It began, in the ominous stillness of mid afternoon, with a ball floating on a lake. It had ended up there after a game of kickball, a moment's amusement in the long hours of isolation. The sight of it bobbing on the horizon perhaps represented something of a challenge.
Maeve Kennedy McKean, granddaughter of Robert F Kennedy, and her eight-year-old son, Gideon, who had been isolating with their family, decided to try to rescue it. In high spirits they got into Maeve's canoe and began paddling out into the small cove. Surveying the calm, clear afternoon nobody could have suspected that any real risk was being taken. The problem was that Chesapeake Bay, in Maryland, has unusual features. An American meteorologist would later say that it is an "odd combination between a lake and a part of the ocean" and its strange, chameleon-like character would prove fateful.
"Somehow," Maeve's husband David later wrote, his wife of 11 years and their eldest son "got pushed by wind or tide into the open bay." Fatefully they were alone as this happened, nobody was watching from the shore. About 30 minutes after they went into the water, a man on a pier, just south of where Maeve and Gideon first set out, spotted them and grew concerned. Their boat was very small, and neither was wearing a life jacket. The man called 911.
It was by then 4.30pm and the wind had whipped up. Emergency services were on the scene in minutes and they could just make out the canoe bobbing on the horizon. It would be the last time that mother and son were seen alive.
Authorities quickly began searching until darkness made it too difficult to continue, but they found only the capsized canoe and paddle. The following evening a distraught David posted on his Facebook account.
"The chances they have survived are impossibly small," he wrote, adding, "the search for their recovery will continue, and I hope that that will be successful." He asked loved ones to share their own stories and photos of Maeve and Gideon - to keep their memories alive. "I have already thought many times over today that I need to remember to tell Maeve about something that's happening," he wrote. "I am terrified by the idea that this will fade over time."
On April 3, just a day after Maeve and Gideon went missing, authorities in Maryland announced that they were presumed dead - many were startled by the swiftness of this conclusion but it proved to be grimly accurate. On April 6 divers found Maeve's body in 7.6 metres of water, just a couple of kilometres from her mother's house. Two days later divers found Gideon's body less than 0.8 of a kilometre from where his mother had been found.
The family were heartbroken and the restrictions of social isolation meant that mourning was complicated. Cousin Tim Shriver, a nephew of former President John F Kennedy, said that because of the distancing required during the coronavirus pandemic that there was no planned in-person memorial. In lieu of that, the family gathered remotely by video, to pray.
The death of Maeve and Gideon came just months after the family buried Saoirse Kennedy Hill, the 22-year-old granddaughter of RFK who died of an accidental drug overdose at the Kennedy compound last August. Saoirse was the only daughter of Robert and Ethel Kennedy's fifth child, Courtney, and Paul Hill, who was one of the Guilford Four. The Guilford Four were falsely convicted of the 1974 bombing of two pubs in England.
According to her death certificate, the cause of death was a mixture of prescription drugs, methadone and alcohol. Saoirse had publicly discussed her battle with depression, in 2016 penning an essay for her college newspaper about an attempt to take her own life and taking a year break due to her difficulties with her mental health. "My sense of well-being was already compromised, and I totally lost it after someone I knew and loved broke serious sexual boundaries with me," she wrote.
"I did the worst thing a victim can do, and I pretended it hadn't happened. This all became too much, and I attempted to take my own life." She revealed that as a child she suffered "bouts of deep sadness that felt like a heavy boulder on my chest".
She died at the family compound in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts, while her grandmother Ethel Kennedy, the widow of RFK, was in residence. Ethel, perhaps more than anyone has suffered from the misfortune which has seemingly always beset the Kennedys. She lost her parents and a brother in plane crashes; was pregnant with her 11th child when her husband was murdered; lost two sons, one to a drug overdose and another in a skiing accident; said goodbye to a granddaughter last summer and now, with Maeve and Gideon's deaths, has lost another granddaughter as well as a great-grandson.
These recent tragedies were the latest instalment in a sprawling tapestry of misfortune to dog the Kennedy clan. John F Kennedy's assassination in 1963 was, of course, the defining tragedy of the family, and of the Irish America that worshipped him.
Jackie O's clothes, the envy of a nation of women, were spattered with her husband's blood, but her outward calm in the months that followed helped America, and the world, to process its grief. By the following year, however, the notion of a Kennedy curse was beginning to take hold. In 1964 Ted Kennedy survived a plane crash that killed one of his aides as well as the pilot.
The senator was pulled from the wreckage and later Bobby Kennedy - Ted's brother - remarked to aide Ed Guthman: "Somebody up there doesn't like us", a comment that was widely reported.
The 'curse' grew further legs five years later when the late US senator Ted Kennedy, Maeve McKean's great uncle, drove his car off a bridge on Martha's Vineyard, killing passenger Mary Jo Kopechne along with Ted's hope for a presidential run. It was in the aftermath of that accident that Ted himself suggested his family's tragedies - which started with the 1944 death of his oldest brother, Joe, during World War II - were a result of some cosmic injustice.
Although some saw the suggestion as a way for Ted to absolve himself of responsibility for Kopechne's death (he had, in fact, been drinking the night of the accident), it was hard to dispute the family had, even then, already suffered an unusual number of losses for one group of people, including the 1968 assassination of Ted's brother, Robert, and, of course, that of his other brother, President John F Kennedy, in 1963.
While the notion of a curse occasionally came in handy - as in the case of Ted - it also meant that the world's press bore down on the family every time one of them overdosed, got in trouble with the law, or became involved in an accident.
