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The story behind John Lennon’s Strawberry Fields in New York

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For over 30 years, Beatles fans have been gathering at Strawberry Fields in Central Park to celebrate John Lennon’s life on his birthday, October 9, and also to mourn his death on December 8.

Located across the street from the Dakota apartment building where John Lennon lived with Yoko Ono, Strawberry Fields encompasses the pathways in Central Park that John and Yoko used to stroll together over the years from 1973 until Lennon was gunned down in front of the building in 1980.

Five years after his death, on October 9, 1985, what would have been Lennon’s 45th birthday, this tear-shaped section of Central Park stretching from 71st to 74th streets along Central Park West was re-named “Strawberry Fields” after The Beatles’ song “Strawberry Fields Forever.” The famous grey and white marble Imagine mosaic, which is the centerpiece of the area, was a gift from the city of Naples, Italy.

StrawberryFields-ceremony

The groundbreaking ceremony for Strawberry Fields was held on March 21, 1984 with Yoko Ono and Lennon’s sons Julian and Sean in attendance. A bronze plaque which was unveiled at the dedication ceremony lists 121 countries who endorse this Garden of Peace.

The idea for ‘Strawberry Fields’ was conceived by Yoko Ono and she “selected an ancient mosaic design found in Naples and placed the word Imagine in the center,” according to author Sara Cedar Miller. “The people of Naples were delighted, and artisans were dispatched to Strawberry Fields to inlay the Imagine mosaic medallion, faithfully copying the design Yoko had chosen.”

While most people think of the Imagine mosaic section as the major part of Strawberry Fields, there are actually 5.3 acres in total that make up the whole of the area. For the landscape design of this section of Central Park, Yoko worked with landscape architect, Bruce Kelly, to create a fitting memorial to John Lennon that was “more nature than culture.”

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Yoko’s letter in the NY Times on August 19, 1981

In August 1981, Ono placed letters in the New York Times and many other newspapers asking for donations from other countries to create this peace garden. Many countries sent native plants; for example, an oak tree from Great Britain, dogwoods from Monaco, tulip bulbs from the Netherlands, maples from Canada, etc. And, of course, strawberries were planted by the Central Park Conservancy.

The area is shaded by elm trees and provides many benches for visitors to relax and “imagine.” Strawberry Fields is intended as a quiet place for reflection, designated as a “quiet zone” in the Park. In exchange for a generous donation to the Central Park Conservancy, patrons can get their name inscribed on a plaque on one of the benches.

Yoko Ono still lives in the Dakota and her windows overlook the Imagine mosaic at 72nd street and Central Park West. While the word “Imagine” is recognized for Lennon’s famous song first released in 1971, it is also a concept that Ono has portrayed in her artwork long before she met Lennon. He even admitted that he got the idea for the song from her.

The song “should be credited as a Lennon-Ono song, because a lot of it, the lyric and the concept, came from Yoko,” John Lennon said in a 1980 interview, shortly before he died.

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In 2017, the National Music Publishers Association announced that Ono would share songwriting credits for Lennon’s “Imagine.”

“Those days, I was a bit more selfish, a bit more macho, and I sort of omitted to mention her contribution,” Lennon added, noting that the song makes direct reference to Yoko’s 1964 book, Grapefruit.

 

It was Yoko’s intention to continue the world peace sentiment that she and Lennon had initiated in 1969 which included planting an acorn in England and then sending acorns to heads of state around the world. In her 1981 letter, Ono said, “John would have been very proud that this was given to him, an island named after his song, rather than a statue or a monument….It will be nice to have the whole world in one place, one field, living and growing together in harmony.”

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Note:
A book called Strawberry Fields: Central Park’s Memorial to John Lennon chronicles the creation of this memorial. The book, released in 2011, was written by Sara Cedar Miller, the official photographer and historian of the Central Park Conservancy. The 95-page book is filled with gorgeous color photos as well as historical documents and black & white photos.

The Central Park Conservancy also sells souvenirs of the Imagine mosaic, including a blanket, coffee mug and jewelry.

