Click link for some photos of Neverland including one with Michael:
Wichitan Talks About Friendship With Michael Jackson
By Kim Wilhelm (WICHITA, Kan.)
He had Michael Jackson's direct private phone number. During the 1990's, it wasn't unusual for Wichitan Rob Swinson to talk to and spend time with Jackson. Swinson was National Sales Manager for Chance Rides in Wichita and remembers the day he received a phone call asking about a merry-go-round.
"I remember telling the office, ‘I think I just got a call from somebody representing Michael Jackson,'" said Swinson.
At that time, Jackson was just thinking about building Neverland Valley Amusement Park and ordered a custom carousel and a train. Swinson developed a friendship with the pop superstar and became his personal Amusement Ride Consultant and Park Developer. Swinson says Jackson was one of the kindest, most good-hearted people he's ever known.
"I was one of the privileged few to be able to know Michael personally and share those one on one times with him," said Swinson. "I guess one of the reasons Michael and I bonded so well and enjoyed working together is the fact we were both perfectionists."
Swinson has hundreds of pictures of Jackson's Neverland Valley Amusement Park - from the early stages to final completion. He says Jackson would bus in hundreds of sick, disabled and L. A. Inner City children so they could enjoy the park.
On the walls in Swinson's home are pictures of him and Jackson together. He has many autographed items and has collected anything and everything to do with Jackson over the years - from Jackson 5 and Thriller albums to newspaper and tabloid articles written about the superstar. Swinson laughed when he showed a tabloid article published when Neverland was being built. It showed aerial pictures of the grounds and speculated how Jackson was building a golf course.
"They had no idea but they printed this anyway," said Swinson.
Swinson would stay at the ranch during his business trips. He even has a laminated phone extension list so he'd know how to get a hold of ranch staff. One listing gives an extension number with "MJ office". He remembers getting a call from Jackson after a big European concert.
"He should've been exhausted from a big performance but all he wanted to know about was how the rides were coming along," said Swinson.
He says he never thought of Jackson as a huge star. To him, he was a friend.
"He called me ‘The Maker of Dreams,'" said Swinson. "I made his Neverland dreams come true."
But after being accused of molesting children, Swinson says Jackson wasn't the same. Neither was Neverland.
"It was all gone," said Swinson. "It was very sad. Very sad."
One of the Neverland rides was in Sedgwick County during the fair. Swinson says it was Jackson's favorite "wild action" ride - the Zipper. After the park closed, the rides were sold off.
Swinson says Jackson's death was difficult to take. He flew to California last week to pay his respects at Neverland Ranch and cried when he watched the memorial on TV. He was especially touched when Brooke Shields talked about Jackson looking down on them from a crescent moon. "Blue Boy sitting in a crescent moon" was one of the logos Jackson used at Neverland Valley Amusement Park and on ranch memorabilia, and Swinson believes that's what Shields was referring to.
"He always wanted to be remembered as a person, not as a personality," said Swinson.
"His friends, family and fans will miss him very much."
Copyright 2009 Images from "The Robert E. 'Rob' Swinson Private Collection." All rights reserved.