"I've come to believe that it's not what has happened to our family that has been cursed as much as it's the fact that we've never been able to deal with it privately," Eunice Kennedy Shriver, once said.
"There's little dignity found in living your life in so public a fashion, and that's especially true of our children. However, this burden is one we Kennedys have carried for generations. If there's a curse, surely it's that."
If the fervent public interest and the familial bad luck seemed to go hand in hand the evolution of the 'curse' also coincided with the declining influence of the Kennedys on American political life. As Catholics migrated to the Republican Party throughout the 1970s and 1980s, the Kennedys were relegated to being part-celebrity, part-royal family. The tragedies fed into the lore and in a strange way helped America connect, if not politically, then certainly emotionally with the storied Irish American dynasty. The waning of the family's political primacy, their dogged bad luck and their enduring celebrity seemed inextricably connected in a country yearning for its own version of an aristocracy: cultured, philanthropic and removed from the rough and tumble of elections.
Maeve Kennedy McKean herself had spurned a career in front-line politics, and had instead taken up a position as a human rights lawyer under the Obama administration. Like many of the younger Kennedys she had exhibited a certain discomfort with the behaviour of the older generation: last year she spoke out against her uncle, Robert Kennedy Jr, and his non-profit health organisation, Children's Health Defense, for spreading false information about vaccines.
In the late 1990s, many saw the modern face of the curse, as well as the embodiment of the family's crumbling legacy, in the chiselled form of John F Kennedy Jr. On a hazy Friday evening in July 1999, John took off in his small private plane from New Jersey, with his wife Carolyn, and her sister Lauren Bessette, as his passengers. Before they reached their destination on Martha's Vineyard, the plane crashed, killing them all. By then, two years after the death of Princess Diana, the world was addicted to royal tragedy and, as with Diana, JFK Junior's death burnished his lore. In life he was a man about town, who traded on his celebrity, and something of an academic disappointment - he failed the New York bar exam several times. In death he became the torch bearer that never was. Uncle Ted even said he could have become a contender for the presidency.
The word curse implies passive bad luck, but it didn't encompass the many incidents which were said to be a consequence of the entitlement and hard living that also ran as a seam through the family.
JFK Jr had vastly overestimated his own abilities as a pilot. His uncle Ted and his father seemed constantly to flirt with scandal. Their nephew William Kennedy Smith shared some of these traits and his story was as dark a moment for the family as any of the dreadful deaths. His 1991 rape trial ignited a kind of forerunner to the MeToo movement in the US: a kind of national debate about the treatment of women. His defence counsel ferociously cross examined his accuser, Patricia Bowman, and made her sexual history as well as her presence in a bar at 3am a part of the trial. The case was dubbed the Trial of the Century and so riveted the country that the news of his acquittal was even flashed on the message screen at Hollywood Park racetrack.
The last decade has seen the pattern of the previous years accentuated: a slow setting of the sun of Camelot - as the Kennedy court was once described - a rise of trust fund babes and wannabe actors within the family, and the enduring fascination with the tribulations of the more vulnerable scions of the dynasty. By 2010 there was not a single Kennedy on the ballot of the mid-term elections - the first time that had happened since 1944. The previous year voters in New York, always a weather vane of liberal America, had rejected Caroline Kennedy when she put her name forward for the senate, but even as Caroline's bid ran aground over 600,000 people queued to see a retrospective of her mother Jackie O's clothes at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. When Kara Kennedy, daughter of Ted, and a niece of JFK, died of a heart attack while exercising at a health club in 2011, the story was reported around the world as the latest installation of the curse. Mary Kennedy, wife of Robert Kennedy Jr, would die the following year by suicide. She had reportedly struggled with alcoholism and substance abuse. A court ordered that full temporary custody of her children be granted to her estranged husband, who had himself struggled with addiction issues. In 1983 he was arrested for carrying heroin on to a plane.
The occasional death or a brush with the law would not be so unusual in a large family but the Kennedys do seem to have dealt with more than their share of heartbreak. Mary and Kara's deaths, as well as those of Saoirse and Maeve, mark a decade of mourning for a family well practised in it. And yet, like the British royal family, they have, in their pain, formed a deeper bond than ever with the public. The Kennedy heyday, in the 1960s, came at a moment when the world seemed to be in its adolescence. Their latter day tragedies seem a parallel to the disappointments and identity crises of middle age. We can pity them, admire them, but we cannot look away.
Patrick Shriver Schwarzenegger (26)
Branch of the Family Tree: Son of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver, grandson of Eunice Kennedy Shriver
* Patrick is the latest in a long line of Kennedy dreamboats and has signed for IMG models. He's also an actor: His first leading role was opposite Bella Thorne in 2018's Midnight Sun a romantic drama about a teen girl with a rare medical condition.
Joe Kennedy III (39)
Branch of the Family Tree: Son of Joseph P Kennedy II, grandson of Robert F Kennedy
* Joe is a congressman who was elected in 2012 after graduating from Harvard's law school in 2009. He has since been re-elected to the US House of representatives two more times. In 2018, at just 37, he was the youngest person to ever deliver the Democratic response to a Republican State of the Union.
Kyra Kennedy (24)
Branch of the Family Tree: Daughter of Robert F Kennedy Jr, and his second wife, the late Mary Richardson, granddaughter of Robert Kennedy
* Kyra made her modelling debut in 2016 when she walked the runway during New York Fashion Week. In 2017 she was embroiled in a cyber bullying scandal and part of a Rich Kids Of Instagram group that included privileged teens like Tiffany Trump and Gaia Matisse.
Sunday Indo Living