Arlington cemetery urns turn up on auction block, but how’d they get there?

Christian Davenport
The Washington Post

The Department of the Army, whose stewardship of the cemetery has been questioned ever since an investigation found widespread burial problems there last year, confirmed that the contractor, Omni Construction, which later merged with Clark Construction, was to 'dispose' of the urns after renovations. Gerald Martineau/The Washington Post

Grand and ornate, the nine-foot-tall, decorative marble urns for decades flanked the stage of Arlington National Cemetery’s Memorial Amphitheater, adjacent to the Tomb of the Unknowns.

Next weekend, however, the two urns, designed by the same firm that built the New York Public Library and the Russell Senate and Cannon House office buildings, will stand not at the forefront of one of the nation’s most venerated shrines but rather are set to be up for sale at the Potomack Company, an Alexandria auction house.

The urns are literally “a piece of history,” as the antiques dealer who now owns them likes to say. But their historic value – evident in photos of presidential visits since Woodrow Wilson dedicated the memorial in 1920 – is exactly why preservationists were stunned to learn that they are being sold to the highest bidder.

“It’s alarming to see portions of our national legacy being sold off,” said Robert Nieweg, director of the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s southern field office. “It raises some red flags for us, and we have some very significant concerns about the cemetery’s stewardship of this extraordinarily historic place.”

How the urns, witness to so many public ceremonies, landed in private hands is something of a mystery. Under the strict procedures the federal government has adopted to protect its property – and particularly artifacts with historic and artistic value – the urns should have been restored or put in a museum, not put out on the open market, preservationists say.

The article continues at The Washington Post.

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