Déjà vu all over again. Fate--in the person of a new OS blogger--has now told me it's time to tell the version I heard, supposedly from the horse's mouth, of what really happened almost 40 years ago at Chappaquiddick.
In a thoughtful post called My Kennedy mystery, written by Jason Korke, Mr. Korke (May I call you Jason?) acknowledges Ted Kennedy's many lifetime achievements and his courage in the face of serious illness. He also mentions Teddy's many well-known infidelities and the lying that is part and parcel of such behavior.
It's this quote that stirred my own memory: "Much more than lying, though, homicide concerns me. Of course, I am talking about Chappaquiddick."
I urge you to read Mr. Korke's post, but meanwhile here's my recap of the scandal. Ted Kennedy's car went off a bridge and into a pond after a June 1969 party for Bobby Kennedy's campaign staff on Chappaquiddick Island near Martha's Vineyard. A passenger, Mary Jo Kopechne (Ko-'peck-nee) was subsequently found drowned in the car.
Kennedy later claimed he dove repeatedly into the dark water but couldn't find her. Then, disoriented and hurt, he gave up. On it's face, a routine if terrible tragedy. But Kennedy and his handlers inexplicably waited 9 hours before reporting the accident.
The media frenzy was ferocious. There were claims Kennedy was drunk and that he and his staff engaged in a massive cover-up of the accident and the cause of Ms. Kopechne's death. Which was, according to the story I heard, partly true. But not homicide.
Kennedy eventually pled guilty to the charge of leaving the scene of an accident and the case was closed. Justice may not have been served for Mary Jo Kopechne, but many felt partial justice was achieved in the total destruction of Ted Kennedy's chances ever to mount his own presidential campaign.
Sidebar: I was a carefree college student that summer of 1969, doing the European tour. When the scandal broke we were in Italy. It wasn't until we returned to the states that I learned the young woman's name was not Mary Jo "Co-pah-'chine-ah" as had been widely reported in the Italian media.
Fast forward a few years to my post college life in the political arenas of Pennsylvania and Washington. I met a woman who was, to say the least, in the thick of things at Chappaquiddick. She told me her story -- one that makes the most sense of the 9-hour lag in reporting the accident, the most critical and damning factor in the whole mess.
It goes like this. The party was filled with young girls, star-struck by the older power brokers with whom they were socializing. Mary Jo in particular was known to have had a crush on Ted Kennedy. Everybody was drinking heavily.
At some point in the evening, feeling more than a little under the weather, Mary Jo wandered outside, saw Kennedy's car and crawled into the back seat to sleep it off.
At some later point, Kennedy and the girl who told me this story got in his car together and headed for a more private party à deux.
Here's the punch line: they didn't know Mary Jo was in the car.
They were both plastered. In fact, Kennedy stopped the car along the road so his young paramour could open her door and vomit into the weeds.
This had to be the same time a sheriff's deputy saw the car idling with its lights on. He approached the car but it drove off.
After the car went off the bridge, Kennedy's primary goal was to get his female companion--the only person he thought was in the car--the hell out of the picture. His wife was at home, after all, and pregnant to boot.
Which provides a logical explanation for Kennedy's seemingly evil callousness in not trying to save Mary Jo Kopechne. It would explain why Deputy Sheriff Look testified he thought he saw someone lying down in the back seat of Kennedy's car when he approached it on the side of the road leading to the bridge. He wouldn't have seen the girl in the passenger seat because she was bent over, puking.
It would explain the troubling time lag as aides scrambled for damage control, not realizing that something far worse than casual infidelity would hit the fan. And the fact that a woman's handbag--not Ms. Kopechne's--was also found in the car.
And why witnesses at the Shiretown Inn said Kennedy was calm and gave no indication of any knowledge that a scandalous accident that could ruin his career had just taken place.
My source's anonymity was protected. But her conscience was far from clear. I hope after all these years she's realized she was little more than a naive kid dazzled by a powerful figure with feet of clay.
She should certainly know that she had plenty of company. From those who gravitated to the first Kennedy in power all the way up--or down--to Monica. And who knows how many more.
There are dozens of theories, reams of material, reports, hypotheses and even web sites on what happened at Chappaquiddick.
I didn't make this version up. I wasn't there. So I don't claim this is the Emmes. I'm just reporting the story I was told. We'll never know.
After all ... wait for it ... there's been too much water under the bridge.
"The truth is rarely pure and never simple." Oscar Wilde