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Special tree dedicated to former Beatle George Harrison in Los Angeles

Way up in the hills of Griffith Park in Los Angeles sits the George Harrison Tree, originally planted in 2003 in tribute to the ex-Beatle who prided himself as a gardener.

George Harrison tree

 

The George Harrison tree was planted near the Griffith Park Observatory at the Mount Hollywood Hiking Trail. The tree was planted in February 2003 and the following year, on February 22, 2004, a dedication ceremony to unveil a special bronze plaque was held, as the city declared “George Harrison Day” that year in Los Angeles.

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The original tree planted was a Cayman Island Pine (pictured here)

At the 2004 dedication ceremony, friends and associates gathered to pay tribute to Harrison including singer Billy Preston, singer Jackie Lomax, Council member Tom LaBonge, Chris Carter, host of LA’s “Breakfast with the Beatles” and Linda Arias, Olivia Harrison’s sister, who read a message sent by Olivia thanking everyone for remembering her husband George.

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However, the original tree that was planted – a Cayman Island Pine – made headlines in 2014 when it was reported that the tree had died. In June 2014, the tree had to be cut down due to infestation by none other than beetles.

In February 2015, an oak tree was planted in place of the pine tree. This special tree is located at the opposite end of the parking lot from the Griffith Park Observatory.

The bronze plaque placed in front of the George Harrison Tree features a lotus flower and reads: “In memory of a great humanitarian who touched the world as an artist, a musician and a gardener,” followed by a quote from George Harrison: ‘For the forest to be green, each tree must be green.’ George Harrison (1943-2001)

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John Lennon memorial, the Imagine Peace Tower, was 40 years in the making

imaginepeacetowerIt all started with Yoko Ono’s 1964 book, Grapefruit, where she talked about her artistic concept of creating a lighthouse. Ono’s “Light House” further described in her 1965 “Architectural Works Sales List” was a “house constructed of light from prisms, which exists in accordance with the changes in the day.”

When her relationship started with John Lennon in 1967, Lennon asked Ono if she could build him a “Light House” in his garden like the one he had read about in her publication. Yoko explained to John that her idea was conceptual: “I’m convinced that one day, it could be built, but I don’t know how to do it,” she told him with a laugh.

Forty years later on October 9, 2007, a lighthouse called the Imagine Peace Tower was launched by Yoko Ono in collaboration with the city of Reykjavík, Iceland. The circular structure, located waterside on Videy Island off the north coast of Reykjavík, is a powerful ray of light that shoots up towards the sky. The wishing well shines every year between October 9, Lennon’s birthday, and December 8, the anniversary of his death and represents people’s wishes for world peace.

“Actually, this is an answered prayer because my first time in John’s house he talked about building a lighthouse. I never knew how to conceptualize that,” Yoko explained. “I never believed this could be reality.”

Due to the heavy expense and maintenance to keep the structure lit 365 days a year, Yoko decided to have the Imagine Peace Tower lit between the two most significant dates in Lennon’s life, in addition to a few other selected weeks throughout the year.

“I realized that, with contrasting the two symbolic dates, it gives an understanding of the shortness of life, and eternity of the spirit,” Ono said. “It reminds one how brief life can be and is significant even for those not into John Lennon’s life.”

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“Imagine Peace,” a phrase that symbolizes John and Yoko’s campaign for peace, is inscribed on this outdoor work of art in 24 different languages. One of the reasons Yoko chose to erect the tower in Iceland was because it is “a peaceful country with no military,” as reported by the Iceland Post.Perhaps her greatest work of art, the Imagine Peace Tower took Ono three years to develop with engineers in Iceland. As described in the official Imagine Peace Tower book, there are six mirrors “angled at 45 degrees which act as prisms” inside the wishing well, which when combined with the nine searchlights on the floor, result in a tower of light created from 15 beams.

At the 2007 unveiling on Lennon’s 67th birthday, Ono said she was convinced that John Lennon would have been pleased with the Tower. “I dedicate this light tower to John Lennon. My love for you is forever,” she said.

Yoko encourages everyone to send their wishes of peace to the Imagine Peace Tower via Twitter, e-mail or postcards. A webcam of the Tower is available for viewing at http://imaginepeacetower.com/
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