Thousands greet Kennedy motorcade, file past casket

In an extraordinary outpouring of public emotion, thousands of people solemnly lined state highways and city streets Thursday to pay their last respects to Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, the legendary scion of America's most storied political dynasty.

They came from Argentina and Ireland, from New York and New Hampshire. But mostly they came from across Massachusetts -- the state Kennedy dominated for nearly five decades -- many to weep or pray as his flag-draped casket was transported in a poignant procession from the family compound in Hyannis Port to his fallen brother's presidential library in Boston.

Along the way, a tuxedo-clad man played "Amazing Grace" on bagpipes as the black Cadillac hearse and a motorcade with 85 members of Kennedy's extended family crossed the Cape Cod Canal. Well-wishers lined both sides of the bridge as the haunting music filled the sun-dappled afternoon.

Hand-drawn signs saying "Thank You and Goodbye" and huge U.S. flags fluttered from overpasses as the procession rode the 60 miles to Boston. Motorcycle police cleared the way, and amber emergency signs that normally warn of traffic delays instead glowed, "Thank You Ted from the People of Massachusetts."

Bostonians poured out of offices and tourists interrupted vacations to clog sidewalks five and six deep to greet the cortege downtown. As it passed historic Faneuil Hall, a bell in the steeple slowly tolled 47 times to mark each year Kennedy had served in the U.S. Senate, a record only two others have surpassed.

Many applauded or cheered. Some hugged. A few openly wept or clutched companions for support as they spoke of the end of an era.

"He's just one of my heroes," said Marlene Alderman, 58, as tears streamed down her face moments after the hearse had passed. "He was one of the most compassionate, kind and giving leaders of our time."

Nearby, Florence Brinley, 85, waved a sheaf of letters that Kennedy had sent her over the decades -- including a calming note of reassurance when her son went abroad as a U.S. diplomat in 1961 and warm congratulations on her 50th wedding anniversary in 1997.

"He did so much for our state, and our country," she said, her voice tinged with sadness. "He did so much for all of us."

Mishy Lesser, an educator from Watertown, wiped away tears as she spoke of meeting Kennedy several years ago, and his steadfast support for her work in retraining displaced shipyard workers.

"He was such an extraordinary champion for the disenfranchised and powerless," she said. "He used his power and privilege and pedestal to help people. There really was no one like him."

Jim Bedlion, a long-distance truck driver from Douglas, had waited all afternoon with his 16-year-old son, Matt, to see his senator for the last time.

"Teddy's fingerprints are on everything good that's happened in this state," he said.

Members of the Kennedy family kept most of the windows open in the 15 limos, SUVs and cars in the motorcade, and waved at the crowds along the way.

Others waved from inside a bus that was chartered at the last minute to carry an overflow of Kennedys.

Taking a winding loop through the narrow streets of downtown Boston, the procession paid a final tribute to other local sites where the Kennedy family has left its mark. In the North End, they passed St. Stephen's Church, where Kennedy's late mother, Rose, was baptized and her funeral Mass celebrated.

They crossed over the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway, which the late senator helped create to provide a green oasis in the heart of a busy city. They drove by the now-dingy office on Bowdoin Street where Kennedy first practiced law, and the John F. Kennedy Federal Building, where the senator kept an office.

More than 1,600 people, some in wheelchairs or using walkers, had lined up outside the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library & Museum by afternoon to attend the public viewing.

The doors opened just after 6 p.m., and by 11:30 p.m., 20,000 mourners were in line, despite a four-hour wait to see the closed casket protected by red velvet ropes and the steely gaze of a U.S. military honor guard.

Family members sat behind the casket, and one wept openly at first. Kennedy's widow, Victoria; daughter, Kara; and nephew Joseph were among those who took turns shaking hands and accepting murmurs of condolence.

One of the first in the door was Hector Algarroba, a 55-year-old air-conditioning mechanic who had ridden a bus up from New York. Before entering, Algarroba said he hoped to represent "all those [Kennedy] fought for who could not be here today."

Many signed books of condolence while waiting outside, and a makeshift shrine had formed near the entrance. Bouquets of bright flowers, single red roses, cards, a Teddy bear and a Red Sox cap sat in the steadily growing pile.

Not surprisingly, those in line forgave Kennedy for his personal failures -- the tabloid fodder that made him reviled by some even as he was revered by others. To his supporters, especially now, Kennedy suffered and served enough in life to make up for any transgressions.

"It's almost like he walked through and did his penance on Earth," said Mary Ellen Peters, who said she had voted for every Kennedy since she helped elect JFK to the White House in 1960.

Thursday's proceedings marked the start of three days of rites to celebrate and mourn Kennedy, who died at age 77 Tuesday night after a battle with brain cancer.

Events began shortly after noon with a private Mass for family members inside the fabled compound of white-shingled houses by the glittering waters of Nantucket Sound.

Soon after, a nine-member Armed Forces honor guard slowly loaded the casket into the hearse, their footsteps echoing on the drive.

Kara Kennedy wiped away tears, but other members of the family stood with hands clasped. A few touched the hearse softly as they walked by.

By late afternoon, the military body bearers had removed the casket from the hearse and placed it inside the majestic Kennedy Presidential Library in the city's Dorchester section.

Kennedy will lie in repose there until Saturday. Dozens of members of Congress are expected to attend an invitation-only celebration of his life tonight.

President Obama will deliver a eulogy Saturday at the funeral Mass at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Basilica here. Kennedy prayed at the Mission Church, as it is known locally, in 2003 while Kara battled and ultimately beat her own case of cancer.

After the funeral, the family will accompany the casket to Washington. In a private ceremony at dusk, Kennedy will be buried beside his slain brothers, John and Robert, in Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.

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bob.drogin@latimes.com

tina.susman@latimes.com

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