On the summer time evening of July 18, 1969, Senator Edward “Ted” Kennedy, eyeing a shot on the 1972 US Presidency and holding the torch as the only surviving Kennedy sibling, performed host to a gathering at a cottage on Chappaquiddick Island.
Tethered to Martha’s Winery, Massachusetts by a slender isthmus, the island set the stage for what was each a reunion and a laid-back cookout for the “Boiler Room Ladies” – a tight-knit crew of ardent marketing campaign warriors who had thrown their weight behind the late Robert F. Kennedy’s run for the presidency.
Within the mixture of faces that evening stood Mary Jo Kopechne, a pointy political strategist and wordsmith, among the many a number of younger girls in attendance. Additionally attending have been Kennedy’s cousin, Joseph Gargan, and former U.S. Lawyer for Massachusetts Paul Markham.
Because the evening progressed, Ted and Mary Jo made an sudden exit from the social gathering aboard his modern 1967 Oldsmobile Delmont 88, a transfer that raised various eyebrows.
This departure appeared out of character for Ted, the night’s host, who usually loved the posh of a chauffeur named Crimmins—additionally current on the gathering. The query of why they left grew to become a lingering enigma.
Ted’s preliminary clarification was that they have been en path to the ferry cease to see Mary Jo safely dwelling. Nonetheless, it was revealed that Mary Jo had left behind her purse and resort key card on the social gathering cottage, casting doubt on Ted’s model of occasions.
Including to the perplexity, Ted claimed that they took a fallacious activate the best way to the ferry and he solely realized the fallacious flip seconds earlier than practically colliding with the bridge.
That meant he would have needed to overlook a reflector arrow pointing the best way to the ferry and the very fact he was driving on a mud street and never paved street. (See a map of his route right here.)
Native residents with deep roots assert that the Kennedy brothers, every person, have been intimately acquainted—or on the very least, must have been—with the lay of the land. Their compound sat only a ferry trip away in Hyannis Port, and the annual crusing extravaganza drew them to Edgartown numerous instances.
It was additionally revealed that on the very day of the incident, Ted had been chauffeured over the bridge for a leisurely swim. (A decide would later conclude that Kennedy intentionally steered his course towards the bridge.)
That evening, maybe solely minutes earlier than the accident, Deputy Sheriff Christopher “Huck” Look reportedly caught sight of Ted driving off the pavement onto Cemetery Street and stopping (that is the place Ted allegedly made the fallacious flip).
Suspecting they may be misplaced, the officer approached the car. Nonetheless, the automotive swiftly sped away down Dike Street, heading within the route of the bridge.
As Ted and Mary Jo neared the bridge round midnight, a pivotal second unfolded. In a accident, his automotive careened off the slender, unilluminated bridge—devoid of guardrails at the moment—and took a plunge into Poucha Pond. The car got here to relaxation the other way up, marking a harrowing flip of occasions in the dead of night hours of that evening.
Ted managed to flee with minor accidents, maybe a concussion however he struggled to recall particular particulars as to how he freed himself.
In the meantime, Mary Jo discovered herself trapped inside the submerged car, and hypothesis lingers that she could have clung to life for some time, probably from an air pocket.
Ted asserted that he made repeated dives “into the robust and murky present” in a determined try to find Kopechne earlier than finally returning to the cottage. Nonetheless, scrutiny of tidal situations raises doubts concerning the accuracy of this narrative.
Having retraced his steps to the cottage, Ted, accompanied by his cousin Joseph Gargan and aide Paul Markham, made a futile try to succeed in Kopechne on the scene.
Fairly perplexingly, as a substitute of promptly reporting the accident to the police or searching for assist from close by well-lit residences and a fireplace station, Kennedy opted to swim throughout the channel and return to his Edgartown resort, because the final ferry had already departed.
He would report the accident later within the morning the subsequent day, after authorities had already found the physique and after he held a really informal dialog with fellow Regatta participant, Ross Richards.
The aftermath of the incident was marred by controversy.
For one, information experiences of the time shamefully diminished Kopechne to a mere descriptor, labeling her as “a blonde.”
Probably the most obtrusive concern, certainly, was Ted’s failure to report the accident to the authorities till the next morning—practically ten hours after the incident unfolded.
This extended delay sparked suspicions and ignited inquiries into the occasions of that evening, with a looming query mark hanging over whether or not Ted had been behind the wheel underneath the affect.
Ted’s clarification, asserting that he was in a state of bodily and emotional shock, not considering clearly, solely intensified the scrutiny.
Even when Kennedy was in an entire state of shock: why didn’t Kennedy’s aides, who additionally made efforts to extract Mary Jo from the submerged automotive, take the initiative to report the accident or compel Ted to take action?
At a courtroom listening to on July 25, 1969, Ted Kennedy pled responsible to the cost of leaving the scene of an accident and acquired a two-month suspended jail sentence and one-year probation.
His sentence was suspended partially due to the discovering that Ted Kennedy had a spotless document regardless of having been arrested throughout regulation college for reckless driving and making an attempt to evade a freeway patrol officer.
In a televised assertion later that night, Ted brazenly voiced his regret, admitting that his post-accident actions left him baffled, stating they, “made no sense to me in any respect.”
He owned as much as the indefensible nature of his delayed report back to the authorities, recognizing that his lapse was inexcusable. Whereas vehemently denying any inebriation behind the wheel, he additionally asserted that his relationship with Kopechne was aboveboard and devoid of impropriety.
