Six years after Michael Jackson's death, Gary's Jackson Street on upswing
Thursday marks six years since the unexpected death of Michael Jackson, the King of Pop, whose infectious music and polarizing fame reverberated across the globe..
But before he became famous as the pint-sized frontman of the Jackson 5, he was the third youngest of nine Jackson children raised in a small, two-bedroom, white frame house at 2300 Jackson Street in Gary.
"I just wonder how did they fit all of those kids in there," said Fredericksburg, Va., resident Caterah Mayfield, who was visiting Tuesday with her mom, sister and cousin.
Mayfield's mom, Courtney Parker, said Jackson's death — of cardiac arrest at age 50 — is still shocking.
"I can't believe he's gone," Parker said. "It was just like Whitney (Houston); they're gone too soon."
The house has become a draw for Jackson's fans, who flock to it to leave flowers and teddy bears around the anniversary of his death or to write a message on the One Way sign at the corner. In 2009, thousands of fans paying tribute trampled the grass, but since installing a granite monument to Jackson in the front yard, it has been fenced off, and beautiful flowers are in bloom every summer.
The family is helping to revitalize the neighborhood by purchasing and renovating the house next door to 2300 Jackson and another home across the street, said Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson. The house next door is now a small museum/gift shop that the family is expected to open soon.
They've supported the Jackson Street of Dreams project that has rehabilitated two homes and rebuilt another house in the 2300 and 2400 blocks of Jackson Street. The project is being led by the Fuller Center for Housing in Gary, with assistance from the city, the Indiana Department of Correction, NIPSCO, Centier