By Michael E. Ruane
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, August 30, 2009
Washington bade farewell to Sen. Edward M. Kennedy on Saturday with Irish song and hearty cheers, with shouts of "Thank you!" and tearful goodbyes waved from thronged sidewalks, as his funeral cortege wound from the Capitol along Constitution Avenue and crossed the Potomac River to Arlington National Cemetery on a gentle summer evening.
A group of well-wishers at the Capitol sang "When Irish Eyes Are Smiling" as his hearse approached, the flag-draped coffin visible through an oval window. Along Constitution Avenue, people in shorts and bright summer clothing applauded and waved flags as his motorcade passed, and children on bicycles followed on the sidewalk.
It was a heartfelt but upbeat salute -- much different from the anguished departures of his slain brothers a generation ago. This Kennedy burial was marked by a street trumpeter playing along Constitution Avenue and a little boy saluting from atop a grown-up's shoulders. And it ended after dark with the sound of taps and crickets and the monuments of Washington illuminated in the distance.
"Bye-bye, Teddy," Peggy Etheridge, 50, a federal employee from Clinton had said earlier in the day. "We love you."
Outside the cemetery, people lined both sides of Memorial Drive as the motorcade crossed the gentle arc of Memorial Bridge and passed the huge stone eagles standing watch at the entrance to the drive.
Demory Martin, 17, and his mother, Claire Green, who came from Woodbridge, sat on the grass drawing posters with colored markers. "THANK YOU TEDDY," Demory's sign read. He wore an Obama T-shirt and said he admired Kennedy, who shared the president's views on health care.
To his mother, an Irish Catholic from Massachusetts, Kennedy was an "icon of liberal values" who "spent a lot of time getting a lot of things done." He was "THE PEOPLE'S SENATOR," her sign said.
Greg Smith brought three of his five children from their home in Bethesda to pay tribute to the senator. The 43-year-old lawyer was raised in "the only Democratic family" in a conservative town in central Illinois. He grew up feeling like the Kennedys were a part of his extended Irish Catholic family. There were at least as many pictures of Kennedys on his walls as his own siblings, he said.
Among them was the five-foot-high election poster of President John F. Kennedy that his grandmother, an election official in their small town, kept in her front window. He also had a picture of himself with Ted Kennedy that he got on his first trip to Washington when he was in high school. He camped outside the senator's office until he came by and had the chance to meet him.
He sent the photo to the senator, who signed it: "With my thanks for your friendship. Ted Kennedy."
Some present Saturday had bade other Kennedys farewell.
On Nov. 25, 1963, Lynnette Wynn, a 21-year-old government employee in the Office of the Surgeon General of the Army, watched from a hillside on Constitution Avenue as President Kennedy's coffin passed.
Wynn said she remembers how beautiful the scene was: the black horse, the throngs of people, the sound of portable transistor radios and TVs broadcasting the funeral. The sidewalks were narrower back then, and in 1960s Washington, people were more polite, Wynn said. Those who came to watch the Kennedy services wore their Sunday best, prepared to wait hours to mourn and see history being made.
"It was just different," Wynn said. "To have their lives cut short so early. There was so much promise before then."
Five years later, again with her mother and, this time, her oldest daughter, Wynn saw Sen. Robert F. Kennedy's coffin leave Union Station. It was a warm June evening. She was studying fashion at Prince George's Community College. She remembers thinking how good a president Bobby would have been.
"We just couldn't believe we were there again," Wynn said.
On Saturday, Wynn was alone. Her mother and eldest daughter are dead. Wynn, 67, of Springdale in Prince George's, is retired after years of making jewelry for her small business. She wanted to pay tribute to Teddy, a man she said did remarkable things as a senator even as he juggled personal tragedy with professional duty.
Others also had vivid memories of the Kennedy assassinations or had heard about those sad days from their parents.
"It was the first time I saw my mother cry," Susan Orochena, 53, of Potomac said of President Kennedy's death as she waited outside the Capitol on Saturday.
Once over the Memorial Bridge, the motorcade entered the cemetery through its massive black-and-gold gates, passed along Sheridan Drive and stopped just beyond the ancient oak tree that stands before President Kennedy's grave. The senator's grave is 100 feet south of Robert Kennedy's and 200 feet south of the president's.
The Kennedy graves were closed for the ceremony Saturday but are to reopen Sunday.
Theresa Colette Helbert was among those who came to cemetery anyway.
"I have come to pray at his grave site," said Helbert. The 50-year-old writer from Maryland grew up one of nine children in a Catholic family in Joplin, Mo. They all adored the Kennedys. "They represented the hope that God's plan would come to pass," Helbert said. "Each tragedy made us stronger."
A straw hat shaded her from the rising afternoon heat as she walked past row after row of clean, white gravestones.
The path to graves blocked, she walked deeper into the cemetery, picked a spot and said: "Time to pray."
Staff writers Derek Kravitz, Yamiche Alcindor, Annie Gowen, J. Freedom du Lac, Michael Allison Chandler and Hamil R. Harris contributed to this report.