True Story of Events at Chappaquiddick Lost to History

The facts behind the car crash involving Senator Ted Kennedy remain murky.

Senator Edward M. Kennedy arrives to the Dukes County Courthouse in Edgartown, Mass., on July 25, 1969, after pleading guilty to leaving the scene of a fatal auto accident. Late on July 18, Kennedy's car plunged into a pond on Chappaquiddick Island. He was able to escape but Mary Jo Kopechne, 28, his passenger, drowned. (Ted Dully/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
Boston Globe via Getty Images

Mary Jo Kopechne was 28-years-old when she died in Ted Kennedy’s car after the car overturned on a small bridge and landed upside-down in the water. Kennedy survived, but Kopechne drowned, and it was a full 10 hours before Kennedy reported the incident to the police.

When she died, Kopechne had already made waves in Democratic circles in Washington and had helped write an anti-Vietnam War speech for RFK. Edward “Ted” Kennedy, meanwhile, was the last surviving son of Joseph Kennedy at the time of Kopechne’s death. He was a sitting U.S. Senator from Massachusetts, with a potential run at presidency down the road. The accident happened after Kennedy hosted a party on Cappaquiddick Island on July 18, 1969. After her death, questions swirled: What happened on the bridge? Was Kennedy drinking and driving? Why was he alone with Kopechne? A new film, Chappaquiddick, looks into the mystery that surrounds that night.

But Smithsonian Magazine writes that most details probably went to the grave with Kennedy and Kopechne. After the news broke, Kennedy’s team successfully covered up much of the salacious details. Kennedy was sentenced to two months’ incarceration but he never served the jail time. But as the only witness to the actual crash, the man who would become known as “The Lion of the Senate” never divulged the exact reasons he drove off the wooden bridge, whether or not he was drinking that night, and whether or not he was having an affair with his late brother’s secretary.

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