Mark Mahal probably has something no other person in the world has...a left-over piece of cake from one of John Lennon's birthdays. What follows is Mark's story, in his own words and pictures, of his close encounter with John in October, 1971.
I heard that Yoko Ono was having an opening of an art exhibit at the Everson Museum of Art in Syracuse N.Y. which is about 3 1/2 hours north of my hometown of Minersville, PA. So being the Beatle-fan that I am, off we went to check it out and possibly catch a glimpse of John Lennon at the exhibit. Never could we have realized what would transpire.
The weekend started off with quite a 'rush' as we pulled into the parking garage of the Hotel Syracuse and saw John's psychedelic Rolls Royce. At that point the words "he's staying here" blurted out as I nearly jumped out of the window of the car I was in. Keep in mind I was not quite 15 years old and coming from a small town in the hard coal region of Pennsylvania, to me this was a BIG happening. So I got out of our car and dash over to the Rolls to find the doors OPEN and the back filled with letters and trinkets from fans. I got behind the wheel for a snapshot and pocketed the parking stub from the Rolls for a souvenir.
We checked in to our room and heard that the entire 7th floor was reserved for the Lennon entourage and OFF LIMITS with security posted at the elevators and exits. An all night vigil in the lobby proved fruitless and as morning comes, off to the museum we went.
The exhibit "This Is Not Here" was very avant garde and very cool...simple pieces by other celebrities and the like. One of Yoko's pieces was a ladder under a circular canvas suspended from the ceiling. You climbed the ladder only to find the word "yes" in the center of it.
We went back to the hotel and I had a whole new agenda for it was October 9th, John's 31st birthday. I got some information from a bell-hop that was working the 7th floor that Ringo and George were there and that there was going to be a party that evening celebrating John's birthday. All you needed to get in was a ticket or a sticker with Everson Museum on it and you were in (basically for those who helped with the production). I tried all night in vain to get in. Once, I even attempted to peel a sticker off some photographer's gear in the elevator, but to no avail. Every trip ended with the same results...security giving me the bums rush.
At 3 a.m. I decided to give it one last shot before giving up (I hadn't slept since two nights before). I got in the elevator and pushed the button for the 7th floor. The doors open and, to my amazement, there were NO security! I peeked out and went down the hall. I could hear a live music jam session with John, George, Ringo, Allen Ginsberg and others. I was not quite 10 feet away from getting in when I felt my feet leave the ground...BUSTED! Two LARGE security personnel unceremoniously put me back in the elevator and stated that they "don't want to see me anymore." I was totally bummed but got the hint.
I crashed for a few hours and then went back to the lobby where we got some information that the entourage was leaving for the Indian reservation outside of Syracuse at some point in the early afternoon. I thought this would be my shot so a plan was put together by myself and a hippie chick who was about 20 years old.
We had people stationed in the lobby and the garage...they weren't getting out without us knowing. The moment finally arrived. I was at my post in the lobby when I saw both elevators go to the 7th floor and stop. Moments later the elevators descended and one stopped at the mezzanine level and the other went directly to the garage level. I heard all sorts of commotion coming from the front of the hotel so I started to run towards the marble stairs only to be stopped by a roar behind me. Ringo and George come down the stairs into the lobby followed by John & Yoko. With my little Kodak snapping away, I followed them. As they got in the limos, I managed to get through the security for a few quick photos only to be lifted off my feet once again. But this time, victory was mine.
I went back inside the hotel and the bell-hop, who was my "deep-throat" so to speak, had procured some treasures; a piece of John's birthday cake and the top frets of the plastic guitar that adorned his cake. Twenty-six years later, that cake still sits in my freezer.
When John was assassinated on that fateful night in December 1980, I was attending a 'professional' school at Syracuse. On the night of the universal vigils, I attended a very touching ceremony at the Quad on campus knowing in my heart my own 'personal' experience with John in that same city almost 10 years earlier. Ironically, our commencement ceremony a few months later was held in...none other than the Everson Museum of Art. Talk about "Instant Karma"...my own "Magical Mystery Tour"!!!
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