BENTON — —
Gov. Pat Quinn doesn't want a southern Illinois city's observance of its connection to late Beatle George Harrison to be just a local thing.
So, he has declared Saturday "George Harrison Day" statewide, coinciding with Benton's plans to unveil a historical marker commemorating Harrison's visit to the small city in 1963.
As part of his proclamation, the Democratic governor urged Illinoisans to attend Benton's free public event honoring "The First Beatle in America."
"Many icons through history have Illinois connections, and we are recognizing one more with this proclamation," Quinn said in a statement. "George Harrison helped define a generation, and we encourage visitors to follow his footsteps throughout southern Illinois."
Harrison visited Benton, a town of 7,000 residents about 30 miles north of Carbondale, to see his sister, Linda Harrison Caldwell. At the time, the Beatles were soaring up the charts in England; their ballyhooed trip to the United States happened the following year.
Quinn said the Beatles took separate vacations in 1963, with John Lennon going to Paris, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr taking in Greece while Harrison sojourned to southern Illinois, where his sister had moved.
Illinois State Historical Society executive director William Furry says Harrison's obscurity allowed him to walk Benton's streets, jam with local musicians, visit record stores and even camp in the Shawnee National Forest without being hassled by fans. Harrison also bought a guitar in Mount Vernon and sang "Happy Birthday" at a bocce ball club in Benton.
A radio station in nearby West Frankfort played many of the Beatles' first recordings, and Harrison was interviewed by a local teenager in what has been said to be the first American question-and-answer session with a Beatle.
Harrison's sister is expected to attend Saturday's ceremony.