BOSTON - Sen. Edward M. Kennedy began his final journey Thursday, first past landmark after landmark bearing his family's famous name and then to his slain brother's presidential library where mourners lined up by the thousands to bid farewell to him and an American political dynasty.

Crowds assembled along the 70-mile (112-kilometre) route that snaked from the family's compound in Hyannis Port, along the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway, past the John F. Kennedy Federal Building and by the JFK stop on the city's subway system.

Finally it came to the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum, where his body lay in repose. As many as 12,000 people waited in line to file past his closed casket and mark the end of a national political chapter that was equal parts triumph and tragedy.

For many, it was hard to untangle Kennedy's larger-than-life role as statesman from his role as neighbour and local celebrity, whether he was taking a turn conducting the Boston Pops or throwing out the first baseball pitch for the Red Sox.

"It was Teddy's home team. It just seemed appropriate to leave him the cap," said James Jenner, 28, placing a Sox cap he was wearing near the entrance to the library. "It symbolizes everything that he loved about his home state and everything he was outside the Senate."

The motorcade started its trip in Hyannis Port, at the Cape Cod home where Kennedy's family held a private Mass. Eighty-five Kennedy relatives travelled with the senator's body to the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum, where the Senate's third-longest-serving member will lie in repose.

Among those accompanying Kennedy were nieces Caroline, daughter of former President John F. Kennedy, and Maria Shriver, daughter of his late sister Eunice; and his son Patrick Kennedy, a Rhode Island congressman.

Before the motorcade departed, mourners crowded the end of the barricaded road leading to the family compound.

Virginia Cain, 54, said she walked 2 miles (3.2 kilometres) from her summer home in Centerville so she could watch the procession and witness history.

"I can remember where I was when President Kennedy died, and I'll remember where I was when the senator left Hyannis Port," she said.

On Main Street in downtown Hyannis, flags, flowers and personal notes lay at the base of a flagpole outside the John F. Kennedy Museum, where about two dozen people gathered.

Someone had placed an old Kennedy campaign sign with a new inscription: "God bless Ted, the last was first," referring to his ascension to political greatness after his two older brothers were assassinated.

Several enlarged photos showed events in Kennedy's life - meeting with Martin Luther King Jr., reading to a school girl. A rosary hung over a picture of Kennedy standing in his office.

Echoes of the Kennedy history were hard to miss as the motorcade travelled through the city.

Kennedy's wife, Vicki, put her hand over her heart as the procession rolled down Hanover Street in the North End neighbourhood, past St. Stephen's Church, where his mother, Rose, was baptized and where Kennedy later eulogized her. The crowd applauded, and his niece Caroline and other family members acknowledged them with a wave from their cars.

"When a member of the Kennedy family passes, it's like family. It feels like family," said Jeanne Pagano, 54, who was on the sidewalk outside the church. "I really loved the man and the family. I loved them."

After leaving the church, the motorcade travelled across the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway created by the Big Dig highway project, which Kennedy helped shepherd through the Senate. The park occupies the same stretch of land once dominated by an elevated expressway named after John F. "Honey Fitz" Fitzgerald, Rose's father and a patriarch of the Kennedy-Fitzgerald clan.

Kennedy's motorcade then paused at Faneuil Hall, where the historic bell rang 47 times - once for each of Kennedy's years in the Senate.

From there the motorcade passed the Massachusetts Statehouse with its life-size statue of John F. Kennedy, which was accessible to tourists Thursday for the first time since just after the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks.

There, too, onlookers watched silently, waiting for the motorcade to turn and pass 122 Bowdoin Street, where Kennedy opened his first office as an assistant district attorney and where John Kennedy lived while running for Congress in 1946.

After passing by the John F. Kennedy Federal Building in the city's Government Center complex, the motorcade headed to the library, where Kennedy's body will remain until his Saturday funeral. Just before arriving at the museum, the motorcade passed the JFK stop on the city's subway system.

The family planned an invitation-only private memorial service for Friday evening at the library.

All the living presidents were expected to attend the funeral Mass on Saturday at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Basilica - commonly known as the Mission Church - in Boston's working-class Mission Hill neighbourhood. President Barack Obama is scheduled to deliver the eulogy.

Shortly before the Mass, 44 sitting senators and 10 former senators will be among a group of about 100 dignitaries who will pay their respects to Kennedy at the library before making their way to the church.

Included in the group is former Sen. Birch Bayh of Indiana, who pulled Kennedy from the wreckage of a small plane that crashed near Springfield, Massachusetts, in June 1964. The pilot and a legislative aide were killed, and Kennedy suffered a broken back that caused him pain the rest of his life.

"The Impossible Dream," Kennedy's favourite song, from the musical "Man of La Mancha," will be played at one of the services, according to the person familiar with the arrangements.

The city may soon have one more Kennedy landmark. Planning is already under way for a building to house a new Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the Senate.

Kennedy will be buried Saturday evening near his assassinated brothers - former President Kennedy and former Sen. Robert F. Kennedy - at Arlington National Cemetery in northern Virginia.


Associated Press writers Ray Henry in Hyannis Port and Denise Lavoie, Jeannie Nuss and Russell Contreras in Boston contributed to this report.

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