The United States was a very different place 50 years ago. Phones had cords, televisions had just a handful of channels, a computer was the size of a room and the Winter Olympics, which had just wrapped up in Austria, had 34 events, a fraction of the number underway in Russia.
But if there is one thing that hasn’t changed in 50 years, it’s the popularity of four boys from Liverpool, England — John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr — who first exploded on the world scene back then singing nicely about their desire to hold hands with a girl and the Fab Four first stepped foot on American soil right here in Queens.
It was five decades ago — Feb. 7, 1964 — that The Beatles landed at the recently renamed JFK Airport on a Pan Am flight from London to appear on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” and play concerts in New York and Washington D.C. Their arrival at the airport brought out thousands of die-hard fans and is one of the most iconic images of the Rock And Roll Era and of the 1960s.
Their arrival was celebrated last Friday, 50 years to the day, with a special tribute and an unveiling of a plaque commemorating the event at the TWA Flight Center, the only major terminal left that existed on that day. The Beatles actually arrived at the Pan Am terminal, which is in the process of being demolished.
Among the guests present were the Lord Mayor of Liverpool, Gary Millar, and a number of Pan Am flight attendants who worked for the airline in 1964, including Jill Kellogg, who was on Pan Am Flight 101 with The Beatles that day.
Kellogg, who now lives in Montauk, LI, said she didn’t know who The Beatles were at the time and only realized they were a big deal when she saw the crowd waiting for them at JFK.
“I never did see a crowd of people that large in my life,” she told reporters last Friday.
Throngs of fans, some as young as 8 years old, were also present last Friday, singing along to Beatles cover band Liverpool, as were some who were there in 1964 when John, Paul, George and Ringo landed.
Among them were Howard Beach resident Community Board 6 District Manager Frank Gulluscio, whose mother worked for Pan Am at the time.
“I was here when they came in,” Gulluscio said after posing for pictures with Pan Am stewardesses who were working for the airline in the early 1960s. “It was a pretty incredible thing to experience it.”
Lennon’s half-sister, Julia Baird, was on hand for the event.
“We are absolutely overwhelmed and thrilled to be in New York,” Baird said, noting Lennon loved the city where he lived for much of his professional life and where he lost his life.
Patrick Foye, executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, noted that when The Beatles arrived in America, they were coming to a country that had been through, and was still experiencing, traumatic events.
It had only been 10 weeks earlier that President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. The battle for civil rights was raging in the South, horrifying Americans who watched blacks get hosed down with firehoses or chased down by dogs on the nightly news. The war in Vietnam was heating up and there was the ever-present risk of Russian nuclear annihilation.
For a jittery nation, The Beatles offered a much-needed escape. When they landed at JFK Airport, they held the top spot on the Billboard Hot 100 with “I Want To Hold Your Hand.” That song was knocked off by their second chart topper, “She Loves You,” followed by “Can’t Buy Me Love.” By the end of the year, three more songs by the band had topped the American charts. That year they won the Best New Artist Grammy Award.
The Fab Four would go on to have 20 No. 1 hits in the United States in six years, more than any other artists and more than they had in their native Britain. Each would later have successful solo careers.
Only two Beatles are still surviving. Lennon was shot dead outside his Manhattan apartment in 1980 and Harrison passed away from cancer in November, 2001.
Neither McCartney nor Starr were at Friday’s event, but organizers said both were aware of it and were excited about the plaque. McCartney had flown out of JFK on Thursday back to London, landing in the British capital on a flight from JFK almost 50 years to the minute he left for New York the first time.