Story by Avery Gregurich
It was early morning, Sept. 17, 1969. A month had passed since drug-fueled hippies and love in equal measure conducted their rebellion against society at Woodstock. Two months had passed since the first moon landing, when American astronauts were prancing among the lunar craters and taking giant leaps for mankind. There was nothing that could happen on this September day that would come as a surprise to anyone. Nothing short of the death of a Beatle, that is.
On this morning, Drake University’s newspaper, The Times-Delphic, would be the first publication to officially question the existence of the “real” bassist and singer of the Beatles, Paul McCartney. The piercing headline of the article blatantly asked, “Is Beatle Paul McCartney Dead?” This very question had been proposed and discussed for a few years prior to this publication in small groups of diehard Beatles fans and conspiracy theorists all over the world.
The then 19-year-old sophomore Tim Harper wasn’t a conspiracy theorist or even a hardcore Beatles fan.
“I didn’t own a Beatles record,” Harper said.
When he heard the rumor from fellow Times-Delphic Editor Dartanyan Brown, though, he decided to dig a little deeper.
“I talked to others who might know about the rumor, or something about the Beatles,” Harper said.
This investigating led Harper to a heap of “evidence” proving McCartney’s death. The article revealed that the
band’s album covers, beginning with “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” had cryptic symbols hinting at the front man’s absence.
“On the front cover, a mysterious hand is raised over his head, a sign many believe is an ancient death symbol of either the Greeks or the American Indians,” the article stated. Other proof listed includes a
left-handed guitar lying on the grave before them and, on the back cover, George Harrison pointing towards lyrics from the Lennon-penned song, “A Day in the Life.” The lyric? “Blew his mind out in a car.”
The next two albums held even more clues. The “Magical Mystery Tour’s” album cover saw the Fab Four in gray walrus suits with “Paul” being the only one in black. “The walrus is supposedly the Viking symbol of death,” the article stated. The Beatles next album was untitled but has since been dubbed the “White Album.” According to Harper’s article, two songs in particular hold the most substantial testaments to the scandal. “Glass Onion” contained the confessional lyrics, “Here is another clue for you all: The Walrus was Paul.” “Revolution No. 9” screamed with “many sound effects, including the noise of a spectacular auto crash,” the article stated. Strangely, if played backward, a voice whispers the words, “Turn me on dead man.”
It didn’t take long for Harper’s article to grab the attention of radio and television stations across the United States. A follow-up article printed by The Times-Delphic stated that Harper did interviews with over 12 different radio stations from Los Angeles to Chicago.
“Maury Leavitt, another editor at the TD, took me in hand and said we could make some money by selling interviews to radio stations. I said ‘OK.’ He lined up dozens of interviews with radio stations around the country, $10 for five minutes on the phone with Tim Harper. It was surreal,” Harper said.
Following a taped interview in Chicago, Harper returned to a much quieter situation than when he had left.
“Maury and I were flown down to Chicago on a chartered plane to appear on a talk show, and by the time we came back everything had died down,” Harper said.
On Nov. 7, 1969, Life Magazine printed the headline “Paul is still with us” and revealed that McCartney had been holed up in his secluded Scottish estate
with his family following the release of “Abbey Road.” The album was released two weeks after Harper’s article was published and was the last music that the band recorded together. (“Let It Be” was released after “Abbey Road,” but was recorded before it.)
Harper’s story does not conclude with the rumor, though. He has since gone on to become a freelance writer, journalist, writing coach and an editorial and publishing consultant with a dozen books of his own published. He has also aided in the writing, editing and publishing processes for many other publications. Harper has been cited in several books and documentaries written about and featuring the Beatles. Strangely enough, his work now has him back in contact with the Fab Four, 43 years after his influential article was published.
“I am working with a fellow professor at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism on his book ‘Raising a Beatles Baby,’ about how the Beatles were so important in his family life,” Harper said.
As for the rumor, well, it possesses that extended life span we are all jealous of. Despite lacking real evidence, it is destined to go on existing as long as you can find a Beatles album to listen to.