Four decades later, New Yorkers remain in grief over that cold December night when the world lost John Lennon.
Hundreds took time out of their Tuesday to visit Central Park’s Strawberry Fields (between West 71st and 74th Streets) on what marked the 40th anniversary of Lennon’s murder.
An elaborate shrine was erected next to the Imagine floor mosaic just outside where the slain Beatle once lived in the Dakota building, located at 72nd Street and Central Park West on the night, of Dec. 8, 1980.
Framed photographs of Lennon sat amidst flickering candles, paintings, bouquets of flowers, and other dedications to a global icon. Since the early hours of Tuesday morning, mourners steadily arrived to pay their respects to a musician who encapsulated the New York scene during the 1970s by leaving an array of tributes.
After transferring from a college in Los Angeles to NYU, Willa Emarie, a die-hard Beatles fan, visited Strawberry Field for the first time. Forgoing the day’s NYU classes, she jumped at the opportunity to see the Lennon memorial site on the anniversary of his death.
Upon arriving, tears began to well up in her eyes at the realization that she was not the only person who admires the singer so deeply.
“I’m a really big Beatles fan. I grew up on the Beatles. I just had to come up here. It’s just really amazing to see everyone love someone the same way as I do, it’s beautiful,” Emarie said.
Individuals took selfies with the growing monument while others simply bent to one knee, where they paid homage to the late Liverpudlian for both his contributions to music and the impact he has had on their lives — some for as long as they can remember.
Mike Eagan has helped set up tributes for four years now, not just on this morbid anniversary, but every single day.
“It’s not nearly as extravagant everyday because a lot of people have come today for the 40th anniversary and dropped off a lot of stuff, but I try to get some flowers here everyday,” Eagan said. “It’s a memorial … he deserves it.”
Although Lennon was killed three years before Eagan was born, the famed musician’s music served as a bonding experience between Eagan and his own father, who he lost in 2010. The shrine he constructs is a dedication to both of his heroes.
“My father was a giant Beatles fan, I was listening to them in the crib. He used to bring me here once a month for as long as I can remember. They are both worth it,” he said.
Eagan took over the process of laying flowers each day from Gary dos Santos, nicknamed by locals as the “Mayor of Strawberry Fields,” who tended to the mosaic for 20 years until his death in 2013.
Musicians also gathered around the tribute site, where they played classic Lennon hits, including “Give Peace a Chance,” “Just Like Starting Over,” and “Love.” This prompted the bereaved to sorrowfully sing along, while others danced. One attendee — decked-out in Beatles buttons — even pulled out a tambourine to join the makeshift band.
Lennon was shot twice in the back outside his apartment building by Mark David Chapman while greeting fans on the Upper West Side on that fateful December night 40 years ago. He was rushed to Roosevelt Hospital where he later died, leaving thousands of fans all around the world to mourn his passing to this very day.
Strawberry Fields — named for “Strawberry Fields Forever,” one of the many songs Lennon wrote or co-wrote with The Beatles — opened on Oct. 9, 1985 (what would have been his 45th birthday) and has become the focal point for New York’s Lennon fans to honor the music icon.
Lennon and his wife Yoko Ono had been known to frequently walk through the tear drop-shaped area of Central Park where Strawberry Fields is now located.