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The Chappaquiddick tragedy and the day Camelot myth died

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With all the focus on presidential politics this summer, we take you back to July of 1969 when the modern-day myth of Camelot ended in tragedy.

“A 28-year-old woman was killed yesterday when a car driven by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy plunged off a narrow bridge on a tiny offshore island and landed upside down in eight feet of water,” the Herald reported on the front page of the July 20, 1969, paper.

That victim was Mary Jo Kopechne and she’s never been able to rest in peace since. Kennedy, for his part, was notoriously unrepentant — and it cost him the presidency, and rightfully so.

But it all started on this day: Boston Herald July 20, 1969, page 1

And the story jumps to Page 10: Boston Herald July 20, 1969, page 10

As Howie Carr wrote two years ago this month: Mary Jo Kopechne would have turned 80 in 2020.

Of course, Mary Jo didn’t even make it to 29 – she died on July 18, 1969, when Sen. Ted Kennedy drunkenly drove his mother’s 1967 Oldsmobile Delmont off a small bridge into a tidal pond on Chappaquiddick on Martha’s Vineyard.

Teddy, drunk and with an expired driver’s license, swam to safety and didn’t bother to even report the death (by suffocation, not drowning) for 10 hours. By then he’d already made more than a dozen long-distance phone calls off the island, including one to another of his girlfriends in Palm Beach.

He’d also enjoyed a leisurely breakfast at the Shiretown Inn in Edgartown. Later, when Teddy finally sat down in the Edgartown police chief’s office, shakily filling out the incident report, he left a blank space next to the words “Mary Jo” – he didn’t even know her last name.

Here’s the rest of Howie’s column …

REMEMBERING MARY JO: U.S. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy's car is pulled from water on July 19, 1969. Mary Jo Kopechne's body was found inside. Below, Kennedy addresses the nation on TV about the incident.
REMEMBERING MARY JO: U.S. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy’s car is pulled from water on July 19, 1969. Mary Jo Kopechne’s body was found inside. 
FILE  In this July 22, 1969 file photograph, U.S Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., arrives back home in Hyannis, Mass., after attending the funeral of Mary Jo Kopechne in Pennsylvania. Kopechne drowned when a car driven by Kennedy went off a bridge on Chappaquiddick Island, at the eastern end of Martha's Vineyard. It's been 50 years since the fateful automobile accident that killed a woman and thwarted Kennedy's presidential aspirations. (AP Photo/Frank C. Curtin, File)
FILE – In this July 22, 1969 file photograph, U.S Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., arrives back home in Hyannis, Mass., after attending the funeral of Mary Jo Kopechne in Pennsylvania. Kopechne drowned when a car driven by Kennedy went off a bridge on Chappaquiddick Island, at the eastern end of Martha’s Vineyard. It’s been 50 years since the fateful automobile accident that killed a woman and thwarted Kennedy’s presidential aspirations. (AP Photo/Frank C. Curtin, File)
Mary Jo Kopechne
Mary Jo Kopechne

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