ECW Weekender: The MacArthur Memorial

In the heart of downtown Norfolk stands the former Norfolk City Hall. Opened in 1850, in May 1862 Norfolk’s mayor surrendered to the Union Army on its front steps. Today, it is the resting place of one of America’s most prominent generals and is known as the MacArthur Memorial.

The MacArthur Memorial opened in 1964 as a museum and archive dedicated to the life and times of General of the Army Douglas MacArthur. It is a place to study and honor the men and women who have served this country from the Civil War forward through the Korean War. The City of Norfolk operates the Memorial in close partnership with the nonprofit General Douglas MacArthur Foundation. The MacArthur Memorial averages over 45,000 visitors per year, and is open free of charge.

Why Norfolk?

One of the most common questions asked about the Memorial is how it came to be in Norfolk. General MacArthur regarded Norfolk as his spiritual home, and his mother had very deep roots in the city. In 1951 General MacArthur spoke at a ceremony dedicating a new city park on the site where the family estate once stood. During the festivities, MacArthur stated that he felt that he had “finally . . . come home.” Remembering this sentiment, in 1960 Mayor Fred Duckworth presented the General with the idea of a creating a museum and repository in Norfolk for the General’s library, papers, and other memorabilia. On the condition that he and his wife Jean MacArthur could be buried in the Rotunda of the museum, MacArthur entered into a partnership with the City of Norfolk. The resulting MacArthur Memorial opened January 26, 1964.

General MacArthur died on April 5, 1964, before the Memorial’s formal dedication, and was buried in the Memorial’s Rotunda on April 11, 1964. The MacArthur viewing and funeral attracted an international crowd of over 87,000, making it one of the largest events in Norfolk’s history and serving as the Memorial’s dedication. Jean died in 2000 and lies beside him.

The MacArthur Memorial Collections

The Memorial contains over 15,000 artifacts and over 2.5 million documents, books, and films that tell the story of General MacArthur’s life and times – the period from the Civil War to 1964. Among the most prominent items in the collection are General MacArthur’s medals; his iconic hat, corncob pipe, and sunglasses; his limousine; Jean MacArthur’s Presidential Medal of Freedom; objects from Arthur MacArthur, Douglas’ father and Civil War veteran; and countless other objects from Douglas and those who served with him. There are also 4,000 objects of Asian art that the MacArthurs acquired largely from 1945 to 1964.

The MacArthur Memorial Archives is housed in the Jean MacArthur Research Center. It contains General MacArthur’s original collection of 5,000 volumes augmented by gifts and purchases of books concerning the General, his life and times, his family, and his associates. It is a non-lending reference and research library. The Archives proper hold some 2.5 million documents, 86,000 photographs, 200 photograph albums, and 300 motion picture films in addition to sound recordings, newspapers, rare books, scrapbooks, and microfilms. These items are accessed by over 3,000 researchers each year from all over the world.

MacArthur and the Civil War

In 1951, Douglas MacArthur referred to himself as “the reunion of blue and gray personified.” He had deep ties to the Civil War, and the influence of his parents left a lasting mark on his character and career. Douglas’ father, Arthur, served in the 24th Wisconsin from 1862 to 1865. He earned the Medal of Honor at age 18 for leadership under fire at Missionary Ridge in 1863, and later became famous as the “Boy Colonel of the Union Army.” His career became an exemplar for Douglas.

Arthur MacArthur, depicted here as a 1st Lieutenant, was a Major at the Battle of Franklin. He would later be Douglas MacArthur’s father.

Douglas MacArthur’s mother had three brothers in the Army of Northern Virginia, serving in the 6th Virginia in all major battles of that army. Two of them surrendered at Appomattox. Douglas’ second wife Jean was from Murfreesboro, Tennessee, and descended from officers in A.P. Stewart’s brigade of the Army of Tennessee. Douglas read avidly about the Civil War, and his West Point class visited Gettysburg in 1903. He also corresponded with historians like Douglas Southall Freeman.

What’s Going On?

Two current major initiatives involve the First World War Centennial and anniversaries related to the Second World War’s 75th Anniversary. For the First World War, a major international symposium is planned for 6 October 2018, alongside the Memorial’s next temporary exhibit titled Over Here, Over There: America’s Homefront & Expeditionary Force in World War I (closing January 2019) about U.S. involvement in the war.

The year 2019 marks the 75th Anniversary of General MacArthur’s return to the Philippines, a key moment in the story of U.S. involvement in Asia. In April, the Memorial’s next special exhibit will trace the ongoing legacies of Arthur and Douglas MacArthur in Asia. Programming plans for 2019 and beyond will expand on this story.

More information on the Memorial and its activities can be found at

You can also follow the Memorial at

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