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Chappaquiddick & the Moon Landing

Updated: May 13, 2022

A friend of mine casually mentioned, “Chappaquiddick didn’t even make the front page, you know. The story broke the same day as the moon landing.”

Timing is everything.

  • July 18, 1969, Ted Kennedy accidentally drove a car off a bridge on Chappaquiddick Island, Massachusetts, killing his passenger Mary Jo Kopechne.

  • On July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first humans to land on the moon.

The headline of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram in huge print:

Apollo: ‘We’re Ready to Go’

And in much smaller print, off to the side:

Ted Uninjured in Car Plunge; Woman Killed

Other papers had a similar look and feel, each with different photos and story placement. But the competition was the same, and I can't help but wonder if the

timing of Kopechne’s death didn’t have a tremendous effect on how interested the public was in her case.

In general, investigators were criticized for how the case was handled. It was apparent to most that, as a senator and member of a powerful family, Kennedy was given special treatment, and most importantly, never held responsible for the death of Mary Jo Kopechne. But was timing and a distracted public the more influential factor in the investigation?

What was the media’s role?

The death of Mary Jo Kopechne is an example for many of someone in a rich and powerful family dodging responsibility for a destructive and illegal act. I had filed it away as a political scandal, a story unlikely to see any kind of just resolution. I hadn’t realized the importance of the timing of the event, despite having watched the 2017 film Chappaquiddick when it first came out, which prominently featured the moon landing occurring at nearly the same time as the accident.

Had the moon landing not occurred at roughly the same time as her death, would we have seen a different investigation?

Resources for Citizen Investigators & Internet Sleuths

If you’re interested in learning more about the case, you have a lot of options available. Kicking off with a review of the Wikipedia page if you aren’t familiar with the case would be a good start, and be sure to review the sources listed at the bottom of the entry.

In addition to Curran’s film listed in the post, there are a few documentaries and podcast episodes–as expected with celebrities, there are a lot of people interested in sharing their opinions, so if you have a favorite, please drop it in the comments!

I did find this short piece about Deputy Sherriff Huck Look’s account of the incident especially interesting and, though I haven’t read it yet, just added Chappaquiddick Speaks is on my reading list. Bill Pinney, the author, was raised on Chappaquiddick and in Edgartown, giving him a kind of unique credibility in my mind. A piece of the description caught my eye as well:

Pinney's book includes a treasure-trove of never-before-published accident scene photos, which are at odds with the official diagrams and testimony presented at the Kopechne exhumation, hearing, and inquest. These photographs turn every previous theory on its head, except one. The final conclusion is inescapable, irrefutable, explosive and implicates not just Edward Kennedy but several guests at the party of gross criminal misconduct. Chappaquiddick Speaks is loaded with new evidence, exclusive interviews, and good science.

Questions? Answers? Leave them below.

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