According to some reports, three billion people are currently under some kind of COVID-19 lockdown, over a third of the world’s population. The resulting desertion of tourist destinations, workplaces and high streets has resulted in a new breed of internet meme, showing a familiar built-up area “returning” to its former glory as nature quickly recovers in the absence of humans. In one such “before and after” meme, London’s Kilburn High Road is transformed into a photo of the Maldives, alongside a pithy inspirational slogan about the restorative power of nature.
While it is true that pollution hot spots have measurably cleared up thanks to the lockdown, some pieces of viral internet content stretch that proposition way beyond the limits of reality. Social media timelines have been infected with strains of misleading memes celebrating heartwarming instances of nature recovering while humans take an enforced break from destroying the planet. No, elephants did not break into a farm and get adorably drunk on 30kg of corn wine, and no, dolphins are not frolicking in the freshly translucent waters of Venice.
However, one world-famous landmark truly has been restored to its former glory thanks to the lockdown, the iconic “zebra crossing” on Abbey Road. The world’s most famous crosswalk, which The Beatles immortalized on the album cover of the same name, received a well-earned coat of paint from London’s municipal workers, who took advantage of the deserted streets to carry out their noble mission.
Abbey Road itself, and the eponymous Abbey Road recording studios, where The Beatles recorded many of their best-loved albums, are Grade-II listed. This means they benefit from the same protections as other important structures such as the tomb of suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst in Brompton Cemetery, the Tate Gallery and the library at Cambridge University. Thanks to the Grade-II listing, local government is in charge of approving any changes or repairs. Abbey Road Studios are currently closed for the first time in their illustrious 89-year history, in line with the strict measures introduced by the U.K. government to limit the spread of COVID-19.
The zebra crossing was given protected status in 2010. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it was the first street crossing to be recognized in the same way as many famous buildings and historical monuments. The minister for tourism at the time, John Penrose, was moved to remark, “This London zebra crossing is no castle or cathedral but, thanks to the Beatles and a 10-minute photoshoot one August morning in 1969, it has just as strong a claim as any to be seen as part of our heritage.”
The famous photograph was captured by Iain Macmillan on August 8, 1969, when John Lennon, George Harrison and Ringo Starr took a quick break from recording “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” and “The End,” with Paul McCartney pausing his session for “Oh! Darling” to join them. The walk of the Fab Four across Abbey Road was captured by Macmillan, who was perched on a step ladder in the middle of the road, on his Hasselblad camera. Due to the traffic only six photographs were taken, with the fourth being selected for the cover.
It is perhaps fitting that one of the world’s most iconic cultural artifacts will be emerging from the greatest crisis of the century refreshed and invigorated to meet whatever challenges the returning hordes of tourists, sightseers and wellwishers might have in store for it. In the meantime, you can enjoy the world’s most famous road crossing via the Abbey Road webcam.
Originally published in Forbes.
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