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, along the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway, past the John F. Kennedy Federal Building and by the JFK stop on the city’s subway system.
Finally it came to the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum, where his body lay in repose. As many as 12,000 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.
For many, it was hard to untangle Kennedy’s larger-than-life role as statesman from his role as neighbor and local celebrity, whether he was taking a turn conducting the Boston Pops or throwing out the first pitch for the Red Sox.
The motorcade started its trip in Hyannis Port, at the Cape Cod home where Kennedy’s family held a private Mass. Eighty-five Kennedy relatives traveled with the senator’s body to the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum, where the Senate’s third-longest-serving member will lie in repose.
Among those accompanying Kennedy were nieces Caroline, daughter of former President John F. Kennedy; Maria Shriver, daughter of his late sister Eunice; and his son Patrick Kennedy, a Rhode Island congressman.
Before the motorcade departed, mourners crowded the end of the barricaded road leading to the family compound.
Virginia Cain, 54, said she walked 2 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.
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 in Boston. President Barack Obama is scheduled to deliver the eulogy.