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A Permanent Legacy

JFK, Falmouth’s pink granite, and a special memorial

Every year, millions of people visit John F. Kennedy’s gravesite at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia, paying respects to the late president whose office on Pennsylvania Avenue was just a few miles away, across the Potomac River.Kennedy’s grave famously features an eternal flame, which is set within a circular stone and surrounded by flat, lightly colored stones that are arranged in a simple, elegant pattern. Everyone knows that JFK and his family spent a lot of time on Cape Cod during his presidency and in their youthful lives beforehand. So too, did the stones of granite that mark the late president’s grave.

JFK, Falmouth's pink granite, and a special memorial

In the years following JFK’s assassination in November of 1963, John Carl Warnecke, an architect and a longtime friend of the president’s, was hired to design a memorial for the president’s final resting place, but JFK’s widow had a special request. During their time on the Cape together, Jackie Kennedy and her husband had often visited an antique shop in Falmouth—The Antiquarian—and the couple particularly enjoyed an attractive, pink granite stone that welcomed visitors to the Palmer Avenue shop’s entrance.

Falmouth’s Bill Bourne is familiar with the story. “John Kennedy and Mrs. Kennedy used to go to that antique shop all the time,” Bourne says. “There was a pink stone there and John Kennedy liked that a lot. They shopped there quite a bit.”

In 1966, Jackie reached out to the owner of the shop—her friend Orville E. Garland—asking if he could find more of the stone, West Falmouth pink granite, which she planned to incorporate into her husband’s permanent gravesite. Garland spoke with folks in Falmouth who would know where to find the stone: men like Dick Baker of Baker Monument Company and Lester A. Bourne and Grover N. Bourne—Bill Bourne’s father and uncle—who worked many jobs including construction and hauling. “I think they looked for probably a month,” says Bourne, who was 10 years old at the time and recalls the men coming in and out of the family’s yard at all hours.

JFK, Falmouth's pink granite, and a special memorial

During the 1800s, a lot of quarrying took place in Falmouth along the West Falmouth Ridge, a hilly area that runs north to south, between today’s Routes 28 and 28A, from Route 151 to Wishing Moon Hill. What once was all fields, Bourne says, is mainly residential property today.

The granite pieces the men found had come from this area, but had been quarried and dispersed throughout the region for different uses; the men found available stones at the Oak Grove Cemetery in Bourne and the Bureau of Commercial Fisheries in Woods Hole (known today as the Northeast Fisheries Science Center). They also found pieces that had been part of old stone walls and some that had come from a foundation of a Falmouth home that had been destroyed some time prior—possibly by fire. “They gathered it all together,” Bourne says.

Bourne recalls that Richard Fish, another Falmouth resident, also helped out with the work. Fish knew where to find some of the stone, Bourne says, and he also had a crane and helped load the heavy pieces onto his uncle’s flatbed truck.

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