While I am busy working on my next post on They Don’t Care About Us, I wanted to pass along a press release that was sent to me from The Jackson Family Foundation. I am a huge supporter of what this organization is trying to accomplish, which is to make the Michael Jackson Museum in Gary a reality. But more on that in just a sec. Here is the press release. Now, you may be wondering what is the connection between this event in France and Michael’s history in Gary. Well, read on and I’ll explain. Simply put, receiving this press release from the Jackson Family Foundation served to remind me that this is a very important topic that I’ve been meaning to address for some time.
Awhile back, I had posted an article on Facebook that reported the sad fact that over a year and a half after the announcement of the proposed Michael Jackson museum, the site still sits empty and everything appears to be at a standstill. Gary’s then mayor, Rudy Clay, was on the way out, and the project was simply not a priority for the encumbent. It would be left to Gary’s new mayor, Karen-Freeman Wilson, to pick up the pieces of the project and move forward…or not.
“…Today, the proposed site is empty. Instead of the Michael Jackson Museum, there’s an abandoned stadium, empty fields, and a city golf course.-Cheryl Burton.
This video, accompanying Burton’s article, highlights the struggle to get The Michael Jackson Museum off the ground:
This recent update in an article on Karen-Freeman Wilson reveals that the project remains besought with difficulties:
“There’s all this controversy about who represents whom and I’m like, you know what. I’m not going to try to work out y’alls differences for you. I need to talk to one person,” Freeman-Wilson says. “You all determine who that is because this isn’t my primary initiative. I’m not opposed to it but I’m not going to spend a whole lot of energy on it because I just don’t see it. There are a lot of things on our laundry list that are much more close to being done and being realistic.”
Her voice remains even and does not reveal a shred of frustration. Switching topics, she discusses the proposed Jackson museum.
“You know, if somebody brings me a viable proposal that is financed, I’d do it. We can have it right there,” Freeman-Wilson says, pointing towards her office window where across the street the Genesis Convention Center sits. “I’d tear down the Genesis Center in a heartbeat. But …I got something in the mail yesterday or the day before and there are lines where they clearly cut and paste signatures, I’m like what is this?”
Just as she completes her thought, Freeman-Wilson looks down at her office phone and laughs. She never completely hung up the phone from the call with the Jackson family member.
“Well,” she smiles. “I don’t say anything that I wouldn’t say on the 10 o’clock news.”
Freeman-Wilson’s words hit on two very real obstacles that have prevented this project from moving forward-the ongoing struggle between the Jackson family and the Michael Jackson estate (this is what she means when she is saying, “I’m not going to try to work out y’all’s differences for you” -and I do not blame her one bit, nor do I envy her position in being caught between those warring factions!) and the city’s financial struggles. It’s been no secret that, for years, Gary, Indiana-a once booming steel town- has become a struggling community and, some say, a virtual ghost town (This video is the first of a multi-part series, but so as to not drain this site’s memory, I am only posting Part 1; the rest can easily be accessed on Youtube):
The segregation that they speak of in this video is a large part of what eventually led to the city’s economic decline (as one person put it, when the whites left cause they didn’t want to live with the blacks, they took the businesses and the money with ’em!).
While it can be argued that a Michael Jackson Museum might bring much needed revenue into the community, what we’re stuck with for now is an unfortunate Catch-22. To reap the benfits of that revenue, the city first has to have the money to spend on the project in the first place-as the old saying goes, “It takes money to make money.”
When I was in Gary in 2010, the one thing that really struck me as the saddest was the realization that so much of Michael’s-and the Jackson family’s-history and legacy is being irretrievably lost. While the Jackson home is in good repair (in fact, probably better repair than it’s been in years) and remains a favorite tourist attraction, it is really about the only building connected to Michael’s history in Gary that is currently preserved (that, and the two schools nearby-Roosevelt High and Garnett Elementary). But most of the clubs, studios, and other places of note where Michael and The Jackson 5 first performed are either abandoned and in desrepair, or have long since been converted into other businesses (often, with no recognition of the Jackson connection) or have been razed completely.
Consider these descriptions from a 2009 article on what Michael Jackson fans touring Gary, Indiana can expect to see (boldfaced passages are my emphasis):
Mr. Lucky’sLounge (1100 Grant St.). In 1964, the Jackson 5 held one of their first performances in this now-defunct lounge. The new owner has expressed plans to sell the hardwood stage and exterior bricks for those who want to own a piece of Jackson history.
— Garnett Elementary School (21st Avenue) and Roosevelt High School (730 W. 25th Ave.). Jackson attended Garnett (now closed) and performed with his brothers in a talent show at Roosevelt (they won). Roosevelt is the city’s first and only school built for African Americans, and its students included three Jackson siblings: Rebbie, Jackie and Tito.
