Whether or not you were around during The Beatles' decade-long run, you can make new memories with the legendary group at the Putnam Museum & Science Center.
“The Magical History Tour: A Beatles Exhibition,” the museum’s latest blockbuster exhibit that opens Saturday and ends June 4, includes original artifacts — from musical instruments and clothes to autographs and rare photos — related to The Beatles.
No matter how much you know about the Fab Four, you should prepare to learn a thing or two, according to Peter Miniaci, a Beatles collector who helped create “The Magical History Tour.”
“The beauty of this is that we’re the first one that tells the whole story from 1957 to 1980,” Miniaci said. “It’s a heavy responsibility to tell The Beatles' story. You’re talking about some of the greatest creators of popular culture in the 20th century.”
The touring exhibit, produced by St. Paul, Minnesota-based Exhibits Development Group, or EDG, made its U.S. debut in April 2016 at The Henry Ford in Michigan. It was previously at the Pacific National Exhibition in Vancouver, Canada.
Putnam staff started working to get the attraction three years in advance, according to Kim Findlay, president and CEO of the Putnam.
“If you’re going to get a new exhibit that just started touring, you've got to get in line,” she said. “This is all about connecting people across generations. Parents will bring their kids and grandparents will bring their grandkids, and they can talk about what it was like to see The Beatles.”
Hooked on the story
Pieces include a model of the frequently played Liverpool-based Cavern Club, a drum kit from the Quarrymen, John Lennon's pre-Beatles band, the guitar Paul McCartney learned to play on, personal letters, souvenirs such as bobble heads and board games and photos from The Beatles' 1964 U.S. tour that have never been displayed to the public before.
“We have stuff they owned, that they played, used and wore that a lot of other exhibits don’t have,” said Jim Cushman, whose collection also is featured in the exhibit. “We have a lot of stuff you won’t see anywhere else.”
Those items tend to transport longtime fans of The Beatles back to the 1960s, Cushman said.
“When I was a kid and they came to America, it’s what everybody was talking about,” he said. “The way they looked, the way they talked, the way they played music — they could’ve been from outer space.”
And the fascination continued long after the band broke up, Miniaci said.
“Part of it is that the music is still timeless; you listen to it and you can’t believe it was written 40 or 50 years ago,” he said. “And then their story is so great. When you delve into it, you get hooked on the story.”
That story, as seen at the Putnam Museum, features four chronological segments: "Beginnings, Influences and Life in Liverpool,” "Life on the Road,” "Innovation in the Studio” and "The Decade of the Break-up." Interactive components include a karaoke machine, recording studio booths and a photo opportunity to "dress like The Beatles."
“It starts with these teenagers meeting and this incredible moment in time where there’s so much ahead of them,” Miniaci said. “You go on this journey and you get so much insight into their life. It goes all the way to their tragic ending."
The group’s ending is marked with a 1970 breakup letter, in which John Lennon, George Harrison and Ringo Starr informed Paul McCartney that they did not want his father-in-law to manage the band.
There’s also the goosebumps-inducing original copy of “Double Fantasy,” Lennon’s final album recorded with his wife, Yoko Ono, signed for Mark David Chapman — the man who shot him to death in 1980.
“There are pieces that instantly take you back and stop you in your tracks, and that’s one of them,” Findlay said. “You transport back to that time and remember where you were.”
In January, the Putnam put out a call to Quad-Citians to lend their Beatles-related items for the exhibit.
Findlay said the reaction was “overwhelming.”
“Everybody seems to have a story about The Beatles,” she said. "People are still calling me about it."
A localized segment of “The Magical History Tour” features Beatles memorabilia contributed by 26 Quad-City residents, including a drum kit and guitar belonging to Ellis Kell, the Quad-City music icon who died in December. Artifacts belonging to former U.S. Rep. Lane Evans, of Rock Island, who died in 2014, also are on display.
Hedy Hustedde, 66, of Davenport, offered up a Beatles poster she bought as a teenager. She remembers watching The Beatles on “The Ed Sullivan Show” and talking about their performance, and floppy hair, with friends in middle school.
“It’s nice that things I had sitting around catching dust and never thought I’d share with anyone are suddenly important again,” Hustedde, who works at Bettendorf Public Library, said. “It makes you feel happy you kept it all those years.”