NEWBURYPORT >> Automobiles from the 1960s lined several thoroughfares in Newburyport, and modern-day cars were slowed on Green and High streets as scenes from the upcoming "Chappaquiddick" were filmed here.
Filming took place in the city on Sept. 14.
The production, with scores of laborers, cameramen, assistants, assistants to assistants and low-key security personnel, drew its share of onlookers.
Les Childs, 73, a retired Amesbury teacher and coach, was among observers at the filming on Green Street who recalled the accident that claimed the life of Mary Jo Kopechne and derailed Sen. Ted Kennedy's national political ambitions.
"I remember the news reports, but the information came out slowly," he said. "At first, it was difficult to understand what happened, and then for days, legal events did not make it clearer.
"It had a huge effect on Sen. Kennedy, of course, but it's not something that I often think of now."
Kennedy drove a car off Dyke Bridge on Chappaquiddick Island on Martha's Vineyard after a party on July 18, 1969. When the vehicle submerged, Kennedy made it out, but Kopechne, 28, was trapped inside and drowned or suffocated.
The film will follow the events before and after the late-night accident.
After swimming to safety, Kennedy, then a 37-year-old U.S. senator, did not report the crash to police for about nine hours. He pleaded guilty seven days later to a charge of leaving the scene of the crash after causing injury, and he received a suspended sentence.
Family patriarch Joseph Kennedy, who had suffered a stroke in 1961, had called in advisers, including influential Democrats Robert McNamara, Ted Sorenson and Sargent Shriver, for damage control following the accident, according to reports about the film.
The ensuing scandal prevented Kennedy from launching a campaign for president until 1980. When he vied for the Democratic nomination against President Jimmy Carter, he was often heckled about his actions after the accident.
Australian actor Jason Clarke is scheduled to portray Ted Kennedy, and veteran Bruce Dern is slated to play the father, Joseph Kennedy, according to news reports.
Clarke's last major motion picture credit was "Zero Dark Thirty."
Clarke recently appeared to be on the set wearing a neck brace, as Kennedy did immediately after the accident.
Scenes were filmed in front of locales that included 41 Green St. and 187 High St.
On Sept. 14, cameras appeared to be on location to film in front of City Hall.
Newburyport was chosen for some scenes because of its Federalist architecture, which is also found on Martha's Vineyard.
Several bystanders who lived during that era said that the degree of Kennedy's guilt in the death of Kopechne has often been an issue that people discuss.
"There has always been the feeling that there was something more Kennedy could have done to help the woman," said Jim Gould, a retired high-tech executive who lives in Newburyport. He was about 16 at the time. He said that there might have been an air pocket in the car that could have enabled her to live until help arrived.
Gould added, "But there were a lot of powerful Democrats on the scene, and many questions weren't answered."
Steve Clinard, a retired publishing manager who lives in Newburyport, said, "We lived in Wisconsin at the time, and my parents were big Democrats. They were very upset, but for weeks they didn't know exactly what had happened.
"The incident followed him his whole career, and cost him the presidency. But in later years he was a good senator for Massachusetts, and helped a lot of people."
Bruce Hamilton, 70, of West Newbury, said, "I remember the news. It was hard to determine what happened. Kennedy might have had post-traumatic stress— that happens in accidents, as well as wars.
"Even today, it's not clear exactly what took place."
Filming is scheduled to end this month, municipal officials say. No release date has been announced.