The Kennedy family has been inextricably linked with this seaside town since Joseph P. Kennedy first bought a home here in 1929, three years before his youngest son was born. Ted Kennedy used to describe the big Dutch colonial house as a scrapbook. It did not house any art, but instead was adorned with hundreds and hundreds of photographs.
It wasn't unusual to see Ted Kennedy walking down the dock at the Hyannis Port Yacht Club with his Portuguese water dogs Sunny and Splash by his side on the way to sail his beloved 50-foot wooden schooner, Mya. The senator and members of his extended family could often be spotted on Main Street in Hyannis, eating ice cream at Four Seas in nearby Centerville or attending Sunday Mass at Our Lady of Victory Church.
Howard Penn, a close friend of the senator, described first meeting the "Kennedy boys" Jack, Bob and Ted in the 1950s, when they walked into his family's clothing shop, Puritan of Cape Cod, on Main Street.
"They were full of life, all of them," said Penn, whose friendship with Ted grew over the years. "He used to like to drive and he had an old, blue, convertible, a Pontiac I think, and he would jump in it and drive off to church."
Penn has no doubt that even though the senator spent much of his time in Washington, his heart was in Hyannis Port.
"Most definitely they were Cape people. They loved Cape Cod," said Penn.
And just as the Kennedy family loved Cape Cod, Cape Codders loved them back. Deborah Converse lives in Hyannis and runs the John F. Kennedy Hyannis Museum in Hyannis.
"They're our neighbors, and we respect their privacy. Teddy used to be out and about a lot before he got sick. You don't rush up to them, but we treasure them just the same," she said.
Kennedy in particular was beloved by the locals, according to Converse. "He would always donate his paintings to nonprofit groups here. He had student scholars that he would bring in to the museum every year. He was always very thoughtful, especially to any staff member. He would do anything you asked of him. He was just a really good guy," said Converse.
More than 50,000 visitors every year stream through the doors of the museum and most stop and stare at the large black-and-white photographs of the family at the six-acre Kennedy compound in Hyannis Port. The "compound" includes several adjacent houses owned by members of the Kennedy clan.
Converse said the photographs are fascinating to people for a very simple reason "The house is right on the water and absolutely beautiful. The images show the family on the beach and playing flag football. I always thought wouldn't it be wonderful to have a summer like that. It's kind of dreamy."
Seeking to share that dream, it seems, is what motivates so many people to come to Hyannis every summer. Visitors started coming in droves in the early 1960s when John F. Kennedy was president. And they've continued coming with each new Kennedy celebration or tragedy, curious to catch a glimpse or share in the experience of this political dynasty.