The first month began with Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, Pearl Bailey and Barbara Eden leading an eclectic troupe of performers for “The New Madison Square Garden Salute to the U.S.O.” General Omar Bradley received a special Gold Medal, and, in a bit of burlesque, Hope clowned with Rocky Marciano between the ropes. Quickly, The Garden was brimming with events.
Three nights later, Dick Barnett, Willis Reed and Walt Frazier led the Knicks over the San Diego Rockets, and within the week the Rangers staged their own opening night. Eddie Giacomin was barely tested in goal in a victory over the Philadelphia Flyers.
Soon, college basketball and wrestling came in, and Joe Frazier knocked out Buster Mathis (this time, it was boxing for real) in a heavyweight bout.
All in all, it was an audacious unveiling for the new arena.
Fifty years later, through championships, concerts, the Grammys, political conventions, two visits from the Pope, renovation and modernization, the lore of those early days is still part of the building — the fourth in Madison Square Garden’s 139-year history.
Over the coming months, the Official MSG Blog will take a periodic peek back at the special moments and at the arena itself — a continuing feat of engineering.
Here, we share with you part of a trove of memorabilia from Michael Hayes, perhaps the first guest ever to walk through The Garden’s doors.
For that debut night, Feb. 11, 1968, Hayes, 14 at the time, rode the subway alone from Brooklyn, arriving hours early for the U.S.O tribute. He often stayed up late to watch Hope and Crosby in their Road movies, and so his $10 ticket — the cheapest in the house — was a dream come true. To reach his seat (Section 423 / Row G / Seat 14) he took the escalator to the highest reaches of the building, where he watched Crosby, far below, croon his way through “Don’t Fence Me In” during a late rehearsal. And he got to see Barbara Eden from I Dream of Jeannie. Every other seat in the arena was empty.
Hayes kept a small trove of his mementos from that night, including programs, photos, and the original ticket stub for Section 423 / Row G / Seat 14.
With the 50th anniversary in mind, Hayes, now 64 and a retired high school history teacher, generously donated the keepsakes to the Madison Square Garden archives.
Recalling the moment he first entered the building, beneath the iconic ceiling, he said, “It spoke to me as a kid.”
“I suspect,” he added, “it has spoken to many others over the last 50 years.”
About The Madison Square Garden Company
The Madison Square Garden Company (MSG) is a world leader in live sports and entertainment experiences. The company presents or hosts a broad array of premier events in its diverse collection of iconic venues: New York’s Madison Square Garden, The Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden, Radio City Music Hall and Beacon Theatre; the Forum in Inglewood, CA; The Chicago Theatre; and the Wang Theatre in Boston. Other MSG properties include legendary sports franchises: the New York Knicks (NBA), the New York Rangers (NHL) and the New York Liberty (WNBA); two development league teams – the Westchester Knicks (NBAGL) and the Hartford Wolf Pack (AHL); and esports teams through Counter Logic Gaming, a leading North American esports organization, and Knicks Gaming, MSG’s NBA 2K League franchise. In addition, the Company features the popular original production – the Christmas Spectacular Starring the Radio City Rockettes – and through Boston Calling Events, produces New England’s preeminent Boston Calling Music Festival. Also under the MSG umbrella is TAO Group, a world-class hospitality group with globally-recognized entertainment dining and nightlife brands: Tao, Marquee, Lavo, Avenue, The Stanton Social, Beauty & Essex and Vandal. More information is available at www.themadisonsquaregardencompany.com