John Tlumacki/Globe Staff
Thousands of people lined up this evening to pay their respects to the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy at a public viewing at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston.
"I couldn't be home today," she said.
Members of the Kennedy family, including the senator's widow, Victoria Reggie Kennedy; his sister-in-law, Ethel Kennedy; and Kennedy's nephew, Joseph P. Kennedy II, stood in a receiving line to thank people for coming.
In a touching show of appreciation, Victoria Kennedy later also emerged from the museum to thank people in the long line snaking outside the door. Niece Caroline Kennedy and nephew Robert F. Kennedy Jr. also greeted people outside.
Five members of a military honor guard stood watch over Kennedy's flag-draped casket in the Stephen E. Smith Center, a room with a view of the city skyline across Boston Harbor, as people filed past.
Police estimated that the line to get in was 12,000 to 15,000 people long at 9 p.m. and the Kennedy family said it would keep the viewing open all night, if necessary, to accommodate anyone who wanted to attend.
The wake capped an emotional day in which church bells rang and thousands of people lined the streets of Boston to wave, applaud, and sometimes weep, as Kennedy's hearse rolled slowly past.
The Kennedy library was the final destination today for the procession, which began at the Kennedy compound on Cape Cod, where Kennedy died late Tuesday night at the age of 77. Kennedy is being remembered as a man who, despite some flaws, campaigned tirelessly for liberal causes during nearly 50 years representing Massachusetts in the Senate.
The third person in line at the presidential library, Mary Ann Camp, 71, of Rockport, who had been there since 9:30 a.m., said, “I didn’t want to miss it.”
“The hole cannot be filled. It’s just an unending well of loss," she said. “Health care, children, seniors -- what area did he not touch? He touched America."
Kennedy is scheduled to lie in repose tonight at the library from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. as well as 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Friday. Both events are open to the public. A private memorial service is slated for 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Friday, with speakers including Vice President Joe Biden.
On Saturday, a private funeral Mass will be said at a Mission Hill basilica and Kennedy will be buried later the same day in Arlington National Cemetery, where he will be buried next to his brothers, John F. and Robert F. Kennedy.
John Tlumacki/Globe Staff
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