Edgartown, Massachusetts (JFK+50) Forty-six years ago this evening, Senator Edward M. Kennedy drove off the Dike Bridge and his black 1967 Oldsmobile Delmont 88 plunged into the water.
While the Senator was able to escape, his passenger, 28 year old Mary Jo Kopechne*, a Kennedy campaign worker, died.
Senator Kennedy had hosted a reunion party on Chappaquiddick Island for six women, which included Mary Jo, who had worked in Senator Robert F. Kennedy's 1968 presidential campaign. Ted and Mary Jo left the party at 11:15 p.m. The Senator made a wrong turn onto an unlit dirt road that led to the bridge and his car went off the bridge into the water. It rested upside down.
Ted later said that he made seven or eight attempts to save Mary Jo, but then gave up and swam to Edgartown where he returned to his hotel room. Senator Kennedy did not show up to police headquarters until 10:00 a.m. the next morning.
On July 26, 1969, Ted Kennedy gave a televised address to the people of Massachusetts in which he gave his side of the story. The address resulted in telegrams, letters and telephone calls supporting the Senator 100 to 1.
Senator Kennedy won re-election with 62% of the vote, but in the words of Susan Donaldson James, "his presidential dreams died on Chappaquiddick."
She also writes...
"Though his accomplishments are now legion, the ghost of Chappaquiddick has haunted (Ted) Kennedy over a lifetime, raising questions about his honesty and courage. Some never forgave him."
*Mary Jo Kopechne (1940-1969) was born in Wiles-Barre, PA and graduated from Caldwell College for Women in 1962. She taught for a year at the Mission of St. Jude in Montgomery, AL. In 1964, she joined Senator Robert Kennedy's secretarial staff and contributed to his 1968 presidential candidacy announcement. At the time of her death, MJK lived in Georgetown.
"Chappaquiddick: No Profile in Kennedy Courage," by Susan Donaldson James, August 26, 2009, www.abcnews.go.com/
Dike Bridge at Chappaquiddick