Fifty-six years ago, the Beatles tried to sneak into town. Their private jet landed in the dead of night in a bid to escape the crowds. It didn’t work. They were met by a mob of shrieking teens who chased after rock’s mop-haired darlings as they left Friendship Airport (now BWI Marshall) in a limousine, flanked by 22 police cars. A caravan of fans followed them downtown at speeds of up to 80 mph while leaning out their windows shouting those iconic lyrics from “She Loves You” (Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!).
On Sept. 13, 1964, as part of their first official North American tour, the Beatles played Baltimore. The city had seen nothing like it. The English rockers packed the Civic Center for two Sunday shows, drawing 13,000 convulsive fans for each performance. (That same afternoon the Orioles, who led the American League pennant race, drew 3,035 for a game at Memorial Stadium.)
By late summer, Beatlemania was, in a word, pandemic. The Fab Four arrived with five No. 1 hits for the year and seven songs on Billboard’s Hot 100 that week alone. Their first film, “A Hard Day’s Night,” had packed more than 20 local theaters and drive-ins in August as a runup for the arrival of John, Paul, George and Ringo.
Their fans, mostly school-age girls, cooked up ways to meet them. Some staked out the lobby of the Holiday Inn on Lombard Street, where the Beatles stayed. Others rode the hotel’s elevators repeatedly, hoping to glimpse their heartthrobs. Eleanor Livingston, 15, of Baltimore, dressed as a maid and got as far as the door of the Beatles' 10th-floor suites before being turned away.
Across the street, at the Civic Center (now Royal Farms Arena), other plots were afoot. Two girls sneaked into the building Friday, and tried to hide in lockers backstage but were chased out. Marcia Edelston, 14, of Pikesville, slipped into the venue Saturday and persuaded an employee to show her the Beatles’ dressing room, where — on a paper coat hanger — she scribbled her telephone number and the words I love you, Ringo.
Another youngster pinned her hopes on divine intervention, lighting votive candles at St. Elizabeth Catholic Church, in Patterson Park, in hopes of meeting the Brits. Susan and Gail Windsor, sisters from Glen Burnie, managed to sleep in the Civic Center balcony the night before the concert and then, during the opening acts, crept along a catwalk above the stage before they were discovered.
For the Beatles’ safety, the city assigned 200 cops, some on horseback, to patrol the area; Civic Center officials hired 70 more to police the crowd inside. Street vendors hawked everything from Beatles pictures to Beatles cookies and dolls. By current standards, concert tickets were a steal at $2 and $3.75. (Years later, a woman sold her stub on eBay for $350.)
Youngsters streamed into the arena carrying Beatles pennants and lapel pins (“In case of emergency, call Ringo and Paul”). They draped banners over balcony rails (“You’ve recaptured the colonies and we love it”). They sat restlessly through four opening acts (the Bill Black Combo, the Exciters, Jackie DeShannon and Clarence “Frogman” Henry). Then a local disc jockey, Johnny Dark of WCAO-AM, introduced the headliners and the place went nuts.
For 30 minutes the Beatles sang a string of hits, from “Can’t Buy Me Love” to “I Want To Hold Your Hand,” drowned out by screaming fans who stood on their folding chairs, some of which collapsed. Then it was over. After the second concert, The Sun reported, the crowd hurried around the corner and “massed in thousands” in front of the Holiday Inn for one last glimpse of the group. Police with K-9 dogs cleared them out in an hour.
As she left, one girl sobbed, “I haven’t got anything to live for anymore!”
All in all, the crowd had behaved. No one rushed the stage. Several people fainted but there was only one casualty — a traffic patrolman who’d been bitten on the backside by a police dog. He returned to duty.
That evening, the Beatles held an all-night private party in La Ronde, the hotel’s revolving rooftop restaurant. Wearing sunglasses and a white shirt with black polka dots, John Lennon, The Sun reported, "looked like a blind Dalmatian.”
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The Beatles left the next afternoon with little hubbub, seen off at the airport by about 100 fans. But they’d left their mark on Baltimore. In 2014, on the 50th anniversary of the concert, four women who’d attended the event met outside the arena to reminisce — and, perhaps, to sing a few bars of “Please Please Me” as a nod to the group that had pleased them half a century earlier.