CLEVELAND (WJW) – December 23, 1963, a young Cleveland Heights girl named Janice Hawkins, now Janice Mitchell, turned her radio dial and life changed.
“And the next thing I heard were the opening chords for “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” for the first time,” said Mitchell. “I was just transformed. It was like electricity, like being struck with the happiest lightning you could ever imagine.”
Mitchell is a self-described instant “Beatlemaniac.”
At age 16, she devoured every Beatle record and magazine she could get her hands on, while waiting patiently for the band’s 1964 Ed Sullivan Show appearance.
Then, Cleveland radio station WHK announced The Beatles were coming to town and as Mitchell’s book My Ticket to Ride explains, a first-of-its-kind lottery would decide who got tickets.
“We learned Public Auditorium had 10,000 seats. So, they devised a plan using postcards and the postcards had to be made out a certain way because they were going to be fed into an IBM computer,” said Mitchell.
Janice wrote that “her life depended on getting tickets” to the show and she did; front row, center seats to be exact. But get this: one day after the concert, she and a friend hopped on a plane to the United Kingdom and planned to stay in Beatleland for good.
“What is the purpose of your stay?” an excerpt from My Ticket to Ride reads. ‘”Vacation,’ I replied. That was partly true. My heart pounded, but I remained calm. I scanned the area beyond the customs man, looking for any signs that might mean we’d be taken into custody.”
With her friend’s college fund money and their passports, the girls made it to London and were hoping for a chance encounter with John, Paul, George and Ringo.
But for 23 days, the 16-year-olds just lived their best lives.
“Oxford Street was amazing, Carnaby Street, Marble Arch, seeing the London Bridge in the distance,” said Mitchell. “It expanded my universe and showed me what life could be like… right in the middle of the development of British Invasion music.”
Little did Mitchell know, the trip sparked an international search for the two missing Cleveland Heights girls. The Beatles were even looking for them.
Decades after being found and brought back to Cleveland, Mitchell still says it was worth it.
“Oh, absolutely, it was the best adventure. Any Beatle girl or Beatle boy would have loved to have that adventure. I know it because I hear from people all the time.”
Mitchell’s adventure isn’t over. Her book My Ticket to Ride will be featured at International Beatles Week in Liverpool and Rock N’ Roll Day in Willoughby Hills this summer. And if this entire story sounds like a movie, Mitchell agrees and says she’d love to see it on the big screen.