Yesterday B and I went over and took a look at the Kennedy compound. Maybe because it's the end of summer, and the beach looks empty and lonely, or maybe it's because the house is vacant, no one living there, but the place seemed abandoned, almost haunted.
It reminded me, in just two more months we will be marking the 50th anniversary of the Kennedy assassination. It was November 22, 1963.
B and I didn't actually go into the compound. As far as I know, it is never open to the public. What really happened is that B and I, on a week's vacation on Cape Cod, took a drive over to Hyannis. We'd read about some artist's shanties located in a harborside park, and we thought it would be fun to go hang out.
The artist's shanties turned out to be an extreme disappointment -- just a little tourist trap with overpriced crafts and photos -- although the trip was saved by a run across the street to find some very tasty clam chowder.
But while we were there we saw a sign for a harbor excursion boat. It was leaving for a cruise at 2 p.m. We hadn't planned on doing anything like that, but it was only an hour and fifteen minutes long, so we purchased tickets, for $20 each, and climbed aboard.
A father and son team ran the boat, and they skippered us out of the harbor, showing us a series of old lighthouses, multimillion-dollar estates along the coastline, a tower marking where the Cape Wind project would be located.
There has been for several years now a proposal to build a series of windmills along a sandbar in Nantucket Sound. It is controversial because while the windmills would produce environmentally friendly electricity, they also have the potential to disturb some birds. More significantly, they would also disturb the view from many of those multimillion-dollar estates -- one of those estates being the Kennedy compound, so Sen. Edward Kennedy was a powerful opponent of the project. What's happening now, since Ted Kennedy has left us, I do not know.
Anyway, on the way back to the dock, the captain swung around Hyannisport and showed us the Kennedy compound. You can't see much of it from shore -- it's cordoned off by winding streets and tall hedges -- but you can see it remarkably well, and up pretty close, from the water.
If you are old enough to remember 50 years ago, and those old film clips of Camelot, with young Kennedys playing touch football on the lawn, sailing in the bay, healthy, toothy, kids in tow, you can't possibly take in this scene without feeling some nostalgia, a sinking in your gut as the old newsreels play in your mind.
According to our guide, Ted Kennedy moved into the main house after his mother Rose died in 1995, and he used it as his main residence until his death in 2009. But while a number of Kennedys still live in the six-acre compound, the main house has been empty ever since. Apparently there are plans to open the house to the public, perhaps turn it into some kind of monument or museum, but all that would be sometime in the future.
Last summer, pop singer Taylor Swift bought a house down the street, when she was going out with Conor Kennedy, grandson of Robert F. Kennedy. That didn't last long, our young guide quipped. But rumor has it Swift made a million dollars when she sold the house earlier this year. Conor is the son of Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., and Mary Richardson Kennedy. The two had a troubled marriage, and they were already estranged last year when Mary, Conor's mother, committed suicide.
I guess we all have our own thoughts, our own opinions about the Kennedys. Joseph Kennedy, the wealthy patriarch, made his money under questionable circumstances. John F. Kennedy, icon of his era, was later revealed to be something of a sexual predator. Bobby Kennedy, attorney general to his older brother, senator from New York and passionate anti-war presidential candidate, was a man who many hailed as a visionary, while others scorned him as just another calculating, self-serving politician. And Edward Kennedy . . . he had his own brush with disaster at Chappaquiddick in 1969, but in many people's eyes he redeemed himself with his long career in the U. S. Senate.
There's nothing I can add to the Kennedy legacy, the Kennedy mystique. But I do remember those heady, historic days. I remember my Irish Catholic mother was a fan; my more conservative, indifferent Protestant father remained unimpressed. But back then I wished my father was half as cool as John Kennedy; and I was in love with Caroline, as I'm sure many young women fell in love with John-John, who we all remember died when his plane crashed off Martha's Vineyard in 1999.
Love 'em or hate 'em, they were a great American family. But as their old house suggests, sitting forlornly on the windy beach, it all seems long ago and far away.