The city of Gary will be hosting a vigil to mark the passing of the city's most famous native son, Michael Jackson, who died two years ago Saturday. For Chicago area folks, it's a short pilgrimage to the vigil site: Jackson's boyhood home at 2300 Jackson Street.
I wrote about the story for the Chicago Tribune. But as a great entertainer also once sang: I'll be there.
I'm a Gary resident and used to cover Gary City Hall for the Post-Tribune. I even wrote Jackson's obituary for that fine newspaper, and argued with an editor about whether it was correct to say in the lead that MJ was "the most famous person ever born in Gary, Ind." (With apologies to actor Karl Malden, astronaut Frank Borman and Nobel laureate economist Joseph Stiglitz, it was a short debate.)
I can tell you it will be a scene. In the hours after Jackson's death on June 25, 2009, the streets around the house were filled with Jacko fans. His greatest hits thumped on car stereos and boom boxes, and you could have made a day out of rating the skills of the dozens of people breaking out their moonwalk.
The crowd remained pretty huge for days, as fans trampled the overgrown lawn flat on their way to the traditional celebrity funeral pile of memorabilia. The day after, I met a family from Brazil wandering down Jackson Street. A Trib photographer who went the house Friday morning met fans from Maine, Maryland and a family from Minneapolis.
The house, which still is owned by a family trust, now has a giant black memorial monument in the yard, and big iron fence around it, among other improvements. This morning, Jackson's cousin, Keith was passing by and unlocked the fence to let two fans inside the fence to pose for pictures. We Gary residents are friendly like that.
In 2009 and currently, no one was living there, but one of Michael's uncles had lived there as recently as 2008. Jacksons-- that is, the 9 kids, Joe and Katherine-- moved out of the two-bedroom house in 1969, when "I Want You Back" made No. 1. The Jackson 5's last studio album (the band was known as The Jacksons at the time) was titled "2300 Jackson Street"-- the titular single is now the hold music at City Hall.
The city is publicizing Saturday's vigil, but it seems like they're just trying to sort of recognize and provide a little more structure (read: a beginning and end time) to the spontaneous happening that took place in 2009 and, to a lesser extent, last year.
Which is good -- the event should stay true to its roots. Hope to see you.
-- Andrew Grimm
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