On the evening of July 18, an evening cookout was being sponsored by Senator Kennedy in a rented, two-bedroom cottage on Chappaquiddick, a sparsely inhabited island five miles long and three miles wide (see map).
The gathering included five married men, all friends of the senator, and six young single women, all of whom had worked on the presidential campaign of Robert F. Kennedy the year before.
Wives of the men had been invited but, supposedly at the last minute and for various reasons, were unable to attend this reunion of political workers.
For years, the Kennedy family had sailed in the annual week-long regatta sponsored by the yatch club in Edgartown, the largest town on Martha's Vineyard. After arriving at the airport in the afternoon of July 18, the senator was drive by his 63-year-old chauffeur to the two-car ferry that connects Edgartown and Chappaquiddick across a 500-foot harbor channel.
Three miles down the only asphalt road on Chappaquiddick, the black sedan came to the cottage which had been rented by Mr. Kennedy's cousin, Joseph F. Gargan.
The building is unimposing and close to the road. The senator changed into swimming trunks and then was driven back down the macadamized road one-half mile , taking a right turn onto unpaved duke Road rather than a left to the ferry.This dirt road leads over Dyke Bridge to a beach on the east side of the island.
There, Senator Kennedy went for an ocean dip and there, nine hours later, he was to have his accident.
The five female guests for that evening -- Rosemary Keough, Esther Newberg, Nance and Maryellen Lyons, Susan Tannenbaum, and Mary Jo Kopechne -- had also gone to the same beach for a swim that afternoon. They had earlier checked into the Katama Shores Motor Inn in Edgartown.
After a short swim, Mr. Kennedy was driven back to the cottage where he changed into a new set of trunks. He and his chauffeur again traveled past the turn to Dyke Bridge and down the main road to the ferry slip, where he waded out to his anchored yacth for an afternoon of regatta racing.
He returned to Edgartown about 6 p.m. and checked into his room at the Shiretown Inn. He then was chauffeured across the ferry to the cottage where he took a bath to soak his bad back (from a 1962 airplane crash) before the guests arrived for the party.
In all, the senator was driven over Chappaquiddick's main road three times and over the road to Dyke Bridge twice that day.
Mr. Kennedy testified later that he had never been on Chappaquiddick before July 18, 1969, one reason given for his mistaken sense of direction later in the evening. In a 1974 Boston Globe interview, he qualified that testimony by saying he may have come off his yacht in years past to use some restrooms on the island.
The party began later than expected, about 8:30 p.m., and included reminiscing of campaign days, dancing, singing, and a steak dinner.
The male guests included Kennedy's cousin Joseph Gargan; Paul Markham, a former US attorney and longtime Kennedy friend; Charles Tretter, a Boston lawyer; Raymond LaRosa, a Massachusetts civil defense official; and chauffeur Crimmins.
Most of the guests later testified that they had no more than two drinks during the party, and that Mary Jo Kopechne was not a heavy drinker. Their testimony recounts only 16 drinks for 11 guests during a party that extended to about 1:30 a.m. Senator Kennedy says he drank only two rum-and-Cokes during the evening and that he was "absolutely sober" when he left.
Mr. Crimmins testified he purchased three half-gallons of vodka, four fifths of scotch, two bottles of rum, and a couple cases of canned beer. He brought back two full bottles of vodka, three bottles of scotch, and the beer. The chauffeur says he consumed one bottle of rum before the party.
A Massachusetts police chemist who examined blood from Miss Kopechne's blouse after the accident found the alcohol content "would be consistent with about 3.7 to 5 ounces, 80 to 90 proof liquor within one hour prior to death," or equal to about five to six ounces of whiskies. If true, that high amount of liquor would conflict with her friends' account of how much she consumed at the party.
At 11:15 p.m., chauffeur Crimmins began saying everyone should leave to catch the last ferry before it closed at midnight. Mr. Gargan responded by saying that he had arranged to get a special ferry ride.
Senator Kennedy then called Mr. Crimmins out of the cottage to the front lawn. With others about, he said that he wanted to leave because he was tired and wanted to go back to the inn to sleep. He said that Miss Kopechne, with whom he had just been talking, was not feeling well from all the sun that day and wanted to go back, too.
The senator asked his chauffeur, who had planned to spend the night along with Mr. Markham at the cottage, for the keys to the Oldsmobile. "It was his automobile and I didn't question him," Mr. Crimmins later testified.
Senator Kennedy did not say goodbye toanyone because, he says, he did not want his leaving to break up the party.
Mary Jo told none of her close friends that she was leaving or that she was not feeling well. She walked out the door without her motel key and purse.
One friend, Esther Newberg, watched her leave. "We had no reason to be unduly alarmed. We were friends. We knew that if we had to stay that night at the island, nothing was going to happen. We had all worked together, most of us anyways."
That left five women and five men with one car -- a rented white Valiant -- at the cottage. There were four single beds and a sofa for the 10 remaining guests who were to end up spending the night there.
Edward Kennedy and Mary Jor Kopechne, meanwhile, had left in the black sedan.