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Last Updated: Friday, 9 December 2005, 01:11 GMT
Emotions run high on Lennon's day
By Matt Wells
BBC News, New York

Sarah Rafferty
Sarah Rafferty was one young fan who made the pilgrimage
Passions ran high at Strawberry Fields in Central Park on Thursday, as the whole world seemed to gather to remember John Lennon.

Police and park officers gently herded a diverse crowd of fans, well-wishers, journalists and conspiracy theorists around the intimate memorial space, shaded by elm trees, that is named after one of Lennon's most personal songs.

Outside the Dakota Building opposite, on Central Park West - where Yoko Ono still lives, and where Lennon was gunned down by the waiting Mark David Chapman - a man who would only give his name as Alan, was carrying a placard that read "CIA Killed Lennon".

"I loved his music more than anything. Today more than ever," said Alan. His profound belief is that Chapman was programmed by the CIA to assassinate the former Beatle, in case he became a hindrance to the incoming Reagan administration.

There were several loud voices around Strawberry Fields saying the same thing, but the vast majority were there simply to remember, and share their appreciation.

'He was good'

Sitting on a bench to one side of the commotion, but enjoying the anniversary atmosphere, was 83-year-old Milton Wind, who lives just a few blocks away.

John Buckley McQuaid
Irish fan John Buckley McQuaid said Lennon was a hero

"I come here most days, I love the park. I remember when he moved into the Dakota," he said.

"It was a terrible time when he was shot. I was always a Beatle fan because I liked the message."

Pointing towards the mosaic in the centre of the memorial, which is inscribed with the word "Imagine" he was full of memories: "He was good. It's not just empty words."

People stood ten-deep around the mosaic, where fans had come since dawn to lay messages, and place candles.

Anne Fothergill and her husband, from Wales, had been asked to place a special tribute by a relative: "It was a card with a stone heart, with a hole through it and ribbons attached. We've taken some photos so she knows we've done it."

Man with CIA Killed Lennon banner
One man called Alan said he thought Lennon was murdered by the CIA

Guitarists played Beatles classics, and a large group of schoolchildren from Rhode Island gave an impromptu but polished performance of Lennon songs, beginning with Give Peace A Chance.

Native New Yorkers were definitely in the minority, with many visitors making a special trip to the city just to pay their respects.

Australian Sarah Rafferty is travelling around America and planned her New York visit around the anniversary. "I was born in '83 and discovered John's music when I was a teenager," she said.

"Anyone can love it. It will always be timeless. It's great just to be around people who all share the same love for the music and his words. It's togetherness."

As if to emphasize Lennon's enduring and broad appeal, Sarah was chatting to a brand-new acquaintance: 55-year-old John Buckley McQuaid, a Dubliner who now lives in Denmark.

'Something special'

"I'm here because of Lennon's effect on my life," he said. "It all looks different because of him. These days more than ever, we have need of heroes, and he was the last of mine."

Completing the newly-formed group of Lennon aficionados was Renata Mosca, 19, from South Africa. "I grew up with it, and my parents played it for me," she said. "If your parents danced to it back then, it's got to be something special."

She also had a sheepish admission about her favourite Beatle: "My one is Ringo. He's just lovely, though you can't really separate them."

Like so many others, Lennon had come to see New York City as a safe haven and a place to start anew. Unlike most though, he could never be anonymous. Even in death, he continues to attract genuine fanatics, as the wild-eyed speculation continues.

Fans' tributes
Fans laid their own tributes to the fallen Beatle

As for the killer himself, Chapman comes up for parole again next year. It's been refused three times already, and he remains in a New York State prison.

There's a keen sadness felt here that after growing to trust the city and thoroughly embodying its values, Lennon's life was snuffed-out so easily on the kerbside of his own home. The sentimental outpourings were intense in 1980 and still are today.

A moment of silence was due to be observed in the park at the time of the shootings, and then again about 25 minutes later, at the moment he is believed to have died, 25 years ago.

Traditionally, Yoko Ono lights a candle in the window of their apartment as a sign of solidarity with those who observe, into the night.


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