The Chappaquiddick tragedy happened when I was just a kid. I knew something bad happened with Ted Kennedy and that someone died, not him. In those days, Orthodox Jews were Democratic voters and we were still grieving for RFK, who was assassinated the year before by a Palestinian man named Sirhan Sirhan. JFK was killed in 1963 and that was a huge blow too.
But I also came from a world that tended to identify with the Curse fomented supposedly by a rabbi who was offended by Joe Kennedy Senior, a known antisemite. This supposed curse has been debunked many times.The Kennedy were simply famous people who took huge risks. Nevertheless we also assumed other myths about Chappaquiddick. Amazingly almost 50 years later, not much more is known about the Chappaquidick tragedy. Mary Jo Kopechne, the victim, would have been in her late seventies today and Senator Kennedy, died in 2009 of a brain tumor but still not much is known though, like the JFK assassination, there are many myths.
There is a superb new movie out which sheds light on Kopechne’s intelligence and Ted’s state of confusion and terror (mostly of his demented father) after the car crash off a bridge in Chappaquiddick, a tiny island near Martha’s Vineyard. In the movie which I saw in NYC, Ted comes off as a liar and faker. Not surprisingly, Kennedy family acolytes reportedly tried to suppress this movie. Nothing like protecting the brand name. Why? Who cares? Maybe there is nothing to know.
The movie does not delve into the past. Two facts I didn’t know : Mary Jo died of suffocation about 25 minutes after the crash and Ted didn’t bother to report the accident to police for 10 hours (He also wore a fake neck brace.) In other words, she could have been saved with prompt divers around. Needless to say, not all in the Kennedy family circle believe the movie.
Whatever the truth, Ted was kept from the USA presidency by Chappaquiddick– the American electorate just wouldn’t have him, Strangely, this would be a fitting tribute to Mary Jo’s memory and Ted’s acquiescence that something awful had happened. The people of Massachusetts sent him to the US Senate for decades and he was a distinguished senator.