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Public grieves for Kennedy

By Yvonne Abraham and Ryan Davis, Globe Staff and Globe Correspondent, 07/22/99

Lea Morgan spent four days transfixed by the television, clinging to slivers of possibility.

She cried as she searched wide shots of blue ocean for signs of hope. She knew it made no sense, but still she believed John F. Kennedy Jr. would be found alive.

''I was hoping he was on the island,'' she said. ''As far as him being athletic, I thought he was the kind of person who could survive this.''

That hope had withstood grim-faced experts, lowered flags, even published obituaries.

But yesterday, Morgan, like the thousands of tearful mourners who visited the Kennedy Library to lay tributes and sign condolence books, admitted that it was over. She added two glittery pink angels and some flowers to the growing shrine on the wall in front of the library, already overflowing with carnations and orchids, pretty handwritten notes, pictures of the president's son as a child, and plush toys.

''That's my way of paying respect,'' Morgan said, clutching her young son to her. ''So I don't cry anymore.''

The news that the bodies of Kennedy, Carolyn Bessette Kennedy, and Lauren Bessette had been found drove many more mourners yesterday to pay their respects than in previous days.

Makeshift shrines - which have sprung up not just at Kennedy's apartment building in New York and the library, but in many places connected with his family - grew higher and more elaborate, as the finality of the loss sank in with a public convinced that Kennedy was one of them.

At the State House, flowers were placed in the hands of the statue of President Kennedy, with bouquets at the statue's feet. A black book in a clear plastic cover was laid on the pedestal with a note that said, ''Write your thoughts if you like.''

About 400 people filed into US Representative Patrick Kennedy's office in Pawtucket to sign a maroon memorial book placed on his desk, a desk that had once belonged to President Kennedy.

''It's been almost like a wake,'' press secretary Larry Berman said. ''We've just been getting so many phone calls and e-mails and cards, we felt there should be some sort of way for people to express their sympathy.''

Mourners also made pilgrimages to Holyhood Cemetery in Brookline to visit the ivy-covered graves of Joseph and Rose Kennedy and of John Kennedy Jr.'s cousins, Michael and David.

Susan Shulman of West Newton and Marcy Frankel of Brookline rode their bikes there after they heard Kennedy's body had been recovered.

But their grief for the young publisher spilled over to the rest of the family, too, as the latest tragedy to befall the storied family merged into all those that came before it.

Following Jewish tradition, the women laid stones on Rose Kennedy's grave.

''She was the sweetheart of the family,'' Frankel said. ''We came to pay respects and see if other people had been here.''

They had. Three bouquets and a plastic-covered picture of Kennedy and his wife were laid at the tombstones.

As the women sat on the grass beside the grave, a delivery man laid an elaborate bouquet of roses, sunflowers, peonies, and gerberas at the matriarch's headstone.

The unsigned note said: ''We miss you, mother. We love you.''

The Kennedy Library has been inundated with people willing to stand in line for up to an hour to sign the condolence book. A second book was added yesterday, and all the tributes will be presented to Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg when she next visits the library.

Library spokesman Tom McNaught said 1,100 visitors bought tickets to the library Tuesday, twice the usual number. He estimated that another 400 visitors went to the lobby to write sympathy notes. McNaught expected many more visitors than that yesterday. By 4 p.m., the shrine outside the library had already grown twice as big as it had been the day before.

''I don't think I would have come today if they hadn't found John Kennedy's body,'' said Ruth Carrington of Milton. ''I would have come later, but it was more urgent to come today. I'm glad they found him, so we could bring some closure for the Kennedys.''

Jill Bolster - who described herself as a baby boomer raised in a large Irish-Catholic family whose father campaigned for President Kennedy - said she had come to the library, not just for the younger Kennedy, but for the whole family.

''You can't separate them,'' she said. ''This adds another tragedy in a continuing story. Growing up, they were so sacred to us. There was the pope, the church, and the Kennedys. They dignified us.''

Globe correspondent Christy Casey contributed to this report.

This story ran on page A01 of the Boston Globe on 07/22/99.
© Copyright 1999 Globe Newspaper Company.


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