Friday, August 28, 2009

BOSTON — More than 50,000 people paid their final respects to Sen. Edward M. Kennedy Friday, filing past his flag-draped casket over two days in a sun-splashed room at his presidential library dedicated to his brother John.

The throngs of mourners who lined up outside the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum was so long Thursday night that the senator’s family decided to keep the building open an extra three hours, until 2 a.m. On Friday, so many well-wishers turned out that officials were forced to close the line hours before 3 p.m., when preparations began for an evening ceremony with family and friends.

“I’ve never seen anything like this. It’s amazing,” said Ted Carmichael, 36, of Detroit, who had come with his family to visit Boston over the summer break. “He wasn’t my senator, but I admired him. And, judging from this line, so did a lot of people.”

Tina Rasmussen, 67, didn’t travel as far, just a few miles from her home in the Back Bay section of Boston. But she said despite the long lines — which she’d seen on television — she felt she had to come to pay her respects.

“I didn’t agree with everything he ever did, and I got mad at him from time to time, but that’s family, isn’t it?” she said. “I realized since he passed away that he was like family, like an older brother. And he was always out there, trying to help all of us.”

Members of the Kennedy family, including his daughter Kara Kennedy Allen, nephew Tim Shriver and 81-year-old Jean Kennedy Smith, the senator’s sister and the last surviving sibling, greeted visitors throughout the day at the library. On Thursday, his widow, Vicki, shook hands with hundreds of visitors, telling nearly everyone, “Thank you so much for coming.”

Five members of a military honor guard, all in dress uniform and standing at attention, stood around the casket in a high-ceilinged room, its floor-to-ceiling windows looking out onto Boston Harbor. Large photos greeted mourners on their way into the room, including one of Mr. Kennedy as a boy with his father, Joseph P. Kennedy, and a 1960s-era black-and-white shot of Mr. Kennedy with his slain brothers, John and Robert, all smiling mischievously.

The visitation ended at 3 p.m. Friday so officials could prepare for a private “Celebration of Life” service Friday night. Scheduled speakers include Vice President Joe Biden; Sens. John McCain, Orrin Hatch and Christopher Dodd; niece Caroline Kennedy, the daughter of President Kennedy; and Joseph P. Kennedy II, son of Sen. Robert F. Kennedy.

Performances will include Mr. Kennedy’s favorite song, “The Impossible Dream,” sung by Broadway star Brian Stokes Mitchell. Also prepared was a video tribute directed by renowned documentary filmmaker Ken Burns. Among the visitors Friday was the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who said Mr. Kennedy helped change the country through his work for minorities, the disabled and the poor.

“As a rich person, no one reached back further for the poor or exalted them higher,” Mr. Jackson said.

A funeral Mass is scheduled for Our Lady of Perpetual Help Basilica — better known as the Mission Church — in Boston on Saturday. Cellist Yo-Yo Ma and tenor Placido Domingo will perform, and President Barack Obama is delivering the eulogy.

All the living former presidents are expected to attend except for George H.W. Bush. Spokesman Jim McGrath said Friday that the 85-year-old Mr. Bush feels his son’s presence will “amply and well represent” the family. Mr. Kennedy’s body was delivered to the library Thursday by a motorcade of family members and friends who had celebrated a private Mass at the family compound in Hyannis Port, 70 miles away, where Mr. Kennedy spent his final days.

The Kennedy family added a stop Saturday in Washington, D.C., before the “lion of the Senate” is laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery.

After the Boston funeral, Mr. Kennedy’s body will be flown to Andrews Air Force Base. A large motorcade will than travel to the Capitol, arriving at 4:30 p.m.

“The senator’s motorcade will stop at the Senate steps for a brief prayer so that Senate staff and members of the broader Senate community with whom the senator worked can bid a final farewell,” the family said on its Web site,

After the stop on the East Plaza of the Capitol, where the motorcade will enter through the Independence Ave entrance and proceed past the Senate Chamber steps, the hearse will then proceed to Arlington National Cemetery via Constitution Avenue.

This article was based in part on wire service reports.

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