Located near Arlington House, the former estate of Robert E. Lee and his wife Mary, on a site that was the Slave School House, the Old Amphitheater and Rostrum served as the principal area of assembly for Arlington National Cemetery prior to the construction of the current amphitheater in 1921. Its dedication in 1868 helped mark the first observance of Decoration Day, now Memorial Day, on May 30 of that year. General James A. Garfield was the featured speaker for the occasion.
A white colonnade, featuring Ionic columns supporting trelliswork for vines, surrounds the elliptical amphitheater. Boxwood hedges and herbaceous plantings line the colonnade and the central lawn of the less than half-acre site. The focal point of the lawn is a white marble dais known as the Rostrum, inscribed with the phrase "E pluribus Unum" (“Out of many, one”). The Old Amphitheater seated as many 1,500 visitors and over the course of its use has witnessed many notable speakers.