By Vincent Bzdek and Keith B. Richburg
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, August 28, 2009
BOSTON, Aug. 27 -- On a day of solemn tributes and emotional farewells, thousands of mourners began paying their last respects to Edward M. Kennedy on Thursday as the late senator's body was carried from the family compound on Cape Cod through the streets of this city.
Thousands of people, many waving American flags and some wiping away tears, lined parts of the 70-mile route from Hyannis Port, Mass., to the city where the Kennedy family dynasty began. They gathered on roads and highways, crowded onto overpasses, and hung out of apartment windows to say goodbye to the man who served Massachusetts in the Senate for four decades.
Another thousand people awaited the somber motorcade that delivered Kennedy to the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston. The late senator will lie in repose there until his funeral Mass in Boston and burial at Arlington National Cemetery on Saturday.
By early evening Thursday, the six books of condolences inside the library were filled with thousands of signatures. More than 10,000 people waited in a long, snaking line outside to add their names to the books and to become part of the historical record of the final chapter in Kennedy's remarkable life.
Among the family members keeping vigil inside the library was Kennedy's widow, Victoria, who greeted mourners with affectionate, grateful hugs -- much to the chagrin of security people who were trying to keep the line moving. "They tell me we're backing everything up!" she told a reporter as she adjusted to simple handshakes instead. The library planned to keep its doors open into the night until every person waiting outside got to pay their respects.
The Rev. Jack Ahern, the onetime pastor of the Catholic parish in Brookline where Kennedy was baptized, drove into Boston just ahead of the procession. "Every bridge was packed with people," he said. "Every side road was full. Every inch of grass along the expressway was covered. It was the most moving thing I've ever seen in my life. It was this enormous outpouring of affection. He has done something for all of us."
Kennedy's death Tuesday came a little more than a year after he was diagnosed with brain cancer. Through those months, he fought against his illness with a combination of the good humor that had long marked his buoyant personality and the cold-eyed realism of someone whose family has been touched repeatedly by tragedy and disappointment. He was the last of the Kennedy brothers and the only one to live a full life. Two brothers, John and Robert, were assassinated at the height of their political careers, while a third, Joseph Jr., died during World War II.
His passing triggered an outpouring of emotion from Senate colleagues from both parties, from the Bay State constituents he long served, and from people across the country and around the world, touched by the Kennedy family's decades-long record of service and sacrifice. "I think it's the passing of an era," said Mort Zajac, a retired utility worker, after the procession moved past him near Hyannis. "It's a chip in the foundation."
Indeed, the day had an end-of-an-era feel as the patriarch of the Kennedy family began one last, poignant journey. Kennedy was a towering national figure who left an imprint on major legislation, as well as, to many, the heart and soul of the Democratic Party. But he was also a local Irish pol, in the rich traditions of Boston and Massachusetts. "I'd see him walking every time I'd go out," said Hyannis lawyer Michael Hayes. "He was a local guy, a local person."
The day began with a private Mass at the Kennedy home, in a room overlooking the ocean where Kennedy spent so many of his days, including some of his last, sailing. The Rev. Donald MacMillan, a Catholic priest and minister at Boston College, was the celebrant. Among more than 80 Kennedy family members there were the senator's wife; his children, Kara, Patrick and Ted Jr.; his sister Jean Kennedy Smith; and his brother-in-law Sargent Shriver.
After the family emerged outside, Victoria and Jean, his last surviving sibling of eight, stood in front of the other family members. They watched a military honor guard carry his flag-draped coffin from the house to the hearse to begin the deliberate journey to Boston.
In the city, the motorcade moved slowly past a succession of sites significant in Kennedy's life. They included historic Faneuil Hall, where he announced his unsuccessful bid for the White House in 1980; St. Stephen's Church, where his mother, Rose, was baptized and her funeral Mass was celebrated; the office on Bowdoin Street where Kennedy worked as a young assistant district attorney; and the skyscraper named for his brother, the slain president, which for decades has housed the senator's Boston headquarters.
When the procession passed a waving group of people near Hyannis, Kennedy family members rolled down the windows of their black limousines to wave back.
Sue Kemmling, a nurse, wiped away tears as she said, "I thought it was very nice the Kennedys waved back to the crowd." She added: "He gave us civil rights. He gave us a lot of freedoms back in the '60s and '70s. Women's rights. Children with handicaps. I don't think there's anybody in the near future that'll be able to fill his shoes."
Kennedy's funeral will take place at the Basilica of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Boston's Mission Hill neighborhood, where new sidewalks were being laid and a nearby building received a fresh coat of red paint in anticipation of Saturday's Mass. Kennedy often prayed at Our Lady in 2003 while his daughter, Kara, was being treated for lung cancer at a nearby hospital. Six years later, Kennedy visited the church again to ask for God's help in fighting his own tumor. On Thursday morning, a single blue teddy bear sat on the steps of the church.
An invitation-only memorial service will be held from 7 to 9 p.m. Friday. Tribute areas have also been set up at City Hall, the JFK museum in Hyannis and Kennedy's office in the Russell Senate Office Building in Washington. After Saturday's funeral Mass, Kennedy will be returned to Washington for a 5:30 p.m. burial near his brothers at Arlington National Cemetery.
Richburg reported from Hyannis. Staff writer Dan Balz in Washington contributed to this report.