She remembers the screaming, the stage and the hair

Judy Wheatley sat in the second row when the Beatles played the Washington Coliseum Feb. 11, 1964. (WTOP/Michelle Basch)
Judy Wheatley's ticket stub. The "ES" once said "The Beatles." The ticket price was $3, a treat from her date. (WTOP/Michelle Basch)
Judy Wheatley was 18 years old when she saw the Beatles at the Washington Coliseum.(WTOP/Michelle Basch)

WASHINGTON — Judy Wheatley is an English teacher at Magruder High School in Rockville, but 50 years ago Tuesday night she was a University of Maryland student in the audience at the Washington Coliseum to see the Beatles’ American concert debut.

“I think it must have been around Christmas or in January of that year that we heard ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand,’ and everybody went crazy over the Beatles,” Wheatley remembers.

She says a boy she met at the student union asked her to come to the show with him, and she accepted “even though I was not really interested in him.” It meant a free ticket. The price was $3.

She remembers screaming throughout the concert.

“Part of it was they were British — they had the accents; we could hardly understand them because they were Liverpudlians,” she says.

And there was the hair.

“Our boys here; well, some had the ducktail haircuts, but [the Beatles] had that long hair. Oh, my goodness — down on their foreheads. We just thought it was great. And then, of course, the suits — very British-looking.”

Wheatley adds that timing had a lot to do with the impact the Beatles had on America in 1964.

“We just had experienced the assassination of JFK, which was one of the low points that I’ve ever lived through. The whole nation in mourning, and then all of sudden here came this group,” she says.

Wheatley was surprised that the Beatles had to play the Washington Coliseum on a very bare stage with what she calls “a crummy little railing.”

At first, the band was facing away from Wheatley.

“I remember thinking ‘Oh, we’re going to look at the back of them.’ But then they turned around and we got to see them face-to-face,” she says.

She could hardly hear them, though: “It was just so loud. So much screaming.”

Ask Wheatley to name her favorite Beatle, and she has two answers: “I felt bad for George because most people liked Paul. I secretly liked Paul the best, but I used to say I liked George.

“Ringo, he wasn’t somebody that you’d imagine having as a boyfriend. And John Lennon didn’t really appeal to me. It was Paul and George,” she says.

Wheatley’s favorite songs by the Fab Four are “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” “Things We Said Today” and “In My Life.”

Wheatley admires the Beatles’ longevity. In an age where many people rocket to fame and back to obscurity in a couple of years, she says, “the Beatles have endured. They came on the scene, they made a huge impact, and then they never went away really. Their music is still played everywhere today.”

A few years ago, Wheatley went on a Beatles walking tour in London, past the courthouse where Paul McCartney got married. This year, she’s going on a cruise to Liverpool to see some of the Beatles’ childhood homes.

“I cannot believe it’s [been] 50 years, and sometimes, when I think about being there, it almost seems like it was a dream. But it was a wonderful, wonderful dream.

“It was the biggest thing I ever was a part of, I think.”

In a rare move, Wheatley wore her eyeglasses to the concert. She thinks it was either because she really wanted to get a good look at the band or she was trying to discourage her date from hitting on her.

Around the 1:42 mark of this video, you can spot Judy Wheatley, who was sitting in the second row. She’s wearing glasses, and she’s next to a tall guy wearing a skinny tie and suit.

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