The producers of an extensive new Beatles exhibit are hoping fans will say yeah, yeah, yeah — even if the Beatles’ camp has not — when it debuts in the U.S. tomorrow (April 30) in Michigan.
Produced by St. Paul, Minn.-based Exhibits Development Group (EDG), The Magical History Tour: A Beatles Memorabilia Exhibition begins a 21-week run at The Henry Ford museum in the Detroit suburb of Dearborn on Saturday. It features 10,000 square feet and more than 150 artifacts from the collection of Peter Miniaci & Associates, a Beatles memorabilia specialty firm, and includes interactive displays designed to give visitors a taste of what Paul McCartney, John Lennon, George Harrison and Ringo Starr were up to before, during and after their tenure as the Fab Four.
“We wanted to find a unique approach to the story,” EDG’s London-based exhibit designer Geoffrey Curley tells Billboard. “We felt the most unique and, in our opinion, the most dynamic discussion about the Beatles is to explore the excitement and the challenges of being in the center of this phenomena that was swarming around these young men. They were just kids wanting to play music and have a good time. We wanted to bring this moment in time into the world of the exhibition — the styles of the ’50s and ’60s, of Liverpool streets and the roundabout of the touring days, the color and industrial feel of Abbey Road Studio, the world of the music in the mind’s eye and the ethereal post-Beatles world.”
And even though the Beatles and their Apple Corps Ltd. did not sanction or get involved with the exhibit, they’re not standing it its way, either. “They basically, for all intents and purposes, said ‘Good luck,'” says EDG’s Will Peterson. “So we picked up what they were putting down and went ahead and planned an exhibition that is sensitive to their copyrights, and we’re certainly not trying to be at conflict with anything that the Beatles are doing. We’re just trying to tell the story in a unique and different way.”
The Magical History Tour includes a couple of sober items for Beatles fans. One is the typed 1970 letter from John Lennon, also signed by George Harrison and Ringo Starr, informing Paul McCartney that they did not want his father-in-law, Lee Eastman, to manage the band, preferring instead to stay with Allen Klein. The most chilling artifact, meanwhile, is the copy of Double Fantasy, Lennon’s 1980 comeback album with wife Yoko Ono, that he signed on Dec. 8 of that year for Mark David Chapman — the man who shot him to death outside his New York City apartment building a few hours later.
Peterson says the album was found by one of Lennon’s neighbors on a concrete planter outside the building, where Chapman left it when he fired at Lennon. The neighbor turned it into police as evidence, then retrieved it after Chapman was committed. “She said, ‘Well, could I have it back?’ and they said, ‘Yeah, we don’t see why not,'” Peterson says. “You can see the evidence log number written on it, and it’s confirmed to be the one Chapman held because his fingerprints are on it. It has sort of an eerie presence, this album.”
Other highlights of the exhibit include a replication of the stage at Liverpool’s legendary Cavern Club using actual bricks from the building, a drum kit from the pre-Beatles group the Quarrymen, the guitar a teenage McCartney learned to play on, stage wear, personal letters and photographs, memorabilia and souvenirs such as trading cards, board games, and a set of photos from the Beatles’ 1964 U.S. tour by Curt Gunther that have never been on public display before. John Lennon’s famous psychedelic Rolls Royce is also part of The Magical History Tour but will not be part of The Henry Ford display because it’s already been shown at the museum.
“The objects that share a pivotal moment or untold story are the ones I like the most,” says exhibit Curley. Among those are collectibles such as swatches of bed sheets the group members slept under while on tour that were subsequently sold to fans. “It truly shows how radical fans became, placing the Beatles on a pedestal similar to deities,” Curley explains. “People would ask the Beatles to touch their ailing kids to cure them. That is how far Beatlemania went. Could you imagine being a young rock musician playing pop music and being asked to heal a child? It’s a little beyond my comprehension, so having those sorts of objects helps me understand what this phenomenon must have been like.”
The Magical History Tour also includes displays that allows fans to pose with mannequins sporting vintage Beatles outfits, and to try mixing sounds like the Beatles and George Martin did at London’s Abbey Road Studio via a hands-on demonstration.
The exhibit runs through Sept. 18 at The Henry Ford and is next slated for the Putnam Museum in Davenport, Iowa starting March 9. Peterson says there’s interest from other museums both before and after that — as well as a desire to take The Magical History Tour to Europe — but nothing has been finalized yet.