100th Anniversary of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Moving Image Records

This post is by Alexandra Geitz, Supervisory Archivist of the Moving Image and Sound Branch.

In honor of the 100th Anniversary of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery, this post will highlight just a few of the moving image and sound records in our holdings that depict the site over the last century.

Of particular note is the film,“The Unknown Soldier of the World War” (111-H-1137), from the Office of the Chief Signal Officer record series, Historical Films (111-H). This film documents the 1921 journey of the selected World War I Unknown Soldier as he was transported from France to his final resting place in Arlington National Cemetery on November 11th. The film captures the Unknown Soldier lying in State in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda, the procession from the U.S. Capitol to Arlington National Cemetery, the funeral ceremony at the Arlington Memorial Amphitheater, and the interment of the Soldier in the Tomb. 

The Unknown Soldier of the World War (111-H-1137)

For a slightly different perspective of the November 11, 1921 dedication of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, look no further than the Ford Film Collection (FC-FC). The film reel, [WASHINGTON, D.C.] (FC-FC-208), includes footage of sites from all over the Washington D.C. area, including shots of the massive crowds that gathered at Arlington Cemetery to witness the procession of the Unknown Soldier and his interment in the Tomb. In these scenes you will see several cameramen standing on top of the Arlington Memorial Amphitheater, capturing the footage that is now part of item 111-H-1137.

Clip from FC-FC-208

You will also find dozens of films depicting the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier through the subsequent decades. The records of the military branches are a particularly plentiful source of material, with footage from the 1921 ceremony through the early 21st century. These films were created to document visits to the Tomb by military officials, diplomats, and U.S. and foreign Presidents, as well as funerals of noted military officials, memorials and other ceremonies that occurred at Arlington National Cemetery. There is even some footage of the Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, as seen in the 1965 Department of the Navy film, “Washington, D.C. Stock Footage” (428-NPC-37807).

Clip from 428-NPC-37807

The civilian agency records and donated newsreel collections are also a great source of footage of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier over the past 100 years. These films often feature visits made to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier by prominent individuals (in the case of the newsreel holdings) or individuals with a connection to a specific civilian agency. As an example, the Records of the National Youth Administration includes the 1939 film, “Youth Visits Our Nation’s Capital” (119.3), which documents a trip to Washington D.C. by three young people, including a stop at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

Clip from “Youth Visits Our Nation’s Capital” (119.3)

These are just a few of the many moving image and sound holdings that document the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. You can find descriptions and digitized video files (where available) of these holdings on the National Archives Catalog. 

Additional resources and presentations pertaining to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the related National Archives holdings:

Here Rests in Honored Glory: Records Related to Arlington National Cemetery and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Part 1

Here Rests in Honored Glory: Records Related to Arlington National Cemetery and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Part 2

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