BENTON — Hundreds of fans crowded into Benton’s Capitol Park Saturday for the unveiling of an historical marker commemorating the 50th anniversary of “the first Beatle in America.”

The marker, sponsored by the Illinois State Historical Society, Franklin County Historic Preservation Society and “Beatles fans everywhere,” recounts the late Beatle George Harrison’s 1963 stay at his sister Louise’s house in Benton.

While on that visit, Harrison became the first Beatle to perform in the United States when he jammed “with The Four Vests at the VFW Hall in Eldorado. He was also the first Beatle to be interviewed on U.S. soil when he met with teen DJ Marcia Schafer Raubach at WFRX radio, the first U.S. station to regularly play Beatles music.

The unveiling was preceded by a ceremony filled with music and memories.

Speakers included Raubach; Jim Kirkpatrick, author of “Before He Was Fab,” a book documenting Harrison’s visit to the region; Beatles filmographer Bob Bartel, who was a leader in the fight to save Harrison’s sister’s house from demolition about 20 years ago; ISHS executive director William Furry; and FCHPS president Bob Rea.

Musical selections were performed by classical guitarist Joe Bresnikar and Taylor Kearney.

“This whole thing has been very gratifying for me,” Louise Harrison said. “When things first started happening with (her old house), I thought it was more hysterical than historical,” but 50 years later, the historical significance of the first Beatle in America is clear.

She also spoke of the warm reception she received when she moved to the city and the memories made there.

“George and myself really loved the people of this town,” she said.

Furry said he hopes visitors to the marker can draw inspiration from Harrison’s story.

“In this town of Benton and small towns in the world, great things happen,” he said.

Fans came from near and far to attend the ceremony and unveiling as Benton businessman Ken Burzynski can attest.

Burzynski owns County Seat Antique Mall, located in the building on the Benton square that formerly housed the store where Harrison purchased records during his pre-Beatlemania visit.

“We had people coming in today from all over the country who wanted to take pictures of the counter where George Harrison bought his records,” he said. “It was quite a surprise to us.”

Jim and Diane Denzer of Decatur made a return trip to Benton for the dedication. The couple married in a 2001 ceremony at Louise Harrison’s former Benton residence when it was the Hard Day’s Nite Bed and Breakfast and Beatles mini-museum.

“We wouldn’t have missed this. This place has a lot of memories,” Jim Denzer said. “We are huge Beatles fans and I love George. Their music changed my life.”

Tony Szakonyi, commander of VFW Post 3479 in Eldorado, said he attended in tribute to Harrison.

“George Harrison came to our post and performed for veterans. Fifty years later, I’m here to honor him,” he said.


On Twitter: @beckymalkovich

(1) comment

Robert Bartel
Robert Bartel

It was worth all the trials and tribulations for me to save the forer home of Louise Harrison on Dec 10th 1994 is when I made the discovery of her the soon to be at that time house to be torn down for a 10 car parking lot for the state. Of course over the years some 20 now or soon to be close to it...I made the film GEORGE HARRISON: A BEATLE IN BENTON, IL The Musical Birthplace of the Beatles in America. which is now placed inot the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame and won awards in film festivals on both in the USA, I was so happy to see Gabe McCarty, Marsha Shaffer Raubuck, Jim Rea, Jim Kirkpatrick, the 4 Vests members, and the performers there and the invite by the Mayor to start doing what I would consider a tour of Benton and area regarding the George Harrison re-visits of his places he went to in Sept 1963. My wife Janice was there as well...with our new friend Nichola from Chicago, and of course all the people who rode with me on the George Harrison Magical Mystery Tour Bus..from Springfield, IL. what a great time we had and we did stop over by 113 McCann Street on our way out of town just to look the place over...its still there and someday I will return with a check and buy the place and bring it to being the HARD DAYS NITE BED & BREAKFAST once again. Thank you people of Benton, IL and Franklin County for your support and a big thank you out to William Furry State of IL Preservation for bringing the State 50th Annv Marker of George Harrison for all generations to see and learn of one great man who helped change the world in peace and love and kindness. Big Thank You to the Southern IL News Paper and of course my very good friends at the BENTON EVENING NEWS .

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