It was an Irish-American crowd, filled with elderly blue-haired ladies, black-suited priests and florid-faced, white-haired men. There were a few blacks, like Sen. E. Brooke (R-Mass.), and a smattering of Yankee politicians, like Leverett Saltonstall and Francies Sargent, but mostly it was the Irish who had come to relive one final moment from the glorious period.
The Kennedy clan, friends and political associates had gathered on a muddy field at the ocean's edge near a poor Boston neighborhood to break ground for the library that will memorialize the late President John F. Kennedy, ending more than a decade of controversy and shifted plans.
As Sen. Edward M. Kennedy spoke, his voice broke with emotion as he recalled his brother. "Jack would be proud of us today," he said. "The library and what this site becomes will be more than a memorial. It will look beyond the passions that divide us.
"In life, Jack was a man of the sea. It is fitting that his library will rise here at the harbor's edge, linking his city and his sea. He liked to walk beside the sea at sunset, to watch his footprints glow for an instant in the wet sand," Kennedy said.
Jacqueline Onassis said she hopes the library "will be a place where young people can come up to have their restless minds challenged in much the same way Jack liked to have his mind challenged. And for those young people who cannot remember what Jack was like it will be a place where they can come and learn about him."
The eight-story, $12-million glass and concrete library designed by architect I.M. Pei will be built near the harbor campus of the University of Massachusetts. It will take about two years to complete and will contain some 28 million pages of presidential papers as well as other exhibits.
Rose Fitzgtrald Kennedy, the slain President's 87-year-old mother, a poised, serene lady, watched the proceedings with mixed emotions.
"I'm proud that my son will be a source of inspiration for this community. I think every mother works toward the end for her children." Then she bowed her head. "But," she said, not looking up, "I'm also overcome with other emotions . . ."
Looking down on the proceedings from the aide of a weedy hill, a man named Charlie took off his floppy cloth cap and tucked it into the pocket of a dirty trenchcoat when a priest stepped to the microphone to begin the dedicatory mass."I've been a Kennedy man for as long as I could vote. If you can love someone you never met," he said, "I guess I loved JFK. When he got elected President it was the greatest thing in the world for me. There he was, an Irish Catholic in the White House."
The groundbreaking itself was bedlam. As Rose Kennedy, Jacqueline Onassis, her children, Caroline and John and Sen. Kennedy used silver shovels to dig into the muddy terrain, the photographers crowded in, snapping and whirring.
There was confusion as the crowd filed out. The muddy ground had been turned into soup by the traffic and several vans got stuck. Dignitaries who had ridden out now rolled up their pants and started walking toward the nearby campus of the University of Massachusetts-Boston.
At the bottom of the hill, a group of black activists, who had been barred from the ceremonies by the campus police, stood holding placards and chanting, "We want work! We want a job!"
They were residents of Columbia Point, the community where the library is to be built, and they were demanding that 15 per cent of all jobs in the construction of the library go to blacks from the community.
Most of the Kennedys had left, but young Joe, 24, son of Robert Kennedy and still to attain his first elected office, came loping down the hill. The blacks, looking for any Kennedy, surrounded him.
"Seventy per cent of our babies suffer from malnutrition," one woman screamed. "Hey man," a big black man yelled, "we want jobs!"
Young Joe grinned.
"I'd love to come out here and talk," he said. "Let's make a meeting."
A Boston cop stood off to one side leaning on his police car.
"What a pol," he said. "That smile never left his face and he ain't even in office yet."
Wait a couple of months, he will be, said his partner. "He's a Kennedy, isn't he?"