Chappaquiddick Is An Enduring Kennedy Mystery

by Alaina Urquhart-White
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images News/Getty Images

As with most things Kennedy-related, the incident at Chappaquiddick is one of those things that will always be talked about and analyzed, because it involves one of the most fascinating families on the planet. The Kennedy family is used to scandal and gossip surrounding them, but the incident at Chappaquiddick, which involved the late Ted Kennedy, is one of the events that ReelzChannel miniseries The Kennedys – After Camelot will tackle. So, what really happened at Chappaquiddick?

Well, although we don't know all of the minutia of that night, we do know that July 18, 1969, 38-year-old Senator Ted Kennedy and his cousin Joe Gargon were hosting a party at a rented home in Chapaquiddick Island, one that 28-year-old Mary Jo Kopechne attended. According to ABC News, the other attendees included four other married men and five other single women (known as "The Boiler Room Girls;"' they had worked on Bobby Kennedy's 1968 presidential campaign). According to The Washington Post, Ted Kennedy and Kopechne left the party together at 11:15 that night. Kennedy claimed he was simply driving Kopechne to her hotel nearby where he was staying. As The Washington Post reported:

Instead of heading for the ferry slip, they turned down the dirt road to the beach for seven-tenths of a mile before coming to the bridge. The car plunged into the tideswept pond below, landing upside down in about six to seven feet of water. Somehow, Kennedy managed to get out, apparently through an open window. Kopechne did not.

According to reports, Kennedy claimed he dove down multiple times and attempted to retrieve her from the car but was unsuccessful. He then went back to the party where he enlisted the help of Gargon and another friend. The Washington Post reported that all three men claimed that they returned to the bridge and dove into the water in an attempt to rescue Kopechne. They were unsuccessful.

Instead of immediately calling for emergency help, Kennedy and his friends made their way to the ferry, and, when they found it closed, Kennedy claimed he swam the mile across the channel to get to his hotel, according to Newsweek. He didn't report the incident for 10 hours, according to the outlet. According to The Washington Post, Kennedy later pleaded guilty to the misdemeanor charge of leaving the scene of an accident and Kopechne's death was labeled an accidental drowning.

According to the aforementioned ABC News article, Kennedy later gave a speech on July 26, 1969 where he spoke to the nation for 13 minutes about the Chappaquiddick incident (above). He described the party as being for "for a devoted group of Kennedy campaign secretaries" and tried to put to rest any rumors about drunk driving or immoral behavior of any kind. According to The New York Daily News, his explanation for not reporting the incident sooner was that he was "panicked." Despite his role in Kopechne's death, Ted Kennedy's political career stayed strong. ABC News reported that he won that year's senate seat with 62 percent of the vote. But the scandal did curtail his dreams of running for president.

Check out The Kennedys – After Camelot on ReelzChannel April 2 to see the infamous incident dramatized for today's viewers.