Saturday, September 21, 2013

A View of the Kennedys

     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.


Olga said...

The times seemed so much simpler then although I am sure they were not. What was simpler was my understanding of life.

DJan said...

I well remember those days. Fifty years ago now. You have written a good recap of the family as I remember them. I was so young myself and getting ready to start my own tragedies, although I didn't know it then. Now you've done it: stirred up all those memories! :-)

Douglas said...

A political dynasty, a "royal" American family, and one riddled with dishonor and tragedy... just like "blue blood" families of Europe. I thought we fought a revolution to escape this type of thing?

I, too, remember the early days of the Kennedy presidency (I am older than you, Tom), even argued with my then girlfriend over the candidacy of Robert in a period of turmoil (put me in the camp of "opportunistic, pandering, politician" description of Bobby) but the history of that family is intriguing.
Glad you mentioned those wind reeks of hypocrisy.

Barbara said...

Love 'em or hate 'em, I think they would all be appalled at what's going on in Washington these days! I know I am.
Thanks for stopping by my place. I do love Philly, but we did our time in MA (8 long years) dealing with early and long winters. We also lived in Pgh. twice. I love Pgh., too, but it's too far from the beach.

Friko said...

no dynasty lasts forever.

Still in Germany in those far off days, I too was a fan, and when JFK died there was a collective intake of breath in the country.

Like many before him and one or two since, the world saw him as the man to bring peace and harmony. How wrong we were then and how wrong we still are.

Stephen Hayes said...

An interesting and thought-provoking post. I was in the fifth grade whewn Kennedy was shot, a lifetime ago. I think it's the notion of lost promise that hurts the most, the promise of what might have been.

Heidrun Khokhar, KleinsteMotte said...

I am still curious about the group that shot both the Kennedy brothers. Something was not right or it would have been disclosed!
Wealth and power and games people play have not changed a bit.
Your trip as you share your thoughts stirred up some memories of my days in high school.
Back in '99 I questioned why Kennedy Jr. Flew his plane after dark when he had not night time training and could have paid another piolet to take the controls. Requelessness or ? I recall he had a fractured foot at the time. He had been visiting here just days before and had a pilot fly for him then.

Anonymous said...

For a while, my granddaughter was friends with one of the Kennedy grandchildren. One year she traveled with the family to the Kennedy Compound for a summer visit. I believe they had many dogs.

The upshot is that familiarity breeds contempt, and I am not as enamored with them or any politicians any more.

Anonymous said...

There will never be a family like the Kennedys nor a man like John F. Kennedy and his lovely wife Jacqueline..what a family, her only surviving child Caroline is brilliant and sweet and has 3 kids who look like John John she named Jack, Tatiana who looks like Jackie her grandmother and the other daughter who looks just like Caroline...Their tragic demise of our beloved President and the untimely deaths of former First Lady Jacqueline is heart wrenching and the death of her only surviving son John John, his wife and her sister is just tragic indeed..I think it broke Teddy's heart and mind and he went fast with the disease he had...I think the Kennedys were quite unique I did not say PERFECT no one is, but the politicians of today will never ever compare to the KENNEDYS....that is my opinion!

Dick Klade said...

At the time, I was a political opponent of John Kennedy, yet his assassination saddened me as it did most Americans. I think in those days we shared a sense of respect for our presidents, something that is sorely needed today. You've done a nice job of distilling a large slice of history into a concise post.

Joanna Jenkins said...

This was a very interesting post that had me saying out loud "I remember that." It's an interesting family with so much sadness.

Rita said...

Hi Tom,

The Kennedy days don't seem long ago and far away to me.

I've taken seriously all my life what Pres. John Kennedy said about working to make our country a better place. I do it every day.

I work as a consumer journalist and have worked for state government.