Visitors who went to see the gravesite of JFK were shocked to find that the famous external flame that was first lit five decades ago was out, but officials at the Arlington National Cemetery say it’s been restored.
On Tuesday, the cemetery transferred it from a temporary burner to the restored permanent one that is part of a memorial to the 35th president. Repairs began in April to replace components of the eternal burner. Contractors installed new gas and air lines, a new burner assembly and new drainage lines below the flame.
The work was supposed to be completed by late May. But the flame remained on a temporary burner through October. The temporary flame, although different, was visible to some tourists during the project.
Officials said the repairs were needed after more than four decades of use. The cemetery says the new equipment will provide easier maintenance. Now, the flame is back on time where it belongs less than a month before the 50th anniversary of the president’s assassination.
The flame was inspired by the French Tomb of the Unknown Solider under the Arch of Triumph in Paris, which the Kennedys had visited earlier in 1961.
The planners who were organizing the funeral granted a request from Jacqueline Kennedy to implement it overnight so that it could shine before JFK’s funeral. The engineers ran a gas line to the planned gravesite, fed by propane tanks from a distance. They worked around-the-clock until the project was complete.
The state funeral was held on November 25th, 1963, where several heads of states were attending. At the end of the burial service, Mrs. Kennedy lit the flame with a lightened taper. About a month after it was lit, the flame was temporarily extinguished when a Catholic school group visiting the site poured, rather than sprinkled, holy water directly onto the flame.