Uncertainty keeps crowd at compound

Media, bystanders gather outside in impromptu vigil

Mood `very somber'

Wedding postponed, but signs of festivities recur throughout day

July 18, 1999|By Neal Thompson | Neal Thompson,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

HYANNIS PORT, Mass. -- It began early yesterday, this gravitation of neighbors, vacationers, news crews and police officers, this spontaneous vigil outside the Kennedy family's waterfront compound, where the hopes for John F. Kennedy Jr.'s survival dwindled as the crowd grew and grew.

Throughout the hot, breezy day, cars squeezed onto the grass along Ivannough and Irving avenues. Teen-agers came by bike. Parents pushed their infants there in strollers. All of them were drawn by their curiosity and their emotions to this legendary American family in yet another crisis.

Nearby, off the Cape Cod coast, the planes and boats searched in vain.

By nightfall, with television trucks' satellite dishes poking into the sky and the ground littered with a spaghetti of cables and wires, many still lingered, detained by uncertainty.

Last night was to have been a festive evening for the Kennedy family. Rory Kennedy, daughter of the late Robert F. Kennedy, was to be married. The peaks of a white, circus-sized tent could be seen behind the houses, the tent edges flapping in the wind.

Throughout the day, despite the cancellation of the ceremony, sad signs of the wedding festivities recurred: a truck carrying a rack of white tuxedos; a flower delivery truck; catering vans; and guests in wedding finery walking hand-in-hand along the beach.

All of that could be seen only at a distance by the crowds behind the barricades patrolled by police on mountain bikes from nearby Barnstable.

For the family, the waiting began in the earliest hours of the morning, with a phone call alerting Sen. Edward M. Kennedy that his nephew's plane had disappeared. At dawn, a friend visiting the compound described the mood as "very worried, very somber."

By midmorning, the family gathered for an impromptu Mass on Ethel Kennedy's porch, praying for the missing and for the bride and groom.

There, offering solace, were the same three priests who 19 months ago presided at Michael Kennedy's funeral -- one who said the last rites for Rose Kennedy; another, the officiant at RFK's funeral; the third, the priest who married the missing couple, John F. Kennedy Jr. and his wife, Carolyn Bessette Kennedy.

Around 1 p.m., Senator Kennedy phoned a close friend and said the family was holding out "hope upon hope that a miracle might happen." But, the friend said, Kennedy's voice sounded tired and flat.

Family spokesman Brian O'Connor, who spoke occasionally throughout the day with reporters, said, "People are hoping for the best. "

O'Connor said Edward Kennedy, Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy II and other family members met for lunch and, later, a catered dinner for the wedding guests.

He said that at the morning Mass, family members exchanged "prayers of hope for John for Rory and Mark [Bailey, her fiance] for the family."

At one point, O'Connor brought bottled water out to the barricade and handed it out to news crews and bystanders.

Mike Darosa and Lou Garcia of Boston, who were vacationing in Hyannis, elbowed their way toward the Kennedy compound with their 3-month-old son, Mike II. Darosa said they decided while getting dressed that morning and watching CNN reports on Kennedy's missing plane that they would spend the afternoon near the Kennedys.

"It's historic. Something to tell him about later," Darosa said, wiping beads of sweat off his son's brow.

The same sense of history could be felt outside St. Francis Xavier Roman Catholic Church, where the Kennedys regularly attend Mass, and the site of many Kennedy family weddings. At the 4 p.m. Mass, the Rev. Edward Byington asked the congregation to pray for John Jr. and his family. Parishioners lingered outside afterward, clustered in hushed conversation.

"I feel pretty sad about this," said Gloria Landry, leaning on her worn brown cane. She said she has been a neighbor of the Kennedy clan for 30 years, living in a house once rented by President John F. Kennedy's press secretary, Pierre Salinger.

"I've seen John Jr. out walking many times. They're nice people," she said.

The Kennedy compound, as it is known, is a point of beachfront property with three houses of white clapboard, stone chimneys, cedar roof shingles and rooftop balconies. White picket fences corral deep-blue hydrangeas, rhododendrons and faded-orange day lilies. The property borders Marchant Street, which ends at Hyannis Harbor, full of bobbing sailboats and yachts.

Down the street a half mile, at John F. Kennedy Memorial Park -- a small beach and park once owned by the Kennedys -- Wilbur Cash calmly gave directions to the endless stream of drivers who stopped in to ask, "Where's the Kennedy place?" Cash, a former carpenter with a ruddy face and a stooped walk, tends the garden and fountain at a spot that was one of John F. Kennedy Sr.'s favorite sitting-and-thinking spots.

"He'd come out here, surrounded by his security, and just look out at the water," said Cash.

Another bystander to the history of the day was Russ Kidd, manager of the West Beach Club, a beachfront club a block from the Kennedys'. Shirtless in white shorts, he adjusted a lawn sprinkler and recalled his nine years of watching Kennedys come and go.

"It's just hard to figure," he said. "They're nice, caring, wonderful people. But it's tragic. It's almost like theater."

The Boston Globe contributed to this article.

Pub Date: 7/18/99

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