Local Commentary

Our Man in Arlington


The latest permutation for the noble name of Arlington is a warship.

This June, the Navy agreed to a commissioning in Norfolk in autumn 2012 for the USS Arlington, the newest in the Navy’s fleet of San Antonio-class LPD amphibious assault ships.

The vessel named to commemorate 9/11 is actually the Navy’s third to bear the Arlington name, one during World War II and another during Vietnam.

The ship is under construction in Pascagoula, Miss., where, at a christening ceremony in March, Arlington Fire Chief James Schwartz spoke movingly of first-responder cooperation and the ship’s coats of arms’ message of “strength, honor and fortitude. I intend to place a copy of this important symbol in each fire station in Arlington as a constant reminder of the direct connection between what we do domestically and what theArlington does globally,” he said.

It’s a fine cause. My only concern is that folks around the world know that the ship is named for the real Arlington, and not one of many pretenders.

In this area, we all know Arlington is more than a cemetery. The name, as black-belt county history buffs recall, goes back to our English heritage. George Washington Parke Custis in the early 19th century built Arlington House (later the home of Robert E. Lee) and named it for the family ancestral home in Northampton County on Virginia’s Eastern shore.

That place in turn had been named for an early English patron of a Custis colonist, but here the facts are disputed. Many assume this patron to be the 17th-century Henry Bennet, Earl of Arlington, who hailed from Middlesex, outside London. But the late Arlington historian C.B. Rose Jr. notes in her book that the timing of the year he got his title doesn’t fit. The Brit for whom the Custis Virginia estate was named may have been a locality called Arlington in Bibury Parish in Gloucestershire.

Either way, it is our county where the name Arlington gathered steam. Eventually it spread over these United States to 21 entities, if you count towns and villages. There are Arlingtons in Arizona, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nebraska, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Washington and Wisconsin. Plus there’s the unincorporated community in Northampton, Va. You even find an Arlington Road in Bethesda (also the title of a 1999 movie.)

I’ve been prejudiced against Arlington, Texas, ever since the Washington Senators moved there in 1971. I have warmer feelings for Arlington, Mass., where a friend who grew up in Arlington, Va., took me one summer to chill out with her grandmother.

But opportunities for confusion are ample. Even for your man in Arlington.

I recently went online to book a tent for an upcoming party in Clarendon. After inquiring at “Arlington Tent Rental” via an e-mail address and a cellphone area code with no geographical familiarity, I received this polite reply: “Although I do travel statewide, I have only one or two tents up in that direction. Truthfully, it will be much cheaper to use a company out of Amarillo or somewhere closer. Clarendon is about 300 miles from me and truly the mileage charges would cost more than the tent.”

We wouldn’t want those folks around the world who encounter the USS Arlington to give the credit to Texas.


Charlie Clark may be e-mailed at cclarkjedd@aol.com