CLOSE
Getty
Getty

Has JFK's Eternal Flame Ever Been Extinguished?

Getty
Getty

After John F. Kennedy was assassinated, his wife, Jackie Kennedy, was very specific about the type of memorial she wanted him to have. She had previously admired the eternal flame at the tomb of the French Unknown Soldier in Paris, and felt that a similar tribute would be appropriate for her husband. The idea was approved, and the Washington Gas Company had about a day to design a propane torch that could be used at the funeral. They pulled it off, and the flame has been burning ever since.

Well, sort of. Despite the fact that it’s designed to reignite itself, the flame has, on at least two occasions, gone out.

First, there was the holy water incident. On December 10, 1963, a group of Catholic schoolchildren were visiting Kennedy’s memorial at Arlington National Cemetery. The gravesite was temporary, a place for the public to grieve while the permanent memorial was being constructed. Even so, the eternal flame was already in place, lit by Jackie Kennedy on the day of the funeral. The children managed to extinguish the flame less than a month later, while blessing it with holy water. Luckily, one of the grave guards happened to be a smoker, and he used his cigarette lighter to reignite the memorial

Kennedy was moved to his final resting place, not far from the temporary spot, on March 14, 1967. Later that year, inclement weather caused the flame to go out for a second time. The flame is built to withstand rain and wind—there is what the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum refers to as a “constantly flashing electric spark near the tip of the nozzle." Because of this, if the flame is extinguished, it’s reignited almost instantly. But that August, heavy rains not only extinguished the flame, but also flooded a nearby transformer. The faulty transformer prevented the spark igniter from firing, so the flame remained out until officials could light it again when the rain stopped.

In 2013, the flame went through some significant renovations to make the gas system more energy efficient and easier to maintain. In order to do that, the flame at the actual site had to be extinguished. But before they did that, they transferred the flame to a temporary burner located just behind the original. By preserving that original flame, they can say it didn’t actually go out.

Two extinguished flames in a little more than 50 years may mean that the flame isn't technically eternal, but it's still a pretty good track record.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Mark Wilson, Getty Images
arrow
entertainment
Barack and Michelle Obama's Next Move: Producing Content for Netflix
Mark Wilson, Getty Images
Mark Wilson, Getty Images

Barack Obama's first talk show appearance after leaving office was on My Next Guest Needs No Introduction, David Letterman's six-part series on Netflix. Perhaps it's fitting, then, that one of the Obamas' first projects since moving out of the White House will be a storytelling partnership with Netflix.

On Monday, the streaming service announced that they've entered into a multi-year deal with Barack and Michelle Obama, who produce films and series under a company called Higher Ground Productions. So what can we expect from the former president and first lady? According to Netflix, they will be producing a "diverse mix of content," which could take the form of scripted and unscripted series, documentaries, and features.

"One of the simple joys of our time in public service was getting to meet so many fascinating people from all walks of life, and to help them share their experiences with a wider audience," Barack Obama said in a statement. "That's why Michelle and I are so excited to partner with Netflix. We hope to cultivate and curate the talented, inspiring, creative voices who are able to promote greater empathy and understanding between peoples, and help them share their stories with the entire world."

The former first lady added that Netflix was a "natural fit" for the kinds of stories they want to tell. According to The New York Times, Barack Obama said he does not intend to use the platform for political ends.

Last year, the Obamas signed a joint book deal with Penguin Random House worth $65 million. Michelle's memoir, Becoming, will be published on November 13, while details about Barack Obama's memoir are forthcoming.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Alexander Gardner, U.S. Library of Congress/Getty Images
arrow
presidents
The Lincoln Library May Have to Sell the President's Hat and Blood-Stained Gloves to Pay Off a Loan
Alexander Gardner, U.S. Library of Congress/Getty Images
Alexander Gardner, U.S. Library of Congress/Getty Images

Two of the most valuable artifacts in the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum may be shut away from the public for good if the institution can't pay off its debt. As the Chicago Tribune reports, the presidential library's foundation took out a $23 million loan in 2007 to acquire a collection of items that once belonged to the 16th president. Over a decade later, the Springfield, Illinois institution has yet to pay back the entirety of the loan—and it may have to auction off some of the very items it was used to purchase to do so.

The 2007 loan paid for most of the $25 million Barry and Louise Taper Collection, which before moving to the library was the largest private collection of Lincoln memorabilia compiled in the last half-century. It features 1500 items, including many of Lincoln's personal belongings and writings.

The foundation still owes $9.7 million on the loan, which comes up for renewal in October 2019. In order to avoid financial trouble and retain the majority of the artifacts, the foundation is considering auctioning off two of the most valuable pieces in the collection: A stovetop hat thought to have belonged to Lincoln and the blood-stained gloves he wore on the night of his assassination.

As long as they're in the museum's possession, the artifacts are available for the public to view and researchers to study. If they end up on the auction block they will likely go home with a private buyer and become inaccessible for the indefinite future.

While the Lincoln library is run by the Illinois government, the foundation is privately funded and run independently. The foundation appealed to Governor Bruce Rauner for financial assistance earlier this month with no success. Springfield-area Representative Sara Wojcicki Jimenez, however, tells the Chicago Tribune that she is looking into ways to relieve the museum's financial burden.

If the state doesn't follow through with funding, the foundation does have a backup plan. The Barry and Louise Taper Collection also includes a handful of Marilyn Monroe artifacts sprinkled in with the Lincoln memorabilia and some of those items are going up for auction in Las Vegas on June 23. Revenue from a dress worn by Monroe, pictures of her taken by photographer Arnold Newman, and a bust of poet Carl Sandburg that once belonged to the icon will hopefully offer some relief to the foundation's outstanding debt.

[h/t The Chicago Tribune]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios