On November 25th, 1963, the John F. Kennedy eternal flame was lit by Jackie Kennedy and Robert F. Kennedy at the temporary grave site of the late president during his state funeral.
During the first year after Kennedy’s death, up to 3,000 people an hour visited his gravesite, and on weekends an estimated 50,000 people visited. Three years after Kennedy’s death, more than 16 million people had visited the gravesite.
Since that day when it was first lit by Jackie Kennedy, the JFK Eternal Flame has over been accidentally extinguished three times in nearly 57 years.
The first such time happened on the 10th of December in 1963, not even a full month since it was lit by the First Lady.
A group of Catholic school children visiting the grave site were sprinkling the Eternal Flame with Holy Water when the lid of the bottle came off, pouring all onto the burning flame and extinguishing it. The flame was out for mere seconds until a maintenance worker promptly relit it.
Speaking of maintenance – the flame has never even been extinguished to perform repairs or modifications.
A torch is lit from the eternal flame and moved to a temporary burner before the other flame is extinguished. Once the work is done, the process is reversed thus insuring that the eternal flame is always burning. This has been the practice since JFK’s death.