Thousands turn out to pay respects to Sen. Kennedy

BOSTON — 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 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 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 had served Massachusetts in the Senate for four decades.

Virginia Cain, 54, walked 2 miles from her home in Centerville to watch the procession.

"I can remember where I was when President Kennedy died, and I'll remember where I was when the senator left Hyannis Port," she said.

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 in Boston and burial in Arlington National Cemetery on Saturday.

"It was Teddy's home team. It just seemed appropriate to leave him the cap," said James Jenner, 28, placing a Sox cap he was wearing near the entrance to the library. "It symbolizes everything that he loved about his home state and everything he was outside the Senate."

By early evening Thursday, the six books of condolences inside the library were filled with thousands of signatures. More than 12,000 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 said 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 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, 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, as the procession moved past him. "It's a chip in the foundation."

Indeed, the day had an end-of-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."

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 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. The motorcade paused at Faneuil Hall, where he announced his unsuccessful bid for the White House in 1980. Its historic bell rang 47 times — once for each of Kennedy's years in the Senate.

When the procession passed a waving group of people near Hyannis, Kennedy family members rolled down the windows of their limousines to wave back.

Sue Kemmling, a nurse, wiped away tears as she said, "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."

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

Thousands turn out to pay respects to Sen. Kennedy 08/27/09 [Last modified: Thursday, August 27, 2009 11:35pm]

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