Prayers grace eve of Onassis burial

May 23, 1994|By New York Times News Service

NEW YORK -- A river of solemn mourners -- family members, friends and close associates of a lifetime touched by tragedy and triumph -- paid their respects to Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis yesterday, flowing in and out of her apartment for an informal wake on the eve of her funeral and burial today.

With dark suits and grim faces, the mourners were ushered into a simply furnished room at her Fifth Avenue apartment, where Mrs. Onassis lay in a closed coffin draped with an antique cloth.

They were greeted by her children, Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg and John F. Kennedy Jr.; other relatives; and by Mrs. Onassis' companion, Maurice Tempelsman.

Among the visitors were Sen. Edward M. Kennedy and his wife, Victoria; Robert F. Kennedy's widow, Ethel; Mrs. Onassis' sister, Lee Radziwill Ross; actress Daryl Hannah, a friend of John Jr.; Jann S. Wenner, publisher of Rolling Stone; anchorwoman Diane Sawyer and her husband, director Mike Nichols; Eunice Shriver; Patricia Lawford; singer Carly Simon; and Mayor Rudolph Giuliani.

Hundreds of spectators lined the avenue across from Mrs. Onassis' building behind police barricades, continuing a vigil that had been under way since Mrs. Onassis died of cancer Thursday.

They were a model of decorum compared with the press, which stampeded and stumbled over barricades in frantic chases to videotape or photograph celebrities or shout questions that were ignored.

Music seemed to fill the void. A group behind the barricades, in what appeared to be an impromptu gesture by total strangers, softly began to sing "Amazing Grace."

At one point, John Kennedy emerged on the 14th-floor balcony and waved as the crowd stirred.

Earlier yesterday, Mrs. Onassis was remembered at Masses at the two churches where she often worshiped.

At St. Thomas More Church, where she was a parishioner, and at St. Ignatius Loyola, where the funeral will be held Monday, her name was read in prayers for the faithful.

After the service at St. Thomas More, the pastor, the Rev. George Bardes, spoke of Mrs. Onassis.

"She was a religious person," he said. "She didn't just come to the services." She usually came alone, he recalled, and added: "The circumstances of her life were so often trying and difficult -- the bitter with the sweet, the pain with the laughter -- I believe she called upon the deep religious resources within her very often."

Senator Kennedy was scheduled to give the main eulogy today, said Nancy Tuckerman, a family spokeswoman. Jessye Norman will sing. Other speakers may include Mrs. Onassis' children, Mr. Tempelsman and Mr. Nichols.

After the service, which is to be attended by Hillary Rodham Clinton, family members will accompany the body aboard a privately chartered plane to National Airport in Washington, where they will be met by President Clinton for the journey to Arlington National Cemetery, where Mrs. Onassis will be buried next to President John F. Kennedy.

Mr. Clinton will speak at the graveside service, the White House said.

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