Florida's whirlwind of Beatlemania -- The Beatles blew into Jacksonville once -- after Hurricane Dora.
Memory usually comes with a soundtrack.
For some, just hearing the titles "I Want to Hold Your Hand" and "She Loves You" takes them back to Sept. 11, 1964, a Friday that capped an already memorable week.
That was the night The Beatles came to Jacksonville -- right behind Hurricane Dora. The fans were excited teenagers then, filled to bursting at the prospect of seeing the band that had turned many a teen girl into a squealing fanatic.
Most vivid was the sense of exhilaration. "It was electric," says Rorie Fore, who was 15 at the time. "I kept pinching myself because I couldn't believe I was breathing the same air as them."
"I was part of something really special," says Ann Burt, also 15 then.
Together, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr and George Harrison were a cultural hurricane, starting with appearances in February 1964 on the Ed Sullivan Show. Their sweet, catchy pop tunes dominated Top 40 radio, and their hairstyles and lifestyles influenced millions of teenagers. Wherever they went, crowds of hysterical girls called their names and rushed to touch them, screaming things like "I think I saw Paul!"
The Beatles were a metaphor for the 1960s: The group was like nothing that had come before, and after them nothing would be the same.
The Beatles performed in the old Gator Bowl, the decrepit football stadium -- which since has been reborn all shiny and comfortable as Alltel Stadium -- perched on the eastern edge of downtown Jacksonville inside a sweeping bend in the St. Johns River.
Malcolm Carmichael, a motorcycle police officer assigned to escort the Beatles during their day in Jacksonville, remembers the concert clearly: "Girls were swooning and falling all over, and the Beatles had them by the heartstrings," says Carmichael, now 66 and retired.
It was a remarkable scene, and not just because of the Beatles. Less than 48 hours earlier, Hurricane Dora had come smashing through town with 110 mph winds and 10 inches of rain. Most of the city was without electricity, hundreds of houses had been destroyed and thousands of trees knocked down.
Despite those obstacles, 23,000 fans showed up, one of the largest crowds of the tour. Tickets sold for $4 and $5.
The storm left many Beatlemaniacs with this irony: They could thrill to the sight and sound of the band performing live, but once they returned to their darkened homes, there was no way to play their Beatles albums.
"We had no electricity for almost a week, and I kept wondering, 'How am I going to iron something for the concert?' " remembers Burt, now 55 and a Jacksonville community activist.
The Beatles had intended to spend two days in town for the kind of relaxation that was rare during their North American tour, which included 32 shows in 25 cities in 31 days. But instead of flying to Jacksonville after two shows in Montreal on Sept. 8, they went to Key West, where they briefly escaped the madness and kept their eyes on Hurricane Dora as it approached Jacksonville.
Fifteen-year-old Kathleen Evans was crazy about the Beatles. "I still have magazines and articles that I cut out of the newspaper," says Evans, who recently rediscovered the cache while cleaning out her garage. "I bought everything about the Beatles -- magazines and their albums. My mom had a fit because I was spending all my baby-sitting money on Beatles stuff."
A few months after the concert, Evans and three friends mimicked their heroes during a school talent show. The four dressed as the Beatles and lip-synced two or three of their songs. Evans was Lennon, her favorite.
"As time neared for the show, I started to panic," says Evans, 55 and a small-business owner in Jacksonville today. "I was thinking, 'Why am I doing this? I don't want to do this! In front of the whole school!' "
Chris Drechsler was Ringo. "I thought he was kind of cute," says Drechsler, who was also 15 at the time. "I got to wear the rings and sit at the drums. I was sitting there shaking my head back and forth. We sang a couple of songs, including I think, 'I Want to Hold Your Hand' where we all did the 'Woooo!' "
Drechsler came away from the concert with a true prize: autographs from all four Beatles, obtained backstage by three girls from England she had met a few weeks earlier. "I screamed," Drechsler says. "I couldn't believe they got the autographs. I showed them to everybody."
Including Evans. "She brought them to school and we were just drooling," she says. "I begged her -- oh, I begged her -- to give me John Lennon's autograph. I said, 'You've got the other three, what do you need that one for?' "
Drechsler wasn't tempted. " 'Oh, yeah,' " she recalls, " 'Let me cut up this piece of paper.' "
Forty years later, there is one little problem: Drechsler, 55 and a customer-service rep for the Internal Revenue Service, can't find the autographs. They are now worth about $6,000. "They are here somewhere," she says.
