The odds are that Mark J. Mahal has something no one else in the world has - a left-over piece of cake and the guitar ornament from John Lennon's 31st birthday celebration. Mark has been kind enough to share his story and photographs of his close encounter with John and Yoko in October 1971.
"I was a sophomore in high school when I happened to see John and Yoko on The Dick Cavett Show. Among the things they were plugging was the opening of an exhibit of Yoko’s artwork at the Everson Museum of Art, a gallery just three hours to the north of my hometown of Minersville, PA. Being the Beatle-fan that I was (and still am), I was determined to get to Syracuse, come hell or high water. It took nearly two weeks, but I was finally able to convince my liberally-minded mother to drive me to Syracuse (along with my younger sister, aunt and cousin), where I hoped to catch a glimpse of John Lennon.
I never could have imagined what would transpire over that whirlwind of a weekend in October 1971.
The trip began with quite a 'rush' as we pulled into the parking garage of The Hotel Syracuse, and saw John's psychedelic Rolls Royce. I blurted out, "he's staying here!, and nearly jumped out of the window of our car. Since I was not yet 15 and came from a small town in the hard coal region of Pennsylvania, to me this was a BIG happening. I dashed to the Rolls and was amazed to find that the doors were unlocked and the back seat filled with letters, drawings and trinkets from fans. Although I feared that a security guard might appear and take me away, I got behind the wheel of the Rolls for a snapshot, then hopped in the back seat for another photo, but not before I pocketed the parking stub as a souvenir.
We checked in to our room and found that the entire seventh floor had been reserved for the Lennon's entourage and was OFF LIMITS, with security posted at the elevators and exits. An all-night vigil in the lobby proved fruitless, and as morning broke, we set off for the museum. We arrived at the Everson hours before the doors were scheduled to open, as we expected there would be a huge turnout. Perhaps my most vivid memory is that of a very tall hippie with long hair, beard and moustache, who wore an earring that resembled a psychedelic life preserver dangling on a wire. I have come to realize the likely reason he stuck in my mind for all this time is that he had fired up a joint, something this fourteen-year-old from Smalltown USA hadn’t been exposed to before. As the morning passed, the crowd continued to swell and grow increasingly restless. My mother was becoming frantic for the crush of the crowd was something that she wasn't prepared for. Fortunately, we were near the front of the line and were able to escape the crowd once the doors finally opened.
The exhibit, This Is Not Here, was very avant-garde and very cool. The entire gallery was filled with Yoko's art, and included contributions from John and a number of other artists and celebrities. One of Yoko's pieces was a ladder set under what appeared to be a blank white canvas suspended from the ceiling. However, as you climbed the ladder and took hold of the magnifying glass that hung from a string, you could see that the word "YES had been printed in the center of the canvas. I thought to myself how awesome it was for such a simple thing to make such a powerful statement.
Back at the hotel I had a whole new agenda, for it was October 9th, John's 31st birthday. I received a tip from a bellhop who was working the seventh floor that there was going to be a party as Yoko, Ringo and Maureen Starkey, Phil Spector, Allen Ginsberg and a number of other friends helped to celebrate John's birthday. All one needed was a sticker from the Everson Museum (given to those who helped with the production) and you were in. Throughout the evening and early hours of the morning I tried to join the party, but my efforts were in vain. I even tried to peel the sticker from a photographer's gear bag in the elevator. I was nearly successful, but the elevator opened, and out the door she went - along with what I was hoping would be my 'golden ticket'. Every trip I took up that elevator ended with the same results... security (dubbed 'Peace Marshals' by John and Yoko) giving me the bum's rush.
I decided to give it one last try before surrendering to the fact that I hadn't been invited to the party. I got in the elevator and pushed the button; however, when it reached the seventh floor, the doors opened, and to my astonishment there was NO security!
I peeked out and sprinted down the hallway. I could hear the sounds of a jam session, and I was only a few feet away from the door when my feet left the ground… I WAS BUSTED! Two LARGE security guards picked me up and unceremoniously placed me back in the elevator, stating that they didn't want to see me anymore. I was totally bummed, and to this day I believe that had I made it through the door, John would have let me hang out - at least for a little while.
I was no longer tired for the adrenaline that raced through me like a runaway freight train, but returned to our room where I tried in vain to crash for a few hours. By 7:00 a.m. I was back in the lobby, where a bellhop informed us that the Lennon's entourage would be leaving for the Onondaga Indian reservation south of Syracuse in the late morning or early afternoon. I thought this would be my last chance, so a plan was conceived with the help of a twenty-year-old hippie chick with long, dark, curly hair who wore "granny glasses like John's.
We stationed people in both the lobby and in the garage to make sure that they couldn't get out without us knowing, and I was at my post in the lobby when the moment finally arrived. I saw both elevators go to the seventh floor and stop. Moments later the elevators descended, one stopped at the mezzanine while the other went directly to the garage. I heard a commotion coming from the front of the hotel, so I ran towards the marble stairs; (Ringo and his wife Maureen had exited at the garage level and were heading out the front door) however, there was suddenly a buzz behind me as John and Yoko appeared in the lobby. They paused for a moment before making their way to the stairs. With my little Kodak disc camera snapping away, I followed them down the stairs as they got into their waiting limos: Ringo & Maureen in one and John, Yoko and Oren R. Lyons, Jr. (a Native American Faithkeeper of the Turtle Clan of the Onondaga and Seneca Nations of the Iroquois Confederacy) in the other. I had managed to slip through security to snap a few quick photos, only to be lifted off my feet once again. However, this time victory was mine. Not only was I able to see both John and Ringo, but also had the pictures to prove it.
The limos sped away and I went back inside the hotel. There I saw the bellhop (my "deep-throat so to speak), and asked if there might be any souvenirs left in the Lennon's room. Not more than fifteen minutes had passed when he returned with treasures from John and Yoko's suite: a piece of John's birthday cake and the plastic guitar neck that adorned it. That piece of cake, which now resembles a chocolate and vanilla snowball has survived six moves, countless power cuts and currently has a place of honor in my freezer. Yes, I did taste it. The plastic guitar neck is now framed along with my photos on my wall of memorabilia.
Footage of the art exhibit along with highlights from John’s party at The Hotel Syracuse can be seen in the 1995 film Happy Birthday To John, a tribute to John by Jonas Mekas. The late night “jam session” from Hotel Syracuse can be found on a number of unofficial releases, the most complete being John Lennon's 31st Birthday Party (Rockin' Records JLBP-01). Since my story first appeared on the internet in 1997, it has been published in Liverpool’s BeatleScene magazine and the book Across Their Universe - The Secret Lives of Beatle Fans. I have been contacted by both the daughter of Fred Friemark, the baker who prepared and delivered the cake, and by Gary Hardiman, a college student/musician who helped to round up the guitars for the impromptu jam session, and was invited by John to sit in.
To this day, I still enjoy being contacted by the many others who just wanted to tell me that my story brought a smile to their face."
Mark may be contacted via his Facebook page or by email at: mmahal[at]comcast[dot]net.