— Knights of Columbus Building (333 W. Fifth Ave.). The brothers performed at a variety of venues, including the ballroom of this historic brick structure, considered one of the tallest buildings in Gary. It’s now an affordable-housing high-rise. They also played in the ballroom of the Hotel Gary (northwest corner of Sixth Avenue and Broadway), now an affordable-housing high-rise for seniors.
— Gordon Keith home (1025 Taney St.). Keith, who ran Steeltown Records, produced “Big Boy” and “We Don’t Have to Be Over 21 (to Fall in Love)” before the group left his label to sign with Motown Records in 1968. “People go by the Jackson house,” said Keith, “then they come by my home.” The Jacksons used his residence as rehearsal space, and Keith owns the group’s first demo record.
— Small Farms section. The Jackson 5 frequently sang and danced at juke joints and honky-tonk after-hours spots in the more rural parts of Gary. Such haunts as Joe Green’s Club Woodlawn, Big Steve’s, White Tiger and Yellow Dragon no longer exist, but the ducks probably won’t complain if you crank up “I’ll Be There” in memoriam.
And this was three years ago, so you can only imagine how much worse the situation has probably gotten since then, with no efforts underway to preserve these buildings or to maintain their legacy as important elements of the Jackson family history.
For me, the saddest thing was seeing the state of Mercy Hospital, where Michael was born. Mercy Hospital is an abandoned, decaying building with broken windows. I only saw the outside, but here is a video that someone shot from the inside and posted on Youtube.
How many times have you ever visited the birthplace of a famous person and walked away thinking, I can’t believe he/she came from such a humble beginning! But looking at the above video, can you ever imagine that this is where The King of Pop was born? It looks more like something from out of Ghost Hunters!
One fact is indisputable: The physical emblems of Michael’s Gary, Indiana history are eroding fast, and I suspect within a few years, the house will be all that is left-and even that is no guarantee. I, myself, have no easy answers or solutions, other than to help bring awareness of this problem. But I would like to see something done, and I think it is within our power to do it. We can’t afford to be complacent, and we can’t just say, “Oh, that is the city of Gary’s responsibility” or “Let the Jacksons worry about it if it means so much to them; they’re rich!”
Yes, they undoubtedly have more money than you or I. But still, in a lot of ways, their hands are tied just like the rest of us. The Michael Jackson Museum is one of those projects for which I really wish the family and the estate could come together on, and work out their differences. Elvis fans have Graceland, a place where they can not only gather to visit his grave and pay respects, but can also contribute to the local economy, thus ensuring that their beloved shrine will always be there. And even a casual stroll through downtown Memphis can take one to any number of preserved locales that are connected to his history.
But what do Michael Jackson fans have when they want to visit Gary? As I said, the house on Jackson Street…and not a heck of a lot more. While the museum cannot replace what has already been lost or may be lost in the future, it can at the very least provide a focal point for Michael Jackson’s historical ties to the city. I would imagine that when children visit the Jackson home for the first time, they may know that this is the home of someone famous (otherwise, why are all those grown-ups taking pictures, dressing up with fedoras and sun shades on, and buying so much stuff!) but wouldn’t it be great to be able to bring them to a place where they can begin to understand why he was so famous and beloved-and so important to the town! What message does it send to the youth of Gary when the only thing left to commemorate its favorite native son, other than the house, is…an empty lot?
I am going to suggest a few things that fans can do:
Email Mayor Karen-Freeman Wilson, and let ker know that there is a viable interest from the fan community in seeing this project completed!
Write to Gary’s Department of Community Development:
Department of Community Development
839 Broadway, Suite 302
Gary Indiana 46402
Write, email or phone Caren Jones, superintendent of Gary’s Department of Public Parks:
Please try to support (whenever you can) any MJ-related events that are taking place in Gary. This sends a very strong message to officials that it is in the economic best interest of the city to “keep MJ fans in Gary.”
The King of Pop Fanvention (the event I attended in 2010) is taking place again this year in August. I can’t say enough good things about the people behind this event, and I would really, really like to encourage all fans who may be in the area and can afford it to attend! This year’s guests will be Joe Vogel and nurse Cherylin Lee. Although it is being hosted in nearby Chicago, many of the convention’s major events will be taking place right in Gary. I don’t know yet if I will be able to go this year, but this event is definitely a wonderful way to help support Michael’s legacy in Gary, and I can’t think of a better way to celebrate Michael’s birthday than in his own hometown!
And, mostly, I would like to encourage everyone to continue to support and contribute to The Jackson Family Foundation, the organization that is working so hard to make this dream a reality: