During ANTIQUES ROADSHOW’s 2014 visit to New York City, a guest named Ted brought in a piece of pop culture history. It was a sign that hung in John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s hotel room back in the spring of 1969 while they sat in bed for two weeks to protest the Vietnam War. Spreading their message across the globe, they installed themselves in a different city each week, and the protest became known as their “Bed-In.”
For those who know Lennon strictly for his music and less for his activism, the “bed-in” was his and Ono’s take on a sit-in, a form of non-violent protest that involves one or more people refusing to move, peacefully but stubbornly, until their demands are met.
Lennon’s 1969 bed-in consisted of a two-week period in which newlyweds Lennon and Ono forewent a typical honeymoon trip and instead, for 12 hours a day, invited celebrity guests and press alike to come into their hotel room where their only intent was to sit in bed. Not only was this protest in favor of ending the war, it was a message of world peace, and the couple also tried to spread the good vibes by growing their hair as long as possible.
Ted’s sign, which he purchased at a Sotheby's auction in 1987 for $400, was from the second leg of the bed-in, which was staged at The Queen Elizabeth Hotel in Montreal, following their visit to The Amsterdam Hilton in the Netherlands. Montreal was something of a work-around effort, however, as the pair had wanted to stage round two of their protest in New York but couldn't due to Lennon’s prior cannabis conviction.
The hand-drawn sign that Lennon wrote about Murray the K was not the only one the couple hung up. Most famously “Hair Peace” and “Bed Peace” hung above the bed in their suite — room 702 — at The Amsterdam Hilton. (Fans can still stay in room 702, which has been permanently memorialized, for between $1,800 and $2,300 per night.)
Murray "the K" Kaufman
But during their stay in Montreal, John and Yoko were evidently expecting a visit from Murray “the K” Kaufman. Often referred to as “the fifth Beatle,” Murray the K was a late-night radio talk show host and disc-jockey during the 1960s and early 1970s in New York City.
Kaufman gained popularity in the late 1950s for his short-lived stint doing the all-night show “The Swinging Soiree” on New York City’s AM radio station WINS. In 1959, Kaufman moved the “Soiree” to the station’s primetime 7-to-11 spot, which opened his career up to new possibilities. He played singles from new artists and introduced rock-n-roll acts who are now household names — such as Bobby Darin, The Rascals, The Who, and Jimi Hendrix — to the radio waves.
He was even the first DJ to meet the Fab Four in America. On February 7th, 1964 Murray the K met the four faces of the British sensation known as “The Beatles” in New York City on their first trip to the United States. Soon, he was traveling the country with the band, attending their shows backstage, and even rooming with them.
By the time the spring of 1969 hit, the Beatles had just played their final live show together, the war dragged on in Vietnam, and Murray the K’s fame was waning. In July of that same year, Lennon released his first solo single titled “Give Peace a Chance,” which was an anti-war song he wrote and recorded on Sunday, June 1, during the Montreal bed-in. Murray the K, along with Lennon’s other famous friends including Timothy Leary, Allen Ginsberg, and Derek Taylor, attended the recording session in room 1742.
Because Ted’s sign reads “Murray the K Comes on Monday,” and John and Yoko were documented to have checked into the Queen Elizabeth hotel a week before, on Sunday, May 25, 1969, we can speculate that Kaufman’s anticipated arrival in Montreal was on Monday, May 26, about a week ahead of the Sunday recording.
Back in New York City, Laura Woolley appraised the sign for an auction estimate of $50,000 to $75,000. She told Ted that the “Hair Peace” sign that was also hanging in Lennon’s Montreal room had sold at auction for $187,000. But his own sign was still worth enough to put him in a state of shock. “I saw your knees buckle a little bit there,” Laura smiled.