Vicki Kennedy: Family 'Deeply Grateful for This Outpouring of Love'

Kennedy family extended viewing hours as more than 20,000 came to pay respect.

August 28, 2009, 6:55 AM

Aug. 28, 2009— -- The doors opened earlier than planned this morning at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston, and again, the crowds streamed in.

On Friday, as of 1:00 p.m., more than 8,000 people from around the world were in line, and the Boston Police Department calculated that roughly 50,000 people had come to pay their respects over the past two days, the organizers said. On Thursday night, more than 25,000 people came to pay their last respects to Ted Kennedy, the senator who led a storied 46-year career in Congress.

Because of the large crowds, the Kennedy family decided to keep the library open late into the night, until almost 2 a.m., and they extended viewing hours for today. Some people waited two, sometimes three hours to say a personal goodbye.

The library will remain open from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. today, and at 7 p.m., there will be a private memorial service -- a "Celebration of Life" -- at the library. The event is expected to be filled with music and stories and will feature remarks from Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., Joseph P. Kennedy and Caroline Kennedy.

The mourners Thursday were silent as they slowly walked past the flag-draped closed casket. Many were greeted personally by Sen. Kennedy's son Patrick and his daughter Kara. Mourners called it a moment they would never forget.

The late senator's widow, Victoria Reggie Kennedy, planned to come to the library again Friday, after spending almost an hour Thursday night personally greeting people in line.

"Just our whole family is deeply grateful for this outpouring of love," Kennedy told ABC News. "That is why I wanted to come out here and thank as many people as I could."

For the Kennedy family, the outpouring of love and sharing of grief has been a source of comfort. Robert F. Kennedy Jr., told ABC News that his uncle "would have loved this."

"There would have been nobody as moved as Teddy," he said. "One of the blessings of his terminal illness -- he got to take a kind of victory lap. He spent so many years taking hits for his beliefs. It was a kind of revelation to see this outpouring."

ABC News will provide live coverage of Saturday's funeral beginning at 10:30 a.m. ET.

The people who poured into the library came from all backgrounds -- an emergency room doctor, a delivery driver, business owners, a meat cutter -- to mourn the youngest Kennedy brother, who died Tuesday night.

"I deeply appreciated his accomplishments and out of respect for him and his family, I wanted to be here today," Andrew Vaughn said.

Others said they wanted to witness a monumental event.

"This is history," said Joanne Trovato, a resident of Revere, Mass.

Sisters Ceci and Jeanne came together. Ceci's eyes were wet with tears before she'd even entered the building.

She said she may never have met Kennedy but it still felt like she lost a family member.

"Crazy, but it's true," she told ABC News.

Visit ABC News' special section on Sen. Ted Kennedy.

Kennedy's Final Journey

Kennedy's casket was transported from the family compound in Hyannis Port, Mass., in a slow-moving motorcade. During the three-hour procession, hundreds of mourners lined the streets and crowded highway overpasses. Boston residents applauded as the cortege wound its way through the center of the city.

A military honor guard carried the senator's body into the library.

All night long, a small group of friends and family -- a civilian honor guard -- kept vigil in the room, in keeping with the Kennedy family tradition. They took turns on duty so the casket was never alone.

Watch ABC News' Special: "Remembering Ted Kennedy."

The funeral mass will be held Saturday at a Catholic church in Boston, at which President Obama will present a eulogy to the man he has called his "colleague, counselor and friend." Former presidents Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush are all expected to attend. The only living president who won't be attending is George H.W. Bush.

The body will then be transported to Washington, D.C., and buried in Arlington Cemetery, next to Kennedy's brothers, President John F. Kennedy and Sen. Robert F. Kennedy.

Kennedy's legacy is being remembered by both the young and the old. After visiting the casket, mourners lined up to sign leather-bound condolence books, which will eventually be given to the Kennedy family so they can read the entries.

Keith Gross, 23, who works for the city of Boston, was one of the many to line up and sign the condolence book. He said he admired the late senator's heart "and his courage and I am going to do everything in my career and my actions to emulate that."

Nine year old Eli Adler stood on tiptoes to write his message. "Thank you for all you did for the country," he wrote.

ABC News' Huma Khan contributed to this report.

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