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29 Aug

“I feel honored and grateful to be at this memorial,”

Mourners Line Up for View of Kennedy’s Coffin

Damon Winter/The New York Times

Published: August 28, 2009

They arrived again at dawn on Friday morning, mourners wishing to honor Senator Edward M. Kennedy and his life’s work with a lingering glance, a whispered prayer, a sign of the cross.

In a cavernous hall of the John F. Kennedy Library south of downtown Boston, Mr. Kennedy’s body lay in a flag-draped coffin set before tall windows overlooking the placid Dorchester Bay. He died Tuesday evening after a 15-month battle from brain cancer, at age 77, and the public tributes have been flowing since.

For the second straight day, immigrants, tourists and Bostonians alike stood in long, snaking lines around the presidential library — some waiting hours for only a minute or so to view the closed coffin.

“For what he has done for the underprivileged, the downtrodden, I think I owe him this, to pay this respect,” said Juana Gayle-Flores, 56, of Roxbury, Mass., who was born in Panama and came to Boston in 1975. She had signed one of the 12 condolence books outside in the parking lot near the shuttle buses and, after arriving at 7:30 a.m. on Friday, waited an hour to view the casket.

“I feel honored and grateful to be at this memorial,” she said, “this is an experience that has touched me.”

Kennedy family members shook hands with mourners like Ms. Gayle-Flores who said they felt as if they had known Mr. Kennedy, and greeted those senators, political aides and others who had. The hours for the public viewing were extended on both ends to accommodate the overflowing crowds.

The Kennedy family estimated that 25,000 people attended the wake on Thursday night, with lines stretching to four hours, and the library kept the building open to the public until 2 a.m. Friday. When the lines began forming again at dawn, the library opened its doors 20 minutes early, at 7:40 a.m.

When the public viewing ends at 3 p.m. Friday, the library will be prepared for the bi-partisan memorial service, set to begin at 7 p.m., for the extended Kennedy family and invited guests. Representative Joseph P. Kennedy II of Massachusetts, Mr. Kennedy’s nephew, is to speak first, followed by Senator Christopher J. Dodd, Democrat of Connecticut, and Mr. Kennedy’s closest friend in the Senate. The Republican senators John McCain of Arizona and Orrin Hatch of Utah are slated to speak, and the service is to conclude with remarks by Vice President Joseph R. Biden and Mr. Kennedy’s niece Caroline Kennedy.

There will be a video tribute directed by Ken Burns, and Brian Stokes Mitchell, the Broadway star, will sing Mr. Kennedy’s favorite song, “The Impossible Dream,” from the musical “Man of La Mancha.”

Some dignitaries, including the Rev. Jesse Jackson, arrived early Friday to meet with the Kennedy family. Mr. Jackson arrived at the same time asDoris Kearns Goodwin, the presidential historian and family friend, watched in vigil in a roped-off area behind the coffin.

“His brothers, Dr. King, they died in trauma,” Mr. Jackson said. Referring to Mr. Kennedy’s 15-month battle with brain cancer, he added, “In a way, he had a chance over the past year to write his own eulogy, his own last chapter.”

For many mourners like Mr. Jackson, Mr. Kennedy’s dedication to public service was one factor that brought them to the wake. “Some people move a river bucket by bucket, but Senator Kennedy, he built a whole new canal,” Mr. Jackson said. —Dianne Heeley, 63, a teacher from North Reading, Mass., waitied in line with members of her teacher’s union.“He helped my whole family go through college with the federal student loan program,” Ms. Heeley said. “And then he helped me. I didn’t get to go to college until my children had gone.”

Around 11 a.m., 65 of the 200 members of the Massachusetts Legislature walked into the hall, about 20 minutes after Mr. Kennedy’s widow, Vicki, had arrived to greet them. The Senate president, Therese Murray. and House Speaker, Robert DeLeo, were among the mourners. Stephen M. Brewer, a state senator and Democrat from Barre, Mass., stopped to speak to reporters.

“The wealthy, they will always have their advocates,” Mr. Brewer said. “But Senator Kennedy, his legacy will be caring about people in the shadows of life.”

In the main entrance of the Kennedy library, which led to the Stephen E. Smith center where the visitation was taking place, were six poster-sized portraits of Mr. Kennedy set up on easels. One showed him with Vicki. Another showed a young Mr. Kennedy with his brothers John and Robert. The other portraits depicted Mr. Kennedy as the elder statesman, the stalwart of the United States Senate who died midway through his 47th year of service.

Three former presidents, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, are expected to attend the memorial service Saturday at Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Roxbury, and President Obama will give the eulogy.

President George H.W. Bush, who vacationing at his family’s home in Kennebunkport, Me., about 85 miles north of Boston, will not be attending, his spokesman, Jim Appleby, said in a telephone interview. “At 85, a car ride of that length is a little out of the realm of things,” Mr. Appleby said. “The President spoke with Mrs. Kennedy yesterday and expressed his condolences.”

Liz Robbins reported from New York and Matt Collette from Boston.

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