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'Most Eligible' no longer

JFK Jr. slips out of public eye to wed girlfriend on island in Georgia

By Judith Gaines, Globe Staff, 09/23/96

Susan Bickelhaupt and Ellen O'Brien of the Globe staff, and the Associated Press, provided information for this report.

The handsome 35-year-old Kennedy scion often called ''the nation's most eligible bachelor'' is single no more.

JFK, Jr. and Carolyn Bessette (AP Photo)

At a mansion once owned by the Andrew Carnegie family, on a remote Georgia island where wild horses still roam, John Fitzgerald Kennedy Jr. married Carolyn Bessette Saturday evening.

Bessette, 29, a former publicist for Calvin Klein and a graduate of Boston University, reportedly had been dating Kennedy for more than two years. Kennedy, the son of the late President John F. Kennedy and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, is co-editor of the political magazine George, which he started one year ago.

Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.) confirmed the wedding while speaking at a fund-raising event yesterday in Steubenville, Ohio. ''My cousin John did tie the knot yesterday,'' he said, according to the Associated Press.

The 7:30 p.m. nuptials took place on Cumberland Island, beginning with a ceremony in a log-cabin church. Built in 1893, the African Baptist Church is no longer active, and serves as a local historical monument. The small chapel seats about 40 people, said Camden County Probate Judge Martin Gillette. He said the couple appeared Thursday in his office to apply for a license and a blood test. ''They asked us not to talk about it until after the ceremony,'' said Gillette.

The site of the reception was at the exclusive Greyfield Inn, according to Janet Brinko, director of tourism for nearby St. Mary's, Ga. Among those attending was William Kennedy Smith.

The wedding party rented the entire 13-room inn for the gala, buying out anyone with prior reservations, Brinko said.

A resident of St. Mary's who witnessed preparations surrounding the inn said the driveway was lit by small ground lights, or luminaria, ''like it would be for Christmas.'' She described the wedding as a small, intimate affair, presided over by a Catholic priest.

An icon of the Camelot era, Kennedy captured the nation's attention when, as a small boy, he stood in solemn salute before his father's casket, after the former president was assassinated. Since then, Americans have watched John-John grow up, including his publicized failures to pass the New York bar exam and his dalliances with movie stars and models, including Daryl Hannah.

Although he allegedly tried to stay out of the public eye, he became a familiar sight to New Yorkers, who knew his passion for running in Central Park and roller-blading on Manhattan Streets. His magazine, George, which debuted last year, reportedly has a circulation of 450,000.

Several members of the Kennedy family did not attend Saturday's festivities -- including US Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy 2d of Brighton, who celebrated his birthday this weekend on Cape Cod, Ethel Kennedy, and Joe's sister, Courtney Kennedy.

A source close to the Kennedy family said, ''If John wanted a quiet wedding, this is the way he would have gone about it.''

Staging the event at an inaccessible, offshore location and without the huge Kennedy clan in attendance was the best way to keep the wedding private and relatively low-key, the source explained.

The largest and southernmost of Georgia's barrier islands, Cumberland is a lush, marshy wilderness of an island, 18 miles long and 3 miles wide, first known as one of the ''Golden Isles of Guale.''

The Greyfield Inn, still owned by members of the Carnegie family, is so secluded that guests arrive only by ferry, private boat or helicopter. They communicate with the mainland by cellular phone.

Rates start at $245 a night for a room, or $350 for a suite. The charge includes the services of a naturalist to help visitors explore the island's 18 miles of unspoiled beaches and exotic wildlife.

The traditional, Southern-colonial style inn, now owned by Mitty and Mary Jo Ferguson, was constructed for the Andrew Carnegie family in 1901. The Kennedy family frequently vacationed there, according to Brinko. Other celebrities who have sought its privacy and beauty include Jimmy Buffett and Jimmy Carter, she said.

Cumberland Island is home to less than 100 people, and most of them work for the National Park Service, which is a major landowner. With pristine marshlands and a regal oak forest, a large part of the island was designated as a ''national seashore'' in 1972.

It is an intensely private sort of sanctuary. The island has no grocery store, no gas station, no commercial establishments of any kind, other than the inn. Only landowners and park rangers are allowed to have automobiles.

Two other island mansions -- named Plum Orchard and Dungeness, both also built by the Carnegies -- may have housed members of the wedding party.

A recent article in W magazine, which predicted the couple would wed, described Bessette as ''a cool blonde'' with ''something sexy -- even raunchy -- about her.''

The article quoted a colleague at the Lyons Group of Boston nightclubs, where Bessette worked before joining Calvin Klein. ''She's got Princess Di and Jackie O down pat. She does the wave. She knows how to get out of a limousine. But she's modernized it. It's street chic,'' the colleague said, referring to Bessette's style.

A doctor's daughter from Greenwich, Conn., Bessette met Kennedy when she worked for Calvin Klein assisting celebrities looking for clothes. Kennedy stopped by to purchase three new suits and she was assigned to be his ''personal shopper.'' They started dating after that.

Kennedy has always been closely watched by the paparazzi, although he managed to keep a low profile as assistant district attorney in Manhattan. But he became a bona fide public figure last year when George, a magazine featuring political essays and satire, hit the newsstands.

Many speculated that he would marry actress Daryl Hannah. But that 5 1/2-year relationship ended not long after his mother's funeral in May 1994.

Rumors had been circulating recently that the romance with Bessette was ending, too. But the couple spent time together in August in Hyannis, according to a source on Martha's Vineyard. And, according to a source in St. Mary's, the Cumberland Island chapel has been reserved for three months.

In its latest issue, New York magazine reports that the couple planned a secret wedding at the end of September -- so private that John would not even tell relatives when it would be held.

Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg was spotted yesterday at the Fernandina Airport in Florida, eight miles from Cumberland Island, according to the Associated Press. When asked about reports of the wedding, she responded only with a thumbs up.


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