BOSTON, Massachusetts Aug 28 – Huge crowds flocked to view Edward Kennedy’s flag-draped coffin in a stirring send-off at the oceanside Boston library the senator built to honour his slain brother.
Thousands of people lined up for hours outside the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library on the first of two nights in the wake for the man locals know simply as "Teddy."
Young, old, black, white and disabled people made up the diverse throng, all of them waiting patiently as night fell. Kennedy’s widow Vicki was among family members who stood by the coffin and shook the hands of the public.
"We just wanted to pay our respects and say thanks for all he has done," one mourner, Trisha McLaughlin, 40, said as she pushed her 80-year-old mother forward in a wheelchair.
The body of Kennedy, who was to be eulogized by President Barack Obama before being buried Saturday, began its final journey earlier Thursday in the Cape Cod resort of Hyannis Port.
The coffin departed the sleepy town in a hearse escorted by a convoy of police, black limousines and a bus carrying 85 Kennedy family members.
When the motorcade arrived in Boston, cheers and clapping from well-wishers broke out.
At City Hall, a huge US flag was unfurled and Mayor Thomas Menino rang a bell 47 times, marking each of the years that Kennedy, who died Tuesday, aged 77, served in the US Senate.
Office workers leaned out of windows and some even watched from rooftops.
Winding through Boston, the capital of the Kennedy clan’s political fiefdom, the motorcade finally halted at the JFK library.
Here, the closed coffin was placed before an enormous window overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.
A military honor guard of five servicemen stood to attention, bayonets fixed, as mourners filed past and expressed condolences to the family.
Public viewing was to continue Friday before a private wake in the evening.
On Saturday, Obama was to attend a funeral Mass at the Our Lady of Perpetual Help Basilica.
After, Kennedy’s remains were to be taken for a private family burial at Arlington National Cemetery, outside Washington. Obama was not planning to attend that.
Kennedy’s death marks the end of a tumultuous life that included extraordinary personal tragedy, shocking scandals and political triumphs.
As the brother of slain president John F. Kennedy and presidential hopeful Robert F. Kennedy, Ted Kennedy was seen as the last leader of his political clan. He will be buried alongside both brothers in Arlington.
"Not everybody agreed with the Kennedys’ politics, but I think everyone appreciated their service and their spirit," said 74-year-old Nadine Basta, a Kennedy neighbor in Hyannis Port.
"We’re very aware of the input he had to bring the men of violence around the table," said Gary McHenry, a 49-year-old dairy farmer from Northern Ireland who was on holiday in Boston, but came to follow the procession from the start.
"He played no small part in bringing Ireland to where it is today. It was probably pivotal. He was a man of peace. As an Irishman with a young family, to live in peaceful times — it’s something we’re very grateful for."
Obama received a major boost in his White House bid last year when he won Kennedy’s endorsement. He described Kennedy on Wednesday as a "singular figure in American history."
Kennedy’s death also brought together politicians from America’s great political divide as Republican rivals and Democrats alike paid tribute to Kennedy’s relentless campaigning for the causes of peace and social welfare.
Many thought Kennedy destined for the highest office, but his White House hopes were dashed after his name was tainted by scandal, drinking problems and a messy divorce.
The worst scandal occurred in 1969, when he drove off a bridge at Chappaquiddick in Massachusetts, killing a female companion — Mary Jo Kopechne — before fleeing the scene of the accident.
The scandal crippled his presidential hopes and he subsequently lost the Democratic party nomination to incumbent Jimmy Carter in the 1980 election.