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Heartfelt tributes abound at Michael Jackson birthday bash
Leaving something behind
Music, monument are part of celebration
By Robert Kostanczuk
Often times, fans of Michael Jackson have left a part of themselves behind at the annual birthday celebration for him in Gary, Ind.
Although the bash has expanded to include baubles such as a car show and petting zoo, the true focal point is the pop titan’s oh-so modest, one-level boyhood home.
It’s on a corner at 2300 Jackson St., in an unassuming, down-to-earth neighborhood surrounded by a scattering of vacant residential lots.
This year, a letter -- seemingly from a British follower -- dangled from the spiked, black metal fence in front of the white house with the two small front windows.
Addressing the message to the Jackson family, the letter’s writer said that “despite myself living in England, I really do feel like I’m so close to you all.”
Red roses were spaced out across the top of the fence near the letter.
A side fence held a large message board where the public wrote its thoughts.
One poignant bit of handwriting stated: “Michael, Thank you for saving me and loving me when no one else did. I will continue your message until I take my last breath.”
Another scribbled message of love was left by a gal who indicated she was from Wales.
In the front of the house, on the fence, hung a letter-sized lyrical ode that had a title in all capital letters: MY POEM TO MICHAEL FOR HIS 56TH BIRTHDAY.
A sign in the vicinity announced that Katherine Jackson -- the icon’s mother -- was presenting the 5th Annual Michael Jackson “King of Pop” Tribute Festival of the Arts.
It was a rather inflated name for a three-day Midwest party, which took place Aug. 28-30 -- five years after the entertainer’s shocking death on June 25, 2009, at the age of 50.
A black slab that stands as a front-yard monument gives the singer’s birth and death dates, along with an inscription the borrows the title of one of his hit songs: “Never can say good bye.”
The Rev. Jesse Jackson is a civil rights leader who has personally traveled to Gary to recognize Michael’s Aug. 29 birthday.
Several thousand people attend the birthday event each year.
They’ve listened to live music that recalls Michael Jackson’s countless hit songs.
Meanwhile, visitors from various countries around the globe have been making the trek to gritty Gary to be part of an idol-worshiping community at the birthday celebration -- and Ben Clement is a city official who isn’t surprised.
“Michael Jackson is recognized worldwide as one of the greatest, most impactful, most important entertainers of all time,” said Clement, executive director of the Gary Office of Film and Television. “So it’s not surprising that his fans -- those who are interested in the legacy of Michael Jackson -- are intrigued with a journey here to Gary.”
Correspondent Michael Gonzalez of the Post-Tribune of northwest Indiana wrote about a woman who grew up listening to Michael Jackson music in West Africa. She visited Michael Jackson's boyhood home in Gary this past June in recognition of the fifth anniversary of his death.
Over the decades, the city of Gary has slowly thrown its weight behind the recognition of its stupendously famous native son and his well-known family (the other brothers of the Jackson 5, and sister, Janet).
There is still no museum in Gary to recognize the wildly adored family, but the birthday celebration has gained momentum with the city’s help.
“From my perspective, it means an awful lot to Gary,” Clement said of the late-summer tribute to Michael’s birthday. “It’s very important to retain, or maintain, a connection to that legacy as much as possible.”
The Jackson family left Gary for California in 1969.
The informal, come-as-you-are atmosphere of the “Festival of the Arts” helps remind the public of the Jackson family’s roots in the industrial community known as the Steel City.
In past years, street vendors lined Jackson Street near the famous dwelling. They hawked every kind of MJ merchandise from booths and tents.
This year -- in 2014 -- that same stretch of street was missing the assorted hawkers on Aug. 30, a Saturday, the last day of the festival.
Unlike its early era, the bash was relying more heavily this year on activities that were plopped at the Roosevelt High School football field, directly behind the former Jackson-family house.
At the home -- where a couple of fake, decorative lawn deer could be seen -- a steady stream of the faithful snapped photos of the vaunted grounds as nearby audio speakers pumped out gigantic Jackson hits, like “Thriller,“ along with lesser-known nuggets, namely, “Blame It On the Boogie” and “P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing).”
A huge Michael Jackson gathering will, of course, lead invariably to some quirky moments.
On Aug. 30, for example, a sizable stuffed human dummy was propped up along the front fence of the revered house.
The dummy, though, inexplicably had a photo of Randy Jackson’s face attached to its head.
Randy -- Michael’s inconspicuous younger brother -- got to steal a little of the spotlight for an afternoon.
On a different note, the birthday bash this year placed emphasis on showcasing undiscovered talent or, as promotional material put it, “indie artists.”