The Dakota and Strawberry Fields Memorial
On December 8, 1995, the fifteenth anniversary of John's death, I was in New York City to attend the issue ceremony for new John Lennnon commemorative stamps. The ceremony was held at the Hard Rock Cafe and I invite all of you to read my account of the event. Later on in the day, my wife and I went to the Strawberry Fields memorial and the nearby Dakota building. I'd like to share with you some pictures and thoughts of my visit to these two sites which serve as reminders of John Lennon's life and death.
The Dakota building, located on the northwest corner of 72nd Street and Central Park West, was the place John Lennon called home for the latter part of his life. It is the place where he devoted all his attention to raising his son Sean. It is also the place where he was murdered as he and Yoko Ono were returning home late one night after their days' work at a recording studio. Strawberry Fields is the name given to a garden in Central Park dedicated in memory of John Lennon. The entrance to the memorial is located directly across the street (Central Park West) from the Dakota building. It is a triangular shaped piece of land whose main focal point is a beautiful circular mosaic of inlaid stones sent in from countries all over the world. In the center of the mosaic is John's simple plea to the world -- IMAGINE.
We took a cab from Midtown Manhattan through Central Park. I've been told the park is quite beautiful, but it was a complete blur to me. I was too busy thinking about our destination to realize that I should be enjoying my first ride through Central Park. Once there, we quickly found the path leading to the Strawberry Fields memorial. Perhaps it was so easy to find because it was punctuated by a street vendor selling Strawberry Fields t-shirts. We entered the pathway and about 20 feet into it we came upon the sign announcing the Strawberry Fields memorial.
Strawberry Fields Memorial
John and Yoko would often walk on the very spot
that now serves as a memorial to him
We continued along the pathway, each side of which was lined with benches for people to sit on and fences to keep them off the grounds. Pictures I've seen of the memorial taken during the spring and summer reveal that it is a beautiful garden. But on this cold December day, it was dreary and barren. On one side of the pathway, an older man had a portable stereo playing songs from Lennon's Plastic Ono Band album. On the other side, a younger man had a guitar and was entertaining a small group of people while singing some Beatles' songs. The narrow pathway opened up into a wide clearing, the center of which was the mosaic itself. Many fans had already taken up posts alongside the perimeter of the mosaic. It was adorned with loving offerings such as flowers, artwork, fruit, candles, and words of love. Despite the somber occasion, the mood at the memorial was quite festive.
The Mosaic at Strawberry Fields
The mosaic brings fans of John's together
to celebrate his life and honor his memory
My wife and I huddled together on a nearby bench trying to stay warm. We watched as people came and went, sometimes leaving flowers or other items on the mosaic. Speaking to the universal appeal of John Lennon and the Beatles, there were people of all ages and races. It was especially nice to see parents explaining to their kids who John Lennon was and why there was a memorial for him. As more and more people came, the mosaic began to disappear underneath all the flowers. Eventually, my wife and I made our way over to it and we scattered a dozen white roses among the other offerings. The word "IMAGINE" was still visible on the mosaic, and so we did.
Offerings from the Fans
The mosaic is covered with loving adornments
from fans all over the world
With some hesitation, we finally got up to leave the mosaic and the memorial. I was afraid I would never see it again and I wanted to soak up as much of the experience as possible. As we were leaving, I noticed the young man was still singing Beatles' songs, but his audience had now grown considerably. The older man was still listening to Lennon's songs on his stereo, which now was playing the Imagine album. Through the trees, the Dakota building dominated the landscape, and my thoughts.
The Dakota Building
The view of the Dakota building
from the Strawberry Fields memorial
My wife and I crossed the street to the Dakota building and I began to feel knots in my stomach. To me, the Strawberry Fields memorial is a celebration of John Lennon's life. But the Dakota building serves only as a reminder of his horrific death. We walked around the perimeter of the building and I remember thinking that it was much smaller than I had imagined. I thought it took up an entire city block, but it was closer to 1/5 of a block. The building was sufficiently tall enough that it blocked the sun on three sides, which made the trip bitterly cold.
72nd Street and Central Park West
The Dakota building was named for the fact
that it was so far removed from everything
else when it was built in the late 1800s that
it may as well have been in the Dakotas
The last side of the building we walked past was the entrance. I can't begin to convey the sinking feeling I experienced as I stood within feet of the site where John was gunned down. Images of the murder ran through my head as if I were there that night. I heard the gunshots and I heard John's body hitting the ground. There was a doorman in a little booth to the left of the entrance who was keeping an intent eye on all the passerbys. At one point, one fan touched the right side of the hallway which quickly brought the doorman out of his booth to return her to a safer distance. Attempts to leave flowers in the hallway were quickly thwarted as well. I couldn't help but wonder if John would still be alive today had the security been as tight fifteen years ago.
Where It Happened
As if the weather wasn't cold enough,
being so close to the site of John's murder
was absolutely chilling
The only comfort I can take from my visit to the site of John's murder was the Christmas tree on the other side of the hallway. I'd like to think that the Christmas tree, a symbol of peace, was one of the last things John saw. At that moment, the star at the top of the tree burnt out. But there are still lots of little lights which shine so bright that the star is still visible. John left us with lots of bright little lights in the form of songs, drawings, and ideals of peace. As long as we have them, John will forever shine on -- like the moon, and the stars, and the sun...
(Copyright Sam Choukri 1995 -- use is permitted as long as credit is given)
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