Volumes have been written about the life of John Lennon, his impact on music, his influence on society, and most significantly, his role within the Beatles. 'Nuff said. But this year, as we celebrate what would have been Lennon's 72nd birthday on October 9th, it's worth recalling that Lennon had a little known connection to Florida, South Florida in particular.
Anybody with even the vaguest familiarity with the Beatles' early days know that one of the first places on the Fabs' American itinerary was Miami Beach, where they stayed at the Deauville Hotel and played the Ed Sullivan Show to the delight of newly converted Beatlemaniacs everywhere.
During their local stay, they cavorted in the waves, posed for pictures with then-heavyweight champ Cassius Clay (this was before he became Muhammad Ali), and generally expounded about the glories of sand and surf. It became an indelible chapter in the band's early trajectory, one that's still treasured by those who witnessed it even until this day.
Ironically, the final chapter in the Beatles' saga also played out in Florida, albeit a bit north of us, in the unlikely setting of the Polynesian Village hotel on the sprawling grounds of Disney World. It began with a meeting in New York City, attended by Paul and Linda McCartney, George Harrison, Neil Aspinall of Apple, and a number of lawyers and business types. The purpose of the gathering, which took place toward the end of 1974 at the Plaza Hotel (ironically, the same place the band stayed during their first visit to New York only ten years before), was to legally dissolve the Beatles partnership after five years of acrimony and animosity. Ringo was represented by his people, having signed off on the documents in the U.K. John was supposed to be present, but declined to attend at the last minute, leaving his attorney to show up for him instead.
Lennon's absence certainly didn't help to assuage the bad blood, but the former band mates did reconvene at a club the following night and the vibes were surprisingly cheery according to May Pang, John's girlfriend at the time. The legal papers were subsequently sent to John at his Disney enclave, and that's where he dutifully signed his name, effectively putting an end to the greatest rock 'n' roll band that ever inhabited the planet.
John's connection with our environs grew firmer during the final years of his life, when he, Yoko, and their young son Sean began making a habit of spending their winters in Palm Beach. The rumors swirled that Lennon intended to open a local spiritual learning center, a project he discussed in depth with a local metaphysicist and philosopher named Tamas Burger. As part of their preparation, the Lennons bought El Solano, a magnificent Palm Beach mansion on Ocean Boulevard that once belonged to the Vanderbilts. Likewise, Burger still bases his own operation in Palm Beach, having opened the Rainbow Bridge book store, library and museum (at 7593 S. Dixie Highway) where he continues to hold court even today.
Tragically, John was assassinated only a few months after he and Yoko made their purchase, effectively preventing them from ever becoming real local residents. Soon after, local photographer Ken Davidoff wrote of what he witnessed in Palm Beach the day after Lennon's death and described how the home had suddenly became an instant shrine.
"The day that I found out that John Lennon was shot, I decided to go to his home in Palm Beach, and leave some flowers at the gate," Davidoff recalled. "Not to my surprise, there were hundreds of people gathered at the property. The groundskeeper realized that the crowd was getting out of hand. The street was packed, and the local police were giving out parking tickets left and right. We were all allowed to come onto the property, and were led to the pool area. People just stood around and cried. Pretty soon, the groundskeeper led everyone in a prayer. He let everyone stay a little longer to gather their thoughts and say their own prayer. Everyone left in a slow, sad, silent march out the front gate. I went back to leave flowers every year thereafter, until Yoko sold the house. A light that shone brightly had left the planet."
And like the rest of the world, South Florida mourned. We marked the passing of a man that very nearly became one of our own.