An interdisciplinary team recently unsealed a memorabilia box more than 100 years old at Arlington National Cemetery, in honor of the Memorial Amphitheater’s centennial.

And now, a peek inside the old copper box, along with its historic relics, are available virtually, as ANC hosts it’s first online exhibit starting last week.

“As Arlington National Cemetery remains closed to visitors, the online exhibit will allow the public to explore these hallowed grounds,” said Karen Durham-Aguilera, Office of Army National Cemeteries and ANC executive director. “Virtual visitation is the centerpiece of the 100th anniversary commemoration, showcasing the resilience of the historical structure and our nation.”

An accompanying illustrated book, “Arlington National Cemetery: Memorial Amphitheater and Tomb of the Unknowns,” by Benjamin D. Brands, an American historian, is downloadable, for free.

“The exhibit will appeal to anyone interested in American history, architecture, or the military’s changing role in society, from international tourists to those within the National Capital Region who are unable to explore Arlington National Cemetery in person,” said Ray Alexander, ANC superintendent.

The box was tucked inside a marble cornerstone 105 years ago, when construction on the amphitheater began. It was carefully removed April 9, and sorted through by a team of conservators, facilities maintenance staff and historians at the cemetery.

Retrieving the box

“Our mission is to maintain the institutional knowledge of Arlington National Cemetery for future generations,” said Steve Carney, the ANC command historian. “(Retrieving the box) took several weeks to do, to ensure everything could be done safely.

In all, the process required several months to plan for, in addition to the time to remove and sort through. In other words, Carney said, “it’s a slow process,” but time is relative when considering the years it waited in darkness.

Inside the copper box were blueprints of the amphitheater; a U.S. coin and postage stamp circulating in 1915; an autographed photo of President Woodrow Wilson; a map of Pierre Charles L’Enfant’s design for Washington, D.C.; a U.S. flag; and copies of the Declaration of Independence, Constitution and a Bible.

Going back in time

To better understand the memorabilia box, it’s best to take a trip back in time, to when Americans were buying their first cars, women received the right to vote for the first time, and a young author named F. Scott Fitzgerald published his first novel.

It’s 1920, and just outside of the nation’s capital at ANC, the Memorial Amphitheater finished hosting its first Memorial Day ceremony, then known as Decoration Day.

Originally, Decoration Day was a time for mourners to honor fallen Service members. The name came from the living who decorated graves with flowers, flags and wreaths. In 1868, roughly three years after the Civil War, the observance was officially held at ANC’s original amphitheater, the Tanner Amphitheater.

But, as years passed, Carney explained, “The sheer number of those who came to commemorate that day is why the Memorial Amphitheater was approved (to be built) in 1913.”

In the early 1900s, President William Howard Taft, one of two American presidents buried at ANC, signed legislation to construct the new Memorial Amphitheater, which was large enough to accommodate the ever-growing crowd sizes. The construction site was set on top of a hill watching over Washington, D.C.

The amphitheater has a memorial display room, a chapel beneath the stage, and it’s the location of the Tomb of the Unknowns, where a guard has been on duty, around the clock, since 1937.

Before all that, in 1915, as the construction of the Memorial Amphitheater kicked off, then-President Wilson placed the building’s cornerstone, or ceremonial building block, to commemorate the construction.

By Armistice Day on Nov. 11, 1918, nearly all of the building’s exterior was complete, and interior construction wrapped up in June 1919.

Finally, on May 15, 1920, the roofless, white marble structure was dedicated, and went on to host its first Memorial Day. Since then, every American president has visited the location during their tenure.

New time capsule planned

Later this year, ANC also plans to install a new time capsule to be opened in 100 years, continuing the tradition of commemoration and preservation for generations.

However, the exact date and what the items will be are both still up in the air.

“We want to ensure that the selected (items) are reflective of what the nation, and what Arlington, are going through right now,” Carney said. “We want the items (to be opened in 2120) to reflect a snapshot in our moment in time.”

Visit the online exhibit at: