Incident at Chappaquiddick


Looking back with the 20/20 vision of an Oxford historian, it’s pretty clear July 1969 was a firecracker month in American antiquity on at least a number of counts.

On July 8th the very first troop withdrawals were made from Vietnam. 13 days later Neil Armstrong took mankind’s first steps on the moon. And the Manson murders, the crime that many attribute to killing off forever the carefree flower-power era of the 1960’s, were only a few weeks away. Somewhere wedged amongst all that upheaval and horizon-transforming change was the incident at Chappaquiddick.

This post is mostly intended as a film review of the movie CHAPPAQUIDDICK which has just been released in cinemas here in Brisbane this week. To pull that off effectively however, a brief history lesson, like it or not, must accompany the price of admission.

The events which occurred on Friday night July 18, 1969, and became known as the Chappaquiddick Incident, involved a single-vehicle car accident that occurred on Chappaquiddick Island, Massachusetts.


The major difference between these two photographs is that today the bridge sides are protected by parallel-fenced guard rails. In July 1969 these were not yet installed.



A little after midnight on this date, a car driven by 37-year-old Senator Ted Kennedy (youngest brother of John F. Kennedy – the 35th President of the United States – and Senator Robert F. Kennedy) plunged off a narrow, single-lane wooden crossing known as Dyke Bridge into tide-swept Poucha Pond. The car sunk to the bottom of the water channel with the occupants still inside. Ted Kennedy, who was married at the time to his 1st wife Joan, was able to swim free but his 28-year-old passenger Mary Jo Kopechne was trapped in the submerged vehicle and drowned. 


Deepening the tragedy and scandal of the incident was the fact that Kennedy did not report the accident to police until ten hours after it occurred and the prevailing view at the time was he could have done more to try to rescue the life of his passenger. Kennedy pleaded guilty to a charge of leaving the scene of a crash causing personal injury, and later received a two-month suspended jail sentence.

The Chappaquiddick Incident became a nationally known controversy, and likely influenced Kennedy’s decision not to campaign for President in 1972 and 1976. Ted Kennedy went on to  have a long and successful career in politics, serving in the United States Senate for over forty years until his death from brain cancer in 2009. His memoir True Compass was published three weeks after his death.


 At the inquest into the death of Mary Jo Kopechne held in January of 1970, John Farrar, who was the captain of the Edgartown Fire Rescue unit and the diver who recovered Kopechne’s body  alleged that she died from suffocation rather than from drowning or from the impact of the overturned vehicle.
He hypothesised that Mary Jo Kopechne had survived for at least one hour after the crash by breathing in air that formed in an air pocket inside the submerged vehicle. He further concluded that had Ted Kennedy alerted authorities immediately after the crash happened instead of waiting ten hours to do so, Mary Joe Kopechne could have been removed alive from the car. This is the theory of the accident depicted in the movie.


I saw the movie CHAPPAQUIDDICK at Indooroopilly cinema last Saturday afternoon with around 16 other people in the theatre. ‘Engrossing‘ is one superlative that comes to mind when I search for how to recount the experience of this film. ‘Masterfully authentic’ and ‘sublimely nuanced’ are two others.

Australian actor Jason Clarke (DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES, TERMINATOR GENISES, EVEREST) who cut his acting chops on HOME AND AWAY back in the early 2000’s, perfectly portrays the detached, born-to-privelage senator Ted Kennedy in a hairs-stand-up-on-the-back-of-your-neck-it’s-so-real Oscar-worthy performance.

Ps. Wanna travel back in a time machine?

Capture Then CLICK HERE or HERE or if you’re a conspiracy theorist HERE

Pss. A selection of the many, many books written on the subject over the years..


Capture 2

Capture 3

Psss.  This week’s bonus read is an article written under the headline

Kennedy Clan Tries to Sink Chappaquiddick Film

detailing how pressure was placed on the producers of the movie from very powerful people not to release the film.


4 thoughts on “Incident at Chappaquiddick

  1. Glen your review /history lesson took me back to that tumultuous year. 1968 also had its moments including Robert Kennedy’s assassination. Seriously but for this and Ted’s unfortunate mishap the world probably would have had 3 President Kennedys.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Dear Uncle Bryan,

    Your presence on these comment pages is a gift to us all.
    The mere mention of your name swells the IQ level of this humble little production like blood flowing through a right ventricle.

    Even though I was born in 1966, my memories didn’t really start taking shape until the 1970’s (though I do distinctly remember coming out of a shower in July 1969 to see all the adults in the living room gathered around our B & W television watching Neil ‘step off the land’) so the 1960’s holds a great fascination for me to this day.

    If CHAPPAQUIDDICK is playing at any theatre up Cairns way it’d be a couple of hours well spent – believe me.


  3. Here’s a bit of background Michelle –

    On the night of July 18, 1969, U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy hosted a party on Chappaquiddick Island, which is accessible via ferry from the town of Edgartown (in the U.S State of Massaachusetts) on the nearby larger island, Martha’s Vineyard.

    Among invited guests at the party, the gathering was a reunion for a group of six single women that included Mary Jo Kopechne. The group, known as the Boiler Room Girls, had served on Robert F. Kennedy’s 1968 presidential campaign.


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