Friday, August 28, 2009

BOSTON | Bidding farewell to a senator and an era, thousands of mourners lined up along miles of highway on Thursday to catch a glimpse of the motorcade carrying the casket of the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy on its way to his slain brother’s presidential library, where he will lie in repose until he is buried Saturday at Arlington National Cemetery.

Some wiped away tears as the long string of black vehicles, led by a large, black hearse, made its way 70 miles from the famous Kennedy compound in Hyannis Port to the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum on Dorchester Bay. There, hundreds of people from as far away as California waited to pay their last respects to the extended clan of the storied Massachusetts senator, who died late Tuesday at 77 after a battle with aggressive brain cancer.

“The fact that everyone is here to honor him is a great honor to all of us,” said Vicki Kennedy, Mr. Kennedy’s widow, as she stood with members of the extended Kennedy clan greeting mourners at the library complex.

On a cool, sun-splashed New England day, the motorcade passed by St. Stephen’s Church, where Mr. Kennedy’s mother, Rose, was baptized and her funeral Mass celebrated. It also crossed the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway, the Boston park that the senator helped create and that is named after his mother.

The long string of cars, followed by a large bus holding some 85 Kennedy family members, passed Faneuil Hall, where Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino rang the historic market’s bell 47 times, once for each year Mr. Kennedy served in the Senate.

Then it snaked through downtown Boston, past the Bowdoin Street office where Mr. Kennedy opened his first office as an assistant district attorney and where President John F. Kennedy lived while running for Congress in 1946.

Soft applause greeted the hearse at the JFK library. An honor guard slowly removed the flag-draped casket as Mrs. Kennedy and the couple’s children looked on. The guard spun slowly, a quarter turn at a time, and then carried the casket into a large-windowed room in the library overlooking the bay. His family, most dressed in black, including the youngest grandchildren, followed slowly behind.

The senator’s loved ones included nieces Caroline, daughter of former President John F. Kennedy; Maria Shriver, daughter of Mr. Kennedy’s late sister Eunice; and his son Patrick Kennedy, a Rhode Island congressman. Joseph Patrick Kennedy II, a son of Robert F. Kennedy and a former congressman who has been mentioned as a possible temporary replacement for his uncle in the Senate, was also there.

Jim McCarthy, a resident of Mattapoisett, Mass., was one of the first in line to be received by Mrs. Kennedy and other family members.

“It’s amazing that the family is here to greet us,” he said. “It shows an unbelievable touch of concern and caring.”

The day began early at the Kennedy compound, with family members gathering for a private ceremony to mark the life of the patriarch of America’s most famous political dynasty. Some of the youngest Kennedy family members stood in front as Mr. Kennedy’s casket was loaded into the hearse; one little girl dabbed at her eyes.

Before the motorcade departed, mourners crowded the end of the barricaded road leading to the family compound. Some, wearing shorts and sandals or wrapped in beach towels in the seaside resort, said they just wanted to part of his farewell.

“I just want to wave to Teddy,” cried one neighbor, breaking down in tears as she watched from her front lawn.

Virginia Cain, 54, said she walked about two miles from her summer home in Centerville so she could watch the procession and witness history.

“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.

On Main Street in downtown Hyannis, flags, flowers and personal notes lay at the base of a flagpole outside the John F. Kennedy museum, where about two dozen people gathered.

Someone had placed an old Kennedy campaign sign with a new inscription: “God bless Ted, the last was first,” referring to his ascension to political greatness after his three older brothers died young, two by assassins’ bullets.

The Kennedy entourage was greeted warmly when the procession arrived in Boston, and they returned waves from the crowd. As many as 12,000 mourners waited in line to visit his closed casket.

“When a member of the Kennedy family passes, it’s like family. It feels like family,” said Jeanne Pagano, 54, who was on the sidewalk outside St. Stephen’s church. “I really loved the man and the family.”

The family plans an invitation-only private memorial service for Friday evening at the library. Speakers expected include Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., Massachusetts Democratic Sen. John Kerry, Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain and several family members, including Patrick and Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg.

All the living ex-presidents are expected to attend the funeral Mass on Saturday at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Basilica - commonly known as the Mission Church - in Boston’s working-class Mission Hill neighborhood. President Obama is to deliver the eulogy.

Before the Mass, 44 sitting senators and 10 former senators will be among a group of about 100 dignitaries who will pay their respects to Mr. Kennedy at the library before making their way to the church.

This article was based in part on wire service reports.

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