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  • New Yorkers Honor 'Prince of the City'

    New York memorial, TWP
    Thousands gathered for a service at St. Patrick's Old Cathedral in New York. (Lois Raimondo The Washington Post)
    By Dale Russakoff
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Friday, July 23, 1999; Page A18

    NEW YORK, July 22 The private, uptown memorial will be held on Friday, but tonight New Yorkers filled a Gothic church and several blocks of historic Little Italy for a people's memorial for John F. Kennedy Jr., his wife, Carolyn Bessette Kennedy, and her sister, Lauren Bessette.

    The mourners for the most part were not intimates, but neighbors and admirers from a distance: the proprietor of Bubby's Restaurant, where Kennedy ate his morning oatmeal; the owner of Dudley's Paw, where he and his wife bought supplies for his beloved dog Friday. There was also Rosemarie DiCarlo, a mother of four from upstate, who always had longed for a chance encounter. "I always wanted to follow him to be where he was," she said. "But our paths never crossed."

    They had seen him in-line skating, biking, walking his dog, wearing his audacious beret. He wasn't a Kennedy so much as a New Yorker one of them.

    "If the Kennedy family was America's royalty, then John Jr. was the people's prince," said Carolyn Ryan, executive director of the Emerald Isle Immigration Center, which organized the service.

    The 90-minute service was held inside the sanctuary of St. Patrick's Old Cathedral, amid the rapidly changing neighborhoods of old New York Little Italy, SoHo and Chinatown. Police said 1,000 people crowded into seats designed for 700 in what is known to its congregants as a "church of the people" that welcomed working-class worshipers from Ireland, Germany, France and Italy beginning almost 200 years ago.

    New York's Irish American community began planning the service Monday to pray that the bodies of Kennedy, his wife and sister-in-law would be found. The three disappeared last Friday night when Kennedy's single-engine plane crashed into the ocean near Martha's Vineyard. Once the bodies were discovered, the organizers invited all New Yorkers who could not attend Friday's private memorial for the families and close friends.

    The narrow streets around the church were clogged with 3,000 people who overflowed the church. New York City police officers, barricades and camera crews were everywhere. One of the priests left the church to give Communion to those massed outside and had so many takers he had to keep going back inside to refill his chalice.

    People began lining up before noon outside the church. Lenny Picker got there first. He was an assistant district attorney with Kennedy, and liked him from day one, but also was distressed at the media hordes that followed him everywhere. On the first day, Picker said, reporters mobbed him wanting to know what Kennedy was like. "All he had done was sit quietly and listen to someone talk about penal law," Picker said.

    Lenny Jones, a teenager in foster care when Kennedy hired him as a summer intern at George magazine, remembered telling his story of survival to his glamorous boss at a lunch with other interns. "He said, 'It must be tough to be you,' " recalled Jones, now an arts student and freelance writer. "And all I could say was, 'It's tougher to be you. You're a Kennedy. I don't face all the press you face. I write about people, but no one ever writes about me.' "

    The service included traditional Irish music, including "Danny Boy," bagpipes, fiddles and scripture readings in Gaelic, reflecting the vast place the Kennedy family occupies in the Irish consciousness. R. Sargent Shriver, Kennedy's uncle, was in the congregation and received a standing ovation when he was welcomed.

    Chris Manahan, 42, who is studying to become a Jesuit priest, came to the service, he said, out of a need to do something to honor Kennedy after looking up to his father all his life. He grew up in Minnesota in a home where pictures of the slain president and Jesus hung side by side. "Growing up, for Irish American kids, that was something always held up: There's nothing you can't do now," Manahan said.

    The other theme of the service was the emotional connection between the younger Kennedy and New Yorkers. The choice restaurants in his TriBeCa neighborhood donated most of the flowers white lilies and roses.

    "I saw him Rollerblading all over the place. I saw him on the subway you are what you do," said a young woman who lives in nearby SoHo and didn't want to give her name because she played hooky from work to come.

    Reflecting on the emotional connection between Kennedy and New York, the hip weekly Observer today eulogized him as "the Prince of the City."

    It was ironic, the paper said, that a man "bathed in so much unwanted light" crashed a plane apparently because he got lost in the dark.

    "If only he had been able to look out the window of his Piper Saratoga and seen the striated lights of the World Trade Center towers," the paper lamented for all New Yorkers, or "the glow of the Chrysler Building's Art-Deco hubcaps . . . the streaked spider-webs of the Manhattan, Brooklyn and Triborough bridges. Then west to the river and home."

    Special correspondent Liz Leyden contributed to this report.

    © 1999 The Washington Post Company

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