Guest Author - Vance R. Rowe
It was this day in history, July 18, 1969, that Mary Jo Kopechne was killed in a car accident in which the car drove into the water off of Chappaquiddick Island in Massachusetts. The driver of the car was Senator Edward Kennedy, who didn’t admit to the accident until ten hours after it happened.
Chappaquiddick Island is an island off of Martha’s Vineyard where the rich and well to do go and party. Ted Kennedy hosted this one particular party as a reunion of sorts for the women that worked on Robert Kennedy’s 1968 Presidential campaign, known as the Boiler Room Girls. They were called the Boiler Room Girls because these six women worked in a room that was hot and had no windows. Mary Jo Kopechne was one of the speech writers for Robert Kennedy. When Robert Kennedy was assassinated in 1968, Ted Kennedy was the next logical choice to run for president in 1972. In 1968, Ted Kennedy was elected to the position of majority whip in the US Senate.
On July 18, 1969, Ted Kennedy and his cousin Joe Gargan hosted the cook-out party at a rented cabin on Chappaquiddick Island and he, Ted Kennedy left the party shortly after 11 PM with Mary Jo Kopechne and said that they were going to the ferry slip to catch a boat back to their rooms in Edgartown on Martha’s Vineyard. Mary Jo Kopechne had left her purse and room key back at the party. Kennedy then was to drive across a small bridge that had no lights or guard rails. Apparently, Kennedy had missed the ramp onto the bridge and drove into a tidal channel called Poucha Pond and the car had flipped over. Kennedy had escaped and tried to save Kopechne but was unable to do so.
Kennedy went back to the party and quietly enlisted the help of his cousin, Joe Gargan and another friend of theirs. The three men went to Poucha Pond but they could not retrieve the body either. The three men then went to the ferry slip and Ted Kennedy dove into the water and swam to Edgartown which was about a mile away. He went to his room at the inn he was staying at and changed his clothes.
At about 2:25 AM, Kennedy opened his room door and saw the innkeeper and told him that he was awakened by some noise next door and then closed his door and went back to bed.
The car and Kopechne’s body were recovered the next morning and after being questioned about it, Kennedy admitted to being the driver of the car and that they had taken a wrong turn when driving to the ferry slip. He was charged with leaving the scene of an accident and was given a two month suspended sentence and lost his driving privileges for a year. The incident became a national scandal and is more than likely the reason he did not seek a term as the president but remained a Senator until his death in 2009, making him the third longest Senator in US history being elected to the position nine times.