, combining columbaria with in-ground burial sites, will accommodate interments through 2050.

Once the home of Robert E. Lee and Mary Anna Custis Lee, the property became a military burial ground in 1864 when it was seized by the federal government during the Civil War. Today, some 27 military funerals are held daily amid its 624 landscaped acres.

There is no waiting list for interment, although limited cemetery personnel and space do create a wait for services that—depending on the level of honors—may call for a caisson, bugler or firing party. “We want to be sure that every family’s service is special to them and private,” says cemetery spokesperson Jennifer Lynch. “We try to space them out so we don’t have two services right next to each other.”

Although that sense of privacy is maintained for the living, the cemetery is otherwise quite efficient. Whereas the rest of Arlington houses 8,248 people per square mile, the cemetery’s current 400,000 occupants fit into just a little less than one square mile of land.

Categories: Local History