Thursday, December 8, 2011

The World Mourns

Fans expressing their loss in 1980.

Before Strawberry Fields and the Imagine Mosaic was placed in Central Park, fans would gather outside of the Dakota on December 8, as seen here in 1983.

Fan gather together in 2000.

In 2008, Yoko joined the fans at Strawberry Fields and placed flowers on the mosaic.

You know, I am terrible at this. I am not some great writer. I am someone who teaches reading to 1st graders and has a blog where I put up Beatles photos. How can I express my feelings about the death of John Lennon? Every time I have tried in the past, it has been pointless. All I can say is that I love John Lennon. I think he was a beautiful person who had many awful flaws. He wasn't a saint, but I still love him. His death was an awful shock and tragedy and it never should have happened. It sickens me that I live in a a world...where someone can travel from the opposite end of the country to their destination with the purpose of murdering someone and carry it out without a hitch. Or where someone can break into someone's home and attack them violently while they are asleep. This blog is about Beatle fans, and let me tell you. The "men" who did those acts on John and George were not Beatle fans....they were monsters.

I have purchased several fan magazines in the past few months that were published right after John's death. The pure rawness and sadness of the fan's letters are enough to make you bawl. And I have. I have mourned with them 31 years after the fact. Here is an article Dianne Carroll wrote in the Jan/Feb 1981 issue of "The Write Thing" about mourning John in December 1980 in New York City.

December 9, 1980: All the record stores had nothing else in the window except "Double Fantasy" and a news clip of his death, plus a picture from the White Album in a frame. It was very touching. I found myself taking the subway to ST. Patrick's Cathedral. There I lit two candles -- one for John, and the other for his family and friends -- and said a prayer. I left there and found myself walking toward the Dakota, passing the Plaza and thinking of February 1964 and all the love and joy the '60's brought to a generation. When I had spoken to my mother the night before, she said she had been very devastated and had wished I was with her so we could "go hysterical" together. I loved her for that.

When I got to the Dakota, I suddenly felt more at peace, less shocked. There were hundreds of people around. I got there about 11:30a.m., shortly after Ringo's arrival. Poor Ringo. He almost got trampled. Everyone wanted to touch him. The papers showed him looking really shaken. He had just had Thanksgiving dinner with John several weeks before. He felt over immediately, as did Julian. How sad for both Sean and Julian. When John was about Julian's age, he had just started to enjoy his mother again when she was taken away. Now it's happening to Julian. How tragic. I hope they have the strength to enjoy life and carry on in their ideals through John's spirit.

At the Dakota, I met many people -- all ages, races. All showing grief, singing to Beatles music, and all glad to be at the Dakota rather than somewhere else. The gates were covered with flowers and more and more were coming. Many were there for hours. Others just got out of cabs and cars and buses to pay respect, leave flowers, and go on. there were many camera people there, asking people their thoughts and feelings at that moment. I saw a girl in back of me start to cry and offered her a tissue. She accepted it and then I asked her if she needed a shoulder to cry on. She nodded and we both cried together.

I finally said to no one in particular I have to get some flowers, so I went down the block to the florist. He was almost sold out of flowers. Everyone had been in there throughout the day and night. I asked for a red rose - just one. He wrapped it and the guy I went with got carnations. We were about to place them by the gate when I found a microphone in my face. The man asked me why I had the flowers in my hand. I was feeling shaky so I asked him to wait a second so I could get myself together. Then I told him I was an original fan form 1964. I had been to their last Shea Stadium concert and that John Lennon was the most special person in my life. He gave so much of himself to me and helped me to be strong, honest and aware of myself; to be real. I told him I knew John better than anyone in my family in a very special way. He thanked me, and then I went over to the gate and gently placed the rose by his pictures. The gate was so beautiful and it moved to tears again. I walked away and went back to the crowd. From the moment it happened, all the people form the radio stations just got out their beds and flooded together, like were doing at the Dakota. People had to be together. It was so unbearable to be alone.

As Sunday, December 14, finally came, once again I couldn't sleep the night before. I went to Central Park about 8:30 am. Some people were already there. It was a bitter cold day and we were all huddling around garbage pails, making bond fires. Many of us had our radios and the feeling for a good part of the morning was just singing and reminiscing. As 12:30 came around, people were starting to become quieter and more reflective. Men were checking the PA system which was set up by the band-shell and throughout the park. There was an easel in the center of the band-shell. First they put flowers on the stage and then came his picture -- John in his NYC t-shirt. It was gorgeous and the crowd was applauding, and very moved by it. During this time I Was standing next to a woman who was visiting friends in New York. She was from Finland and put off going back when she heard of John's death and vigil here. She said the last time she was here was in '76 for a Wings concert. Some celebrities showed up as private citizens, because there were no speeches. People like Jane Fonda, Tom Hayden, Mayor Koch, Sid Bernstein and Neil Sedaka to name a few.

