Boston Sen. Edward M. Kennedy began his final journey Thursday, first past landmark after landmark bearing his family’s famous name and then to his slain brother’s presidential library where mourners lined up by the thousands to bid farewell to him and an American political dynasty.
Crowds assembled along the 70-mile route that snaked from the family’s compound in Hyannis Port to the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum, where his body lay in repose. More than 20,000 people waited in line to file past his closed casket and mark the end of a national political chapter that was equal parts triumph and tragedy.
Kennedy’s widow, Vicki, who greeted well-wishers filing past the casket, said the outpouring was deeply moving for the family.
“I just want to thank them so much for coming this evening and showing love and support for my husband,” she said. “It’s a tremendous solace to all our family.”
The motorcade started in Hyannis Port, at the Cape Cod home where Kennedy’s family held a private Mass. Eighty-five relatives traveled in the motorcade. They passed several sites that were significant to the senator, including St. Stephen’s Church, where his mother, Rose, was baptized and her funeral Mass celebrated, and a Boston park he helped create that was named for his mother.
Among those making the trip were Kennedy’s nieces Caroline, daughter of former President John F. Kennedy, and Maria Shriver, daughter of his late sister Eunice; and his son Patrick Kennedy, a Rhode Island congressman.
Mourners crowded the end of the barricaded road leading to the family compound before the motorcade departed.
A bouquet of white and yellow lilies lay on the lawn of David Nylin’s vacation rental near the Kennedy home, where a U.S. flag flew at half-staff in Kennedy’s honor. Nylin, 38, said people had been stopping near his house to leave flowers since Kennedy died late Tuesday.
“The Kennedys and Hyannis and the Cape, they just kind of go hand in hand,” he 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 two older brothers were assassinated.
Several enlarged photos showed events in Kennedy’s life — meeting with Martin Luther King Jr., reading to a school girl. A rosary hung over a picture of Kennedy standing in his office.
Echoes of the Kennedy history were hard to miss as the motorcade traveled through the city.
Vicki Kennedy put her hand over her heart as the procession passed St. Stephen’s. A crowd that had gathered there applauded, and niece Caroline and other family members acknowledged them with a wave from their cars.
The motorcade also crossed the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway, a park created by the Big Dig highway project, which Kennedy helped shepherd through the Senate. It paused at Faneuil Hall, where the historic bell rang 47 times — once for each of Kennedy’s years in the Senate.
The procession also passed the Massachusetts Statehouse — with it life-size statue of John F. Kennedy, accessible to tourists Thursday for the first time since just after the Sept. 11 attacks — and a nearby building where Kennedy opened his first office as an assistant district attorney and where John Kennedy lived while running for Congress in 1946.
After passing the John F. Kennedy Federal Building in the city’s Government Center complex, the motorcade headed to the library, where Kennedy’s body will remain until his Saturday funeral.
Scott Howe, 46, and his 15-year-old son, Austin, from Laurel, Md., were among those gathering outside the library.
“He seemed to really care about his constituents,” Scott Howe said. “The Kennedy family, despite the money they had, had a big streak of altruism.”
Funeral and burial
The family planned an invitation-only private memorial service for this evening at the library.
All the living presidents were 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 Barack Obama is scheduled to deliver the eulogy.
Kennedy will be buried Saturday evening near his assassinated brothers — former President Kennedy and former Sen. Robert F. Kennedy — at Arlington National Cemetery in northern Virginia.