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Millions of words have been written about Arlington National Cemetery through the years, but none can ever do justice to the singular atmosphere of the place itself. From its founding in 1866, just a year after the cataclysmic Civil War ended, through other, global conflicts, stunning scandals and massive cultural and political change, the 600 acres situated across the Potomac from the Lincoln Memorial have constituted sacred ground for generations of Americans.
Here, on the cemetery’s 150th anniversary, LIFE.com offers a series of photographs made at Arlington by George Silk. Never published in LIFE magazine, Silk’s pictures are appropriately quiet, reflective portraits of a small corner of the country that occupies a special, prominent place in the national consciousness.