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At Kennedy compound, family hopes for best but fears the worst

By Kate Zernike and Cindy Rodriguez, Globe Staff, 07/18/99

HYANNISPORT -- The clan has always come to their storied compound here to celebrate or to mourn what matriarch Rose Kennedy once described as the agony and the ecstasy of her family's so public life.

Rory Kennedy and Mark Bailey Rory Kennedy and Mark Bailey stroll along the beach in front of the Kennedy Compound in Hyannis after hearing news of JFK Jr.'s plane disappearance. The two were scheduled to be married today. (Globe Photo / Stephen Rose)
Yesterday, it was a particularly poignant clash of those two extremes.

Dozens of family members had gathered in the intense sunshine of a midsummer weekend to celebrate the wedding of Robert F. Kennedy's youngest daughter, Rory. But soon, the festivities turned into a vigil, with the family praying they would not have to hold yet another funeral.

The waiting began in the earliest hours of the morning, just hours after guests had gone to bed following the rehearsal dinner, with a phone call alerting Senator Ted Kennedy that his nephew's plane had disappeared. At dawn, a friend visiting the compound described the mood as "very worried, very somber.''

By midmorning, with an American flag and several abandoned white wedding tents flapping in a strong offshore breeze, the family gathered for an impromptu Mass on the porch of Ethel Kennedy's shingled Cape, praying for the missing couple as well as for the would-be bride and groom.

There were the same three priests who only 19 months ago presided at Michael Kennedy's funeral -- one who said the last rites for Rose Kennedy; another, the officiant at RFK's funeral, and the third, the priest who married the missing, John F. Kennedy Jr. and his wife, Carolyn Bessette Kennedy.

At the gates of the compound, gawkers arrived in the early morning to catch a glimpse of the white dress or celebrity guests, only to be told that the wedding had been postponed.

Around 1 p.m., Sen. Kennedy phoned a close friend and said the family was holding out "hope upon hope that a miracle might happen.'' But, the friend said, Kennedy's voice sounded tired and flat.

The senator, who had planned to go to Martha's Vineyard for an early afternoon fundraiser, paced the lawn amid tiny fourth generation Kennedys. JFK Jr.'s cousin, former US Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy II, sat on the porch talking to friends, and all day long, pairs of cousins and siblings took to the beach, as they had the winter morning of Michael's funeral.

The 275 wedding guests had been called in early morning and told that the wedding was postponed indefinitely. But out of confusion, stunned grief -- or perhaps simply because they had other things on their mind -- family members had forgotten to call off the caterers, who arrived at 3 p.m. with two trucks of food for a 6 p.m. wedding. Soon flowers, too, began arriving, but it was unclear whether they were in grief or in anticipation of the celebration.

By midafternoon, as the family waited for some word, the scene came to resemble happier gatherings here, as the bride and her husband-to-be, Mark Bailey, came out with about 20 family members to fly kites on the immense lawn, site of so many photographed family football games.

"There's a lot of children running around, which always seems to change the atmosphere,'' said Brian O'Connor, spokesman for the former Congressman. "People are happy to see one another.''

Would-be wedding guests who came by in the early morning hours left quietly in the afternoon as family members began to arrive. William Kennedy Smith, JFK's cousin, arrived at Otis Air Force Base. Caroline Kennedy, John's older sister, was on a rafting vacation in the West, and had not been planning to attend the wedding, but President Clinton had reportedly telephoned her to offer her assistance in flying back east.

In a town where locals defiantly refuse to become agape at the frequent Kennedy sightings, people couldn't help but comment on how the family seemed to have such a run of bad luck, or as most people called it, a curse.


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