Objects of the Month

February 2014: Scrapbooks from Washington Coliseum, site of Beatles' first U.S. concert, 1960-1971

Scrapbooks from Washington Coliseum, site of Beatles' first U.S. concert, 1960-1971
  • Accession No.: 2014.02
  • Donor: John Lynn
  • Description:

    Scrapbooks compiled by businessman Harry Lynn, owner of the Uline Arena / Washington Coliseum from 1959 - 1970, include autographs, letters, personal photographs and other memorabilia from national leaders, athletes and world-famous entertainers, as well as a day-by-day schedule of events held at the venue.

Stage and decorations for Kirov Ballet performance, 1964

JHSGW Collections.

Harry Lynn's (1916 – 2006) scrapbooks, a new addition to the Society's collections, illustrate his efforts to create a cultural and social hub for the entire city in the 1960s.

Lynn was born in Kansas City, MO, but spent most of his childhood in Omaha. During World War II, he joined the Army and was stationed in France and England (Liverpool, according to his son John). He moved to Washington, D.C. in 1948. In late 1959 he purchased the Uline arena and Uline Ice Company.

A long concrete arched building, in the 1950s the Uline Arena was one of Washington's main venues for sports, concerts, and ice skating. Lynn renamed the building the Washington Coliseum. This grandiose title hinted at his aspiration that the Coliseum offer programs that would appeal to everyone.

Harry Lynn with President Harry Truman, 1960 

JHSGW Collections.

Lynn's scrapbooks of the Coliseum's events illustrate his efforts to bring this vision into being. They show how, throughout the 1960s, the Coliseum was a destination for the whole city, hosting sports events, the circus and ice shows, the Kirov and Bolshoi Ballets, special events for the Kennedy White House, and, of course, concerts.

By 1970, however, the Coliseum was about to be supplanted by new and larger venues including the Kennedy Center and the Capital Centre. Lynn sold the Coliseum that year.

A Big Act
In early 1964, the Beatles geared up for their first U.S. tour. Their publisher, Capitol Records, asked Lynn if the Washington Coliseum could host the "Fab Four" for their first U.S. concert. Lynn was skeptical of this British band's ability to fill seats, but he booked them — along with other better-known acts as openers.

On February 11, 1964, following the band's roaring introduction on the Ed Sullivan Show, Lynn joined the crowds at the snow-blanketed Union Station to greet the train from New York — the only one to make it to D.C. that day because of the weather. Following their performance that night, the band expressed their appreciation to Lynn on a note on the back of a publicity photo.

However, only a ghost of the note and signatures are visible on the front. Sometime along the way, this artifact, along with dozens of other photos and notes in Lynn's scrapbooks, was glued on to rigid board. Removing the board without damaging the signatures poses a preservation challenge.

Revealed note from the Beatles to Harry Lynn

"Paul" and "John Lennon" signatures

The Reveal
We enlisted assistance from the Smithsonian's Museum Conservation Institute to reveal the note written on the back of the photograph. Digital Imaging Specialist Keats Webb and Paper Conservator Nora Lockshin employed Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI), to create a digital version of the photo and the ghosted note beneath it. They later wrote about the process for the Smithsonian Institution Archives' blog, The Bigger Picture, in a post called "But all I've got is a photograph . . . or an autograph?""

"To Harry Lynn with fond memories from the BEATLES
Ringo Starr, George Harrison, John McCartney and John Lennon."

News about the photo and the mystery note gained attention from John Kelly at The Washington Post in two stories, as well as WUSA Channel 9. You can view them through the following links: