Fifty years after George Harrison visited his sister Louise Harrison Caldwell in September 1963, plans are under way for a historic marker to be placed in Capitol Park located on the southeast side of the Benton public square.
Jim Kirkpatrick, chairman of the Harrison Committee, said Harrison roamed the area undetected because his visit was before The Beatles were featured on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1964.
"I received a phone call earlier this year from William Furry, director of the Illinois State Historical Society, about placing a historic marker in Benton to commemorate the 50th year of his visit," Kirkpatrick said.
He said the dedication ceremony will occur at 2 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 21 in Capitol Park.
Harrison wrote about his travels to America in Anthology, and reminisced about visiting his sister, shopping in record stores and purchasing albums.
The music legend traveled to the United States with his brother, Peter, and stayed in what became a sanctuary of Beatles memorabilia until the home located on McCann Street adjacent to the Benton Consolidated High School was sold.
Louise Harrison wanted to promote The Beatles' music with local radio stations.
She had previously been sent a copy of "From Me to You," that she took to the WFRX-AM radio station in West Frankfort. Disc jockey Marcia Raubach played the song over the airwaves for the first time in the U.S. in June 1963.
When George Harrison visited his sister, the two hitchhiked to the West Frankfort radio station with a copy of "She Loves You," which had been released the previous month in the United Kingdom. The single was also played by the station.
While in Benton, George Harrison performed with a local group, The Four Vests, at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Hall in Eldorado. His sister arranged the guest spot.
He also performed at the Bocce Ball Club in Benton, in Louise Harrison's living room with The Four Vests' members Kenny Welch and Gabe McCarty, and visited the Garden of the Gods, Kirkpatrick said.
The Harrison Committee includes Franklin County Historic Preservation Society Chairman Bob Rea, Tom Herman, Rick Linton, Darren Galloway and Steve Browning, all of Benton; Kirkpatrick of Marion, and Raubach of West Frankfort.
"It is truly an honor for a county to be designated by the Illinois State Historic Preservation Society as the recipient of a marker," Rea said. "While application can be made, the Harrison Marker was completely initiated by ISHPS. Generally speaking, designation requires a minimum 50 year lapse of time, and in the case of an individual, must be an event of national or international influence or interest."
Rea said the only other historic marker in Franklin County is the Logan Home, 1856-1861 placed across from the First Baptist Church on South Main Street in Benton in 1967.
Page 2 of 2 - "There are no current markers in Williamson County and three in Jefferson County consisting of Goshen Road, placed in 1973; the Appellate Court House, placed in 1974, and the site of the Mt. Vernon Car Manufacturing Company (train), placed in 1992," Rea said.
"During discussion with ISHPS, we are hopeful that our next designation could possibly be Benton native Doug Collins in 2022," he said. "That year will commemorate the 50 year anniversary of his role during the1972 Munich Olympics at the height of the cold war with the USSR."
Kirkpatrick also extended appreciation to Benton Mayor Gary Kraft. "Gary has helped us with other projects and he is 100 percent behind this historic marker dedication ceremony," he said.
"We originally thought about placing the marker on the east side of the Franklin County Courthouse but decided it would be seen by more people if it was placed in Capitol Park," Kirkpatrick said.
Guest speakers include Furry, Louise Harrison Caldwell, and Raubach, to name a few. He said all activities will take place in the Billy Grammer Band Shelter located in Capitol Park.
"We consider this an honor and want to do it in style," Kirkpatrick said. "We have been working with Bob Rea who has been very helpful in putting the ceremony together."
He said the remaining members of The Beatles will also be invited to attend.
Kirkpatrick said news of the Sept. 21 ceremony is attracting interest. "We are getting inquires from people in all parts of the United States as well as England," he said. "In my mind, George Harrision was a member of the largest group in the history of rock and roll.
"What makes this even more significant is that Sept. 21 is a week before the 50th anniversary of his visit," Kirkpatrick said. "George Harrison performed at the Eldorado VFW on Sept. 28, 1963."
He said the idea of honoring legendary musicians began with the construction of the Billy Grammer Band Shelter. "That was the first step," Kirkpatrick said. "Commemorating George Harrison's visit is the next step.
"We hope to honor Doug Collins and John Malkovich, as well as other Benton greats in the future," he said.