It was getting near 1:00 and Ron Delsner spoke to us over the PA and asked us to kindly try to sit down. With close to 125,000 people jammed together, that was a bit difficult but we managed. I must say before I continue that everybody was kind, polite and there was little or no disturbances. Everyone was there to be together, to pray for a man's soul who had given so much love and peace to so many. We were there out of love and no one let their patience get out of hand. That, alone, is a profound assessment of John Lennon's "power."

At 1:30 they played selections of John's music -- Norwegian Wood, Hide your Love Away, In my Life, Julia, Watching the Wheels, All you need is love (the crowd was not just signing then, but standing and chanting hand-in-hand) and then Give Peace a Chance. Everyone chanted and waved peace signs. While singing the song, something extraordinary happened. Out of nowhere, flurries of snow started to fall.

Then Mr. Delsner came back on the PA and told us the 10 minutes of silence was about to begin. He suggested that we get comfortable, and then it happened. I lit my candle and held a girl's hand next to me. It was TOTAL SILENCE. All you could hear were the helicopters overhead, people crying softly, and cameras clicking.

All around us tears were flowing openly now. Then the vigil was over and Mr. Delsner told us we could leave but very few did. We all got into our separate circles. Someone began and we were all left just holding each other and rocking back and forth. Then some guy broke the circle, went to the picture and wept openly. Someone else left a candle, another a photograph, I left a candle, knelt by the picture and said a prayer. Someone else read a poem she had written. More candles, more tears. No one wanted to leave. Ron Delsmer came back on and said if anyone had any flowers, they were welcome to place them on the altar. I don't know if he realized he said "altar" but it hit me like a shock. the band-shell had been turned into an altar for John.

Finally we decided to leave and most of us headed for the Dakota. On the way I met a girl who had hung around the Hit Factory and had some gorgeous shots of John. Some profit mongers were selling pins. Also, there were petitions for gun control which everyone was signing. We finally got to the Dakota where thousands had spent their vigil and we were all singing and smiling once again. We sang Give Peace a Chance. And the snow started to fall again. The louder we sant, the stronger the flakes came down. We all looked at each other stunned. Then we saw a woman standing at the window on the 7th floor where Yoko and John lived. She was looking at the vast crowd. She stepped away a moment and came back with a small child adn held him up to the window.

There will never been anyone like John again. He was form a rare mold that is now obsolete. Thank you, God, for giving him to us. His spirit will live on forever.


  1. Sarah, Very touching account of your experience after what transpired on Dec 8 1980. I believe the picture of Yoko with the fans at Strawberry Fields is from 2005.

    I remember in September of 1980 reading a newspaper article on John's comeback after a five year break. My friends and I were estatic. For those who were around to be woken up and told of John's murder 31 years ago like myself, The shock is long gone but the manner in which he was taken from us at such a relatively young age during the height of his creative peak just returning to make music again will never make sense. I had purchased the single "Starting Over" which I couldn't listen to for months in the aftermath. Days before purchased "Double Fantasy" I listened to John's songs write away and thought "Woman" was beautiful resembling a Beatles song immensely but was most captivated by "Watching the Wheels". Many of us were so depressed and confused, Some skipped school and Tuesday was appropriately a heavy rainy day. The death of John Lennon left a very big void in this world. No other musical artist was as articulate in expressing themselves. His spirit lives on and while this is a sad day, The best way to try and cope with it is to play his records and always remember how upbeat and postive he was about the future.

    Thank you for sharing wonderful candid photos of the Fab Four and John Lennon in Particular.

    "All you still need is PEACE and LOVE"

  2. Sara, I just wanted to correct myself for mistaking the events in regards to mourning John's death in NYC after the tragedy of December 8, 1980 as being your own. Thanks for sharing the article written by Dianne Carroll published in 1981.

  3. Thanks for sharing this touching piece but also your own words. There is this bit in the new George docu, where George is talking about John.
    He says something to the effect of: "John was no saint ... and yet he was".

  4. thank you for posting this, sara, and for your beautiful words. diane and i have been friends for along time (i lived in nyc from 84 to 94) and i had read this at the time. it's a day i'll never forget, too awful for words. i only found out the next morning. my friend came to my house around 6:00am, i couldn't understand why someone would ring my doorbell at that time, only to find out the reason as i opened the door. my mother, my brother and my then 8-year-old daughter piled around me and we all cried together. i loved that you wrote "he was from a rare mold that is now obsolete". couldn't agree more. john, i love you now and forever.

  5. I will never forget when I found out John had been shot. Never.

  6. Sara, thank you for that beautiful post. One of the things that got me through that horrible December was knowing that I was sharing my profound grief with so many others. John was (and still is) truly an important figure in many of our lives.