Forty years ago today, Mary Jo Kopechne died in a car at the bottom of Poucha Pond while Ted Kennedy plotted to save his reputation and political career.
On July 18, 1969, Kennedy and Kopechne both attended a party at a cottage on Chappaquiddick Island. Kennedy, a married man, and Kopechne left the party together in his car. Kennedy claims he took a wrong turn and ended up on Dike Bridge where he lost control and the car went off the bridge. After the car plunged into the pond, he managed to extract himself and claims he made several attempts to free Mary Jo to no avail. Instead of running for help, Kennedy walked back to the cottage where earlier he had been partying to summons his cousin, Joseph Gargan, and his friend, Paul Markham. On the walk to the cottage Kennedy passed a fire station and a private home, but did not stop to ask for help at either. All three men claim they returned to the scene made several more failed attempts to save Mary Jo. This is where the story becomes ridiculous and sinister at the same time. Kennedy and the other two men claim that he swam five hundred feet across the channel back to Edgartown and then walked to his hotel where he changed his clothes, complained about a noisy party (alibi, no doubt) and spent the night.
The next morning Gargan and Markham claimed to be shocked that Kennedy hadn’t reported the accident to the authorities. What did the three of them do next? They returned to Chappaquidick and started working the phones. Little did they know that two fishermen had discovered the car and had called the police. At 8:45 a.m. the body of Mary Jo Kopechne was recovered from the submerged car. At 10:00 a.m. Kennedy walked into the Edgartown police station and reported the accident. Nine hours had elapsed since the car went off the bridge.
We all know what happened next. The speech, the autopsy embargo, the neck brace, the slap on the wrist, the re-election to the Senate. The continued womanizing and boozing until he was again in the news for an Easter weekend gone bad when his nephew was accused of rape following a day of partying with his cousin and uncle.
So when people revere Kennedy as the Liberal Lion of the Senate and gush over his accomplishments (can you name me five?), please forgive me if I’m not feeling the warm fuzzies.