A number of months down the road, an inquest convened on January 20, 1970, leading to a decide’s discovering that “there’s possible trigger to consider that Edward M. Kennedy operated his motorcar negligently… and that such operation seems to have contributed to the dying of Mary Jo Kopechne.”
Nonetheless, no arrest warrant was issued, leaving the decision to unfold via different avenues within the judicial system.
Then, on April 6, 1970, a Dukes County grand jury opted to not indict Kennedy, although some members expressed reservations concerning the adequacy of the proof introduced.
On Might 18, 1970, a Motor Automobiles investigation delivered findings to Ted Kennedy that concluded they have been unable “to search out that the deadly accident wherein a motorcar operated by you was concerned, was with out severe fault in your half.” This resulted within the suspension of his driver’s license for a further six months.
Whereas the excitement of the 1969 moon touchdown helped to maintain the story out of the headlines for some time, finally the Chappaquiddick incident thrust itself into the nationwide highlight, casting a protracted shadow over Ted Kennedy’s political aspirations and finally swaying his option to chorus from presidential bids in each 1972 and 1976.
Regardless of the stain on his popularity, Kennedy finally threw his hat into the ring for the 1980 Democratic Social gathering presidential primaries. Nonetheless, the marketing campaign confronted an uphill battle, with the specter of Chappaquiddick haunting him. He secured solely 37.6% of the vote, conceding the nomination to the incumbent President, Jimmy Carter.
Within the aftermath of the accident, Kennedy, reflecting on his actions, candidly acknowledged in his memoir, True Compass, that what transpired that evening was “inexcusable” and that he had “made horrible selections.” Regardless of this darkish chapter, he went on to carve a prolonged legacy within the Senate, turning into one of many longest-serving senators in U.S. historical past.
Visiting the Dike Bridge
To embark on a firsthand exploration of this historic web site, your journey begins with making your option to Martha’s Winery, accessible via varied ferries or even perhaps by taking to the skies in case you fancy a faster route.
As soon as on Martha’s Winery, your subsequent cease is Chappaquiddick Island, a brief ferry trip away on the “Chappy.” This ferry, with a capability for simply three vehicles at a time, is the exact same one immortalized within the iconic film Jaws, which, by the way, sparked our curiosity within the space.
Upon reaching Chappaquiddick Island through the ferry, navigate about 8 minutes (by automotive) down Dike Bridge Street, and also you’ll end up on the bridge, the focus of the notorious incident that unfolded on that fateful evening.
Crossing the bridge by car comes with its personal set of necessities – a allow and the abilities to navigate a car via deep sand, a activity made simpler with the proper gear like a shovel and the power to deflate and re-inflate tires.
When you’re not outfitted for the vehicular journey, fret not. The bridge, although modest in dimension, remains to be accessible on foot. It’s price noting that the sturdy guardrails you’ll encounter as we speak weren’t a part of the scene throughout the occasions talked about earlier.
The noteworthy element that catches the attention is the altered trajectory of the bridge. As depicted within the picture under, the tire paths distinctly shift route simply earlier than approaching the bridge. In reality, in case you take a look at the route of the driving path it could just about take you off the bridge on the identical spot Ted drove off.
With the beneficial pace restrict of 5 mph, you would see how simply it could be for somebody to drive off the bridge particularly if they didn’t have a lot expertise driving as might’ve been the case with Ted Kennedy. Sober or not, this bridge would’ve been an issue for some.
I’ve seen some footage of makeshift Mary Jo memorials positioned on the bridge previously however once we visited there have been no such markers. Type of odd, given the historic context and the shadows solid by the perceived cover-up surrounding the incident.
After you cross the bridge you’ll be able to proceed on to East Seashore the place yow will discover a boardwalk that may enable you to step via all the unfastened sand. It’s a good looking little space and once we visited we had it to ourselves though it was fairly chilly in November.
This story is full of unanswered questions.
Many individuals consider that essentially the most believable and troubling state of affairs includes Ted Kennedy being inebriated and concerned in a probably compromising scenario with Mary Jo.
In keeping with this model of occasions, when confronted by a police officer, Kennedy opted to flee in an try to keep away from detection, inadvertently resulting in the tragic final result of driving off the bridge.
However there are completely different theories on the market to elucidate what might’ve occurred.
The delayed reporting created a void in proof relating to Ted’s blood alcohol ranges, however it’s documented that Mary Jo had a recorded degree of .09.
Regardless of this, Ted staunchly denied any involvement with alcohol or any improper relationship with Mary Jo.
The choice, not simply by Ted but additionally by his buddy (a former U.S. Lawyer) and his cousin, to withhold reporting or searching for assist actually raises eyebrows, suggesting the opportunity of a cover-up and affording Ted the time to probably sober up.
Ultimately, Ted confronted minimal penalties, possible influenced by the shortage of concrete proof introduced to the grand jury. His political and social standing, coupled with public sympathy following the tragic assassinations of his brothers within the previous six years and his personal survival of a aircraft crash, additionally contributed to the leniency he skilled.
Daniel Gillaspia is the Founding father of UponArriving.com and the bank card app, WalletFlo. He’s a former legal professional turned journey knowledgeable protecting locations together with TSA, airline, and resort insurance policies. Since 2014, his content material has been featured in publications corresponding to Nationwide Geographic, Smithsonian Journal, and CNBC.