Private Burial Set for Onassis at Arlington


Americans mourned the loss of a First Lady and the loss of an era Friday as the family of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis prepared a small and private funeral far different from the grand and wrenching public ceremonies that she once helped fashion for a slain husband and President.

Though the ceremonies will differ greatly, Mrs. Onassis, who died of cancer Thursday night at the age of 64, will be buried Monday afternoon alongside President John F. Kennedy and two of their children in Arlington National Cemetery across the Potomac River from Washington.

Before she is taken to the cemetery that guards both celebrated Americans and ordinary soldiers, a Mass will be said for her at 10 a.m. Monday at St. Ignatius Loyola Roman Catholic Church on Park Avenue, just a couple of blocks from the 5th Avenue apartment where she died.

Preparations for a burial at Arlington, where an eternal flame flickers by the grave of President Kennedy, surely will arouse memories of the 1963 funeral that mesmerized the nation. Mrs. Onassis set aside her shyness and penchant for privacy then and orchestrated some of the most memorable features of President Kennedy's funeral. It was the young widow who ordered the riderless horse that followed the cortege.

But privacy will rule the day as she is interred by the side of the President; a son, Patrick Kennedy, who died three days after his birth in 1963; and a daughter stillborn in 1956.

Her two surviving children, 36-year-old Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg and 33-year-old John F. Kennedy Jr., were with her when she died of cancer of the lymph system. Also present was her close friend in recent years, Maurice Tempelsman.

As a light rain fell Friday morning, her son, standing in front of the apartment building at 1040 5th Ave., told reporters that his mother had died at 10:15 p.m. Thursday "surrounded by her friends and her family and her books and the people and the things that she loved."

"And she did it in her own way and in her own terms," he went on, "and we all feel lucky for that and now she's in God's hands."

Mrs. Onassis, when informed that her death was near, had left New York Hospital-Cornell Medical Center and returned to her apartment Wednesday night to face death in familiar surroundings.

Her son thanked everyone "both in New York and beyond" for "an enormous outpouring of good wishes."

And he pleaded: "I hope now that . . . we can just have these next couple of days in relative peace."

It was difficult, however, for reporters, photographers and television camera crews to break a habit ingrained by decades of trying to satisfy a public demand for more and more coverage of this glamorous yet very private woman.

Like several other mourners in the hours after Mrs. Onassis' death, an unidentified woman stopped to hand a rose to the doorman. She then walked to the corner and fell sobbing into the arms of another woman. The two crying women were quickly mobbed by the nearby media. Cameras and microphones thrust near their cheeks. A cameraman angrily ordered a soundman to lower the boom microphone closer to their mouths. Every tear was caught on tape and film.

More than a hundred reporters, photographers and television crew members kept their vigil throughout the day, joined by at least as many mourners and the curious. Many watched the comings and goings of friends and families from Central Park across the avenue. A number left mementos at the door.

A security guard from the nearby Metropolitan Museum of Art left a pale rose tied to a white ribbon. A note said: "From Dan and Thomas at the Met. We'll miss our friend."

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) and his wife, Victoria, spent 25 minutes in the apartment during the morning. Tempelsman left a few minutes later.

Traffic snarls often on 5th Avenue on normal days and it was even more snarled than usual as drivers slowed down to catch a glimpse of the building and the media crush. Police tried hard to move the traffic along, sometimes waving cars through red lights.

As the eulogies cascaded across news wires, President Clinton caught the mood of all by describing Mrs. Onassis--widow of both President Kennedy and Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis--as "a model of courage and dignity for all Americans and all the world."

"More than any other woman of her time," the President went on before leaving Washington for a two-day trip to California, "she captivated our nation and the world with her intelligence, her elegance and her grace. Even in the face of impossible tragedy, she carried the grief of her family and our entire nation with a calm power that somehow reassured all the rest of us."

The President, accompanied by his wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton, spoke to reporters in the First Lady's Garden, a section of the White House grounds that, as Mrs. Clinton put it, "is named for her" and "which she helped to realize."

Mrs. Clinton said that Mrs. Onassis had once told her: "If you bungle raising your children, I don't think whatever else you do matters very much."

The two women had first discussed the "challenges and opportunities" of being the First Lady in the summer of 1992, Mrs. Clinton said, and Mrs. Onassis had explained "how she had managed so well to carve out the space and privacy that children need to grow into what they have a right to become."

Mourning for Mrs. Onassis spread throughout the land. In Boston, for example, tourists and residents lined up at the John F. Kennedy Library to sign a special condolence book that had been placed under a 1962 portrait of the former First Lady.

The golden-framed picture portrayed a 32-year-old Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy, eyes fixed in level gaze, with a faint smile. Visitors to the repository of the Kennedy papers seemed eager somehow to connect with the woman in the white suit and to convey the feelings of sadness that, as they milled about, they shared with one another.

"She will be missed!" wrote Edward S. Drake of Brea, Calif., carefully emphasizing the exclamation point. Bill Allen of Plymouth, Mass., called her "America's perfect lady," and Gill Peterson of Libertyville, Ill., described her as "a model for men and women." Raymond Beauhemin of Montreal penned a simple: "Adieu, madame."

As one of the founders of the Kennedy Library, Mrs. Onassis paid frequent visits to the striking white building in Boston's Dorchester section. A library spokesman called her "a boundless source of ideas and inspiration in the development of this institution."

The spokesman said that the condolence book will be sent to Mrs. Onassis' family.

Times staff writer Elizabeth Mehren in Boston contributed to this story.

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