A roundup of Ted Kennedy questions.

Answers to your questions about the news.
Aug. 26 2009 6:47 PM

Ted Kennedy, RIP

Are the Kennedys still rich? Does anyone still talk like Teddy?

Also in Slate, Timothy Noah eulogizes Ted as the Kennedy who most changed America.

Sen. Ted Kennedy. Click image to expand.
The late Edward M. Kennedy

Sen. Edward Kennedy died Wednesday morning at age 77 after spending months battling a brain tumor. Friends, colleagues, and President Obama himself issued statements expressing condolences and celebrating his life. Forthwith, a roundup of questions, and answers, related to the senator's life and death.

Aides to Sen. Kennedy announced that he will lie "in repose" at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston—not "in state" at the Capitol Rotunda, as JFK did. Who makes the call on the rotunda ceremony?

The congressional leadership. The president can request the ceremony, but the speaker of the House and the Senate majority leader have final authority over who lies on display after a state funeral in Washington. Only about 30 people have ever lain in state at the rotunda, starting with Henry Clay in 1852. Abraham Lincoln was the first president to receive this honor, and Gerald Ford the last. Nonpresidents who lie in repose tend to be people who rose to high positions of authority, like J. Edgar Hoover and Gen. Douglas MacArthur. (See here for the difference between lying "in state" and "in repose.") Others are granted permission to lie in repose out of respect for exceptional acts, like Rosa Parks for her role in the civil rights movement and two Capitol police officers who died protecting Congress. (See the whole list here.)


What about lowering the flag to half-staff? Who decides that?

The president. Federal law gives the president authority to order flags flown at half-staff for 30 days after a former president dies; for 10 days after a vice president or chief justice or House speaker dies; or on the day and the day after a member of Congress dies. President Obama therefore issued an order Wednesday that flags at the White House, at public buildings, on naval vessels, and at U.S. embassies around the world be flown at half-staff through Aug. 30.

Obituaries note that Ted Kennedy was awarded an honorary degree from Harvard in 2008. Does an honorary degree come with a title?

Yes. Honorary degrees are typically doctorates awarded in the recipient's area of specialization or a closely related one. (Sometimes they're master's degrees.) For example, Harvard Law School awarded Kennedy an honorary J.D. Recipients are free to call themselves "doctor." Benjamin Franklin, after receiving honorary doctorates from the universities of St. Andrews and Oxford, referred to himself as "Doctor Franklin." Billy Graham, who holds 20 honorary doctorates, often goes by "Dr. Graham." Others do so jokingly, like Hunter S. Thompson after being awarded an honorary doctorate from the Universal Life Church. If a recipient needs to list his degrees after his name, an honorary doctorate is usually written as "Hon." with the degree type, such as "Edward Kennedy, Hon. J.D."

Does anyone still talk like Ted Kennedy?

Not really. Even during his lifetime, Kennedy's accent was a dialect unto itself. It combined elements of Boston Brahmin speech—the long "ahh" in the words can't and bath—and tics associated with a working-class Boston accent, such as dropping the R's at the end of words. But even these habits were unpredictable. Sometimes he'd say "dollar," other times "dollah"—a phenomenon known in linguistics as a "floating R." Ted Kennedy's accent didn't even match those of his brothers. John F. Kennedy's speech was more refined and consistent. At the same time, Jack was famous for using the "intrusive R," pronouncing the word idea as "idear." Teddy Kennedy's particular manner of speaking may have resulted from his uprooted youth, which he spent moving among Brookline, Hyannis Port, Bronxville, Palm Beach, and London.

Are the Kennedys still rich?

Yes—if you consider having tens of millions of dollars being rich. Ted Kennedy's father, Joseph P. Kennedy, was a savvy investor his whole life. Income from the various trust funds, real estate investments, and oil and gas leases he set up from the 1920s through the 1940s still yield income. He made most of his money, however, by purchasing retail giant Merchandise Mart in Chicago in 1945 for $12.5 million. Since then, it's raked in hundreds of millions in revenue for the family. In 1998, the Kennedy clan decided to sell Merchandise Mart and other real estate properties for a total of $625 million and split the money. Different family members received different amounts. For example, Ted Kennedy received about $75 million, while members of the next generation, such as Caroline Schlossberg and John F. Kennedy Jr., received about $38 million each, according to one report.

Tax returns have yielded some insight into family funds as well. In the 1980s, Ted Kennedy's income was shown to be about $500,000 a year. In 2007, his net worth was estimated to be as high as $163 million, based on campaign records. Caroline Kennedy managed to avoid filling out financial disclosure forms when she was employed by the New York City Department of Education—and dropped out of the New York Senate race before she had to—but estimates of her wealth range from $100 million to $400 million.

Got a question about today's news? Ask the Explainer.

Explainer thanks Joel Goldes of the Dialect Coach, Paul Meier of Paul Meier Dialect Services, Jackie O'Neill of Harvard University, and Don Ritchie of the Senate Historical Office.

Christopher Beam is a writer living in Beijing.


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