The Beatles spent less than 12 hours in Jacksonville, but security was extraordinary, considering what the police would be facing: hordes of screaming girls. There were 140 police officers and 84 firefighters on the job -- the firefighters served as ushers, making sure everyone stayed seated so the crazed teenagers couldn't launch an all-out assault on the stage.
In Montreal, the band had received death threats from French-Canadian separatists. During two performances there, police sharpshooters joined the crowds at the Montreal Forum. The Beatles were nervous, but everything went fine.
The only threats in Florida were from Dora. Fortunately, the hurricane was polite enough to get out of town so the real show could go on as scheduled.
Nonetheless, police twice used tricks to thwart the best efforts of Beatlemaniacs. The first maneuver came at the old Imeson Airport, where 150 kids had gathered for the band's arrival. The Beatles' plane, however, taxied to a private hangar, 200 yards from the crowd massed at the terminal. At the hangar, a police escort of six motorcycle cops and several police cars was waiting in hiding.
"When the kids realized what was happening, here they came" across the tarmac, says Carmichael, the former police officer. When the charging teens were halfway to the hangar, the motorcade sped past them. "I kind of felt bad about that."
The Beatles were whisked to the George Washington Hotel, an aging landmark in downtown Jacksonville that has since been torn down. The band members relaxed for a while, then starred in a news conference, during which 150 members of the local media asked inane questions, such as: "Does your hair require special attention?" and "What will you do when the bubble bursts?"
Carmichael kept his eyes on Ringo. "The whole time, he was taking pieces of ice from a pitcher in front of him and flinging them into the audience," says Carmichael. "The Beatles were just like little kids. It was fun to watch."
After the news conference, it was time for the Beatles to be driven to the Gator Bowl for the show. By then, 500 teenagers had gathered outside the hotel, intent on seeing, perhaps even touching, their heroes.
Because of the crowd, it took 24 officers 15 minutes to get the lads from an elevator at the hotel garage into the cars and out to the street -- a distance of 25 feet. The Florida Times-Union described the scene as a near riot. Girls were climbing on the Beatles' car, screaming hysterically and calling, "Ooh, ooh, George!" and "Ringo, Ringo!"
The Beatles wanted contact with their fans, says Carmichael, so police struggled not only to keep the girls away but also to prevent the Beatles from wading into the crowd. "They would've gotten out in the middle of it, and we were scared of that."
Fab show, rotten seats
During the show at the Gator Bowl, the crowd was energetic but well-behaved. What was unique for a Beatles show, however, was the unsettled weather. Although Dora had departed, the wind still gusted as high as 45 mph as the band performed on a stage raised six feet above the field. Ringo's drums had to be nailed to the stage.
In the book Ticket to Ride, John Lennon recalled, "We've never been through a thing like that. . . . We felt uncomfortable with all that wind."
Said Ringo Starr: "My hair was blowing, and I thought it was weird, but the drums were tied down, so we made it, you know."
High in the stands, Ann Burt was straining for a good view. "Our seats were so high, the Beatles were teeny tiny specks. We bought cheap binoculars and passed them back and forth, which didn't do much good."
Rorie Fore and Kathleen Evans had the same problem.
"I have pictures that I took with a little camera," says Evans, "and you can see them, but they are ants."
"I thought they were so handsome," says Fore, "and I was sorry I couldn't see them better. I wished I had brought binoculars because I wanted to see their pores."
The Beatles played for about 45 minutes, then left the stage. The crowd was told the band was taking a break -- in truth, the four were making a break for the limousines.
Before the crowd realized what was happening, Carmichael and his police colleagues were zipping the Beatles toward the airport, where they would fly to Boston for a show the next night.
And that was the end of a most memorable day for Jacksonville.
All that's left is for Fore, now 55 and a registered nurse in Macon, Ga., to put everything in perspective.
"I shook hands with President Eisenhower," says Fore, "and I saw John Kennedy in the Senate before he was president. Seeing the Beatles was a lot better."