It’s been nearly 50 years since The Beatles disbanded, but an exhibit opening Saturday at The Henry Ford brings the magic of the Fab Four back to life with music, memorabilia and more.
“The Magical History Tour: A Beatles Memorabilia Exhibition” chronicles the rise of John, Paul, George and Ringo from humble beginnings in Liverpool, England, to phenomenal success in the United States and around the globe and their subsequent solo careers.
“The Beatles and their story continue to change and inspire our world today,” says John Neilson, senior director of museum and attractions at The Henry Ford. “The Magical History Tour fosters historical, cultural, artistic and musical learning for all ages in an engaging and interactive atmosphere.”
The “Magical Mystery Tour” is the most exhaustive Beatles exhibition ever assembled, Neilson says, describing it as “an immersive and educational retrospective driven by the music and culture they produced.” The memorabilia includes concert posters, instruments, letters, clothing and rare photographs. The exhibit premiered at the Pacific National Exhibition in Vancouver, British Columbia, in August, and continues to Chicago, Davenport, Iowa, and St. Paul, Minnesota, after its Dearborn run.
The fun begins as soon as you walk through a wall-size Ringo-esque drum into the exhibit, divided into four sections.
The first, Beginnings, Influences and Life in Liverpool, explores the early years. You can see the original drum set from the Quarry Men, the band that preceded the Beatles, formed by John Lennon in 1956. You can hear excerpts of music that inspired each of them — for Paul McCartney, the selections include “Roll Over Beethoven” by Chuck Berry. There’s also a reproduction of the small stage at the Cavern Club, where The Beatles performed regularly in the early 1960s.
“My favorite part of the show is the creation of the environments of the Cavern Club in Liverpool, England, with wonderful musical instruments, where members of The Beatles first performed,” Neilson says. “From 1961 to 1963, The Beatles made nearly 300 appearances at the club, with their last occurring in the summer of 1963, just six months before the Beatles’ first trip to the U.S. They really coalesced as a group in this period, and ‘Beatlemania’ was sprouting across England. This was the end of an era for the group. The small club of their early years could no longer satisfy audience demands.”
The journey continues through three other sections: Life on the Road; Innovation in the Studio, and The Decade of the Break-up.
Life on the Road captures the frenzy that erupted when The Beatles arrived in the United States in 1964. The exhibit includes photographs taken by Curt Gunther from the tour, many of them never on public display before. They chronicle the transition from nervous excitement to panicked frenzy. “So this is America. They must be out of their minds,” Ringo Starr quipped at the time. A merry-go-round of audio equipment lets visitors hear excerpts from press interviews.
Innovation in the Studio allows visitors to listen to the music, instruments and sounds The Beatles experimented with, and play some of the instruments. The final section explores their breakup, with the original legal document dissolving The Beatles on display, as well as albums and memorabilia from each their solo careers.
That section includes Lennon’s last autograph, written on the cover of his Double Fantasy album, several hours before he was murdered. Lennon autographed the album for Mark David Chapman, who shot the singer-songwriter outside the Dakota apartment building in New York. An Associated Press bulletin announcing Lennon’s death is also on display.
“The Magical History Tour: A Beatles Memorabilia Exhibition” is the latest music-focused exhibit at the Dearborn museum, following “Women Who Rock: Vision, Passion Power.” That show, which explored the role women have played in rock ‘n’ roll, was held in 2014.
“We noticed that it was definitely a cross-generational exhibit, and the best exhibit are always the ones where multiple generations can identify and leave inspired by them,” says Melissa Foster, media and film relations manager at The Henry Ford.
Greg Tasker is a Metro Detroit freelance writer.
The Magical History Tour: A Beatles Memorabilia Exhibition
Exhibit admission: $5; museum entrance fee is additional
The Henry Ford
20900 Oakwood, Dearborn