Dave Bakke: McCartney sighting sets off Beatlemania

Dave Bakke

"Hello, is this C.J. Lowder? Daily Mirror in London calling.”

“C.J.? Hi, this is Cody from the Spike O’Dell show, WGN radio, Chicago.”

“Hello, is this Dave Bakke? Hi Dave, I’m a reporter from USA Today. We may possibly be doing a story on Paul McCartney being in Springfield.”

“Hi Dave, it’s Dave Hoekstra from the Chicago Sun-Times …”

Things have gone all Beatlemania since The State Journal-Register published a story about the Paul McCartney sighting at the Springfield Circle K gas station and convenience store on Saturday.

Yes, it really was McCartney and his girlfriend, Nancy Shevell, in, of all things, a 1989 Ford Bronco.

The story about the two of them passing through central Illinois has been translated into French and into German and into Dutch (“Het nieuws raakte bekend nadat McCartney zaterdag met een groepje fans poseerde aan een tankstation in Springfield, Illinois.”)

The photograph of The Cute One posing with five Springfield guys — C.J., Josh and Jared Lowder, Jeremy Judd and Cory Neuhoff — was taken by Shevell using Josh Lowder’s cell phone in the Circle K parking lot. It has appeared in at least three London newspapers.

It has been a whirlwind few days, but the guys are enjoying it.

“My brother (Josh) is on the phone with somebody from Spain — Spanish El Periodico,” C.J. said when I called him Wednesday. “Josh said he’d never seen a number like that on his phone before.”

C.J.’s quote in the London Daily Mail appeared on the People magazine Web site Wednesday morning.

“It’s cool. It’s awesome,” says C.J. “I came to work this morning thinking it would be about over. But it’s bigger today than it was yesterday.”

The story, first posted Monday on sj-r.com, has become one of the most-read stories on this newspaper’s Web page in the 11 years since the site was created — more than 37,000 hits and counting.

My home phone rang at 7:30 a.m. Wednesday. A producer from WGN radio’s Spike O’Dell show was looking for the phone numbers of the guys who met Paul in Springfield. Some of them were on the show Thursday morning. The appearance was promoted on air by Pat Hughes and Ron Santo during Wednesday’s Chicago Cubs radio broadcast on WGN.

After talking to someone from the O’Dell show bright and early Wednesday morning, I got in my car, turned on the radio and heard Fast Eddie on WQNA talking about the McCartney sighting — right after playing a couple of Beatles’ songs.

A few minutes later, while waiting at the counter at Brew-Baker’s, I heard employees talking about it in the kitchen. It has been the buzz all over town since Monday.

The reporter from USA Today asked me why this is causing such a stir in Springfield. Why?

Listen, you don’t see Brad and Angelina in the produce aisle at the Aldi’s, and you don’t see Paul McCartney at the Circle K in Springfield. It just doesn’t happen.

But it did.

And the hubbub all began with an e-mail I received from his honor Springfield Mayor Tim Davlin. “I thought you might find this interesting,” the mayor wrote in a fine bit of understatement. He included the story of McCartney being seen here Saturday along with the photo.

Suitably skeptical at first, we here at the paper considered the possibility of the photo of Paul and the Springfield boys being manipulated. Or it could have been a look-alike or not Paul for a variety of reasons. On Monday, I asked C.J. Lowder, point-blank, if this was legit.

“I’m Catholic, man,” he answered, “I swear it was him.” Whoa. He played the Catholic card on me, another Catholic. What could I do?

After interviewing C.J. and his cousin, Josh, and doing some Web research and otherwise checking the story out, I left the newspaper Monday 95 percent convinced that McCartney had been here.

On Tuesday morning, it went to 100 percent certain. I received another e-mail then, this one from Josh Lowder’s girlfriend, Bethany Catherwood. It showed an earlier photo of McCartney and Shevell. In the picture, he is wearing the same unique belt as he is wearing in Josh’s photo.

Wednesday’s Mary Schmich column in the Chicago Tribune reported that McCartney and Shevell had been seen at the Route 66 Welcome Center in Joliet on Saturday. That made it 110 percent certain that McCartney was here.

So take that, all you skeptics who have been greeting me for the past few days with things like, “Hey, Dave, guess what? I just saw Mick Jagger downtown in a 1975 Chevy. You better hurry down there before he’s gone!” Very funny.

The London papers are saying, with no sources to back it up, that Paul and Nancy are traveling Route 66, just to be alone together for a while to see how things go. That could be just a guess, but it could be real.

The only twinge of regret any of us in Springfield have is whether, by making such a big deal out of his 10-minute pit stop here, we might have ruined Paul and Nancy’s trip. We certainly hope not. If we messed you up, we’re sorry, mate. Nobody here expected the worldwide frenzy.

We hope instead that the two of you are on the road, or back in New York or England, having a good laugh at the rest of us who, 44 years after the Fab Four invaded America, just can’t quite get over it.

Dave Bakke can be reached at (217) 788-1541 ordave.bakke@sj-r.com