Irene topples "Arlington Oak" at JFK gravesite

Crews clean up the fallen "Arlington Oak," near the John F. Kennedy gravesite in Arlington National Cemetery, which was uprooted by Hurricane Irene.
Arlington National Cemetery

ARLINGTON, Va. - Arlington National Cemetery officials say a 220-year-old oak tree at the gravesite of President John F. Kennedy was destroyed in Hurricane Irene last weekend.

Also, a white oak near the memorial for victims of the 1988 downing of Pam Am Flight 103 over Scotland was uprooted but the tree did not damage the memorial, officials said Thursday. The white oak was estimated to be 240 years old.

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The oak that had shaded visitors to the Kennedy gravesite for 48 years was known as the "Arlington Oak." When the decision was made to bury the assassinated president near the tree, the cemetery undertook an elaborate aeration, drainage and soil improvement project to protect the tree from the shock of construction at the site.

Kennedy's family chose the site, according to Arlington Cemetery, based on his widow Jacqueline Kennedy's desire for him to rest in a place accessible to the American public.

It was also a spot that JFK himself had once admired. During a visit to the hollowed ground in 1963, Kennedy reportedly said the view from the hillside - in which the giant oak tree played a significant part - was so stunning he could stay there forever.

Sketch of proposed JFK gravesite design
This artist's sketch shows the design of the John F. Kennedy Grave at Arlington Cemetery, which architect John Warnecke incorporated the "Arlington Oak" (center-right) into prominently.
Arlington National Cemetery

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

Arlington Cemetery says Kennedy's gravesite was closed for two days following the storm, to let workers clear away the fallen oak. It reopened on Aug. 30.