Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace.
—from Imagine by John Lennon (1940–1980)
Today, October 9th 2015 would have been John Lennon’s 75th birthday; it is also the 40th birthday of John and Yoko Ono’s son, Sean. And it is the 30th anniversary of the dedication and opening of Strawberry Fields, Central Park’s 5.3-acre tribute to Mr. Lennon.
Located on the Park’s west side, at 72nd Street, this lively memorial is within view of the home that Mr. Lennon shared with his family. When Mr. Lennon and Ms. Ono visited the Park for strolling and people watching, this area was their usual entry point.
Central Park has designated Strawberry Fields a Quiet Zone. Because it is one of the more popular areas of the Park, with musicians singing Beatles’ tunes, it is rarely quiet. Oddly enough, though, it is peaceful. Recorded in 1966, the song, Strawberry Fields Forever takes its title from an orphanage in Liverpool, England, Mr. Lennon hometown. He enjoyed visiting and playing with the children there. Lennon’s Aunt Mimi, who raised him, disapproved of her nephew’s visits to the orphanage. His response to her objections, “nothing to get hung about,” became part of the song’s lyrics.
The official dedication date, October 9, 1985, would have been Mr. Lennon’s 45th birthday. His widow, Yoko Ono, and their son Sean attended the ceremony, along with New York City major, Ed Koch and the NYC Parks Commissioner Henry Stern. On March 26, 1981 the NYC Council passed Local Law 34 of 1981; Mr. Stern had introduced the law while he was still a council member. The law aimed to name a tear-drop-shaped plot of land in Central Park, Strawberry Fields. Mayor Ed Koch signed the bill into law on April 16, 1981.
Ms. Ono donated $500,000 for the landscaping project that converted an otherwise ordinary part of the Park into the haven it has become. She gave another $500,000 to serve as an endowment that would maintain Strawberry Fields. Bruce Kelly, a landscape architect, carefully integrated his design with the historic landscape of Central Park’s creators, Frederick Law Olmsted (1822–1903) and Calvert Vaux (1824–1895). It is a job well done.
A key feature of Mr. Kelly’s design is the Garden of Peace. Ms. Ono contacted countries around the world, requesting a botanical donation for the Garden of Peace. Monaco sent dogwoods; the Soviet Union gave river birches; Canada supplied maple trees, its national symbol; and from the Netherlands came daffodil bulbs. Meant to be a space for reflection, its shrubs, trees, flowers were donated by 150 nations. Even nations that are politically opposed have their horticultural donations growing side-by-side peacefully; Jordan gave fothergilla, and Israel donated a cedar tree.
At the heart of Strawberry Fields is the Imagine mosaic. Surrounded by benches that often attract a guitar-strumming singer of Lennon/McCartney songs, the circular commemoration was a donation from the mosaic artisans in Naples, Italy. With a circumference of slightly more than 34 feet, the black-and-white marble pieces of the medallion are arranged in a starburst fashion. This classic ancient Roman design is often decorated with Lennon/Beatle-related mementoes. These are placed here by fans who have made the pilgrimage to Strawberry Fields.
The choice of Mr. Lennon’s 1971 recording hit, Imagine reflects his strong pacifist views. The song, evoking the hope for a world without strife, war and conflict, has become an anthem for peace advocates around the world in the years following its release. In 1964 Ms. Ono published a book of poetry entitled Grapefruit. Mr. Lennon stated that he was inspired to write the lyrics for Imagine by one of those poems, “Cloud Piece.” Another influence he sited was a prayer book that was a gift from comedian Dick Gregory.
From the western area of Strawberry Fields it is possible to see the Dakota apartment house, where Mr. Lennon and Ms. Ono made their home. It was in front of this 1884 landmark building that Mr. Lennon was gunned down by Mark David Chapman on the night of Monday, December 8, 1980. Mr. Lennon and Ms. Ono had moved into their apartment at the Dakota in 1973; Sean was born in 1975. Ms. Ono and Sean Lennon continue to live there.
A dream you dream alone is only a dream
A dream you dream together is reality.
—Yoko Ono (1933– )
Experience this peaceful corner of the Park and much more during our Central Park Walking Tour. The Tour is good fun and greater value.