Preservation Arlington welcomes this guest post from Dean DeRosa, a National Park Service volunteer at Arlington House, the Robert E. Lee Memorial, regarding the changing landscape of Arlington Cemetery, as viewed through period and modern stereographs. (In 2014, DeRosa made the remarkable discovery of a never-before-published stereograph of Selina Gray, the enslaved housekeeper at Arlington House.)
In May 1869, President Ulysses S. Grant headed 20- to 30 thousand Memorial Day visitors to Arlington National Cemetery to pay homage to the thousands of soldiers interred there who gave their lives to preserve the Union during the Civil War.
Unfortunately, the landscape of the cemetery has changed since the first Memorial Day observances nearly 150 years ago, so much so that most visitors today would be hard-pressed to find and identify the principal venue and points of focus of the first observances.
Based on the 1870 engraving shown here, period and modern stereograph images, and an official account of the 1869 National Memorial Day, I have compiled a portfolio of images and brief guide to the venue of the first Memorial Day observances at Arlington National Cemetery, and to the present-day landscape of the pathway through the cemetery’s then central, and expansive, “Field of the Dead,” a historic and formerly well-trodden walkway now entirely lost to the development of the cemetery during the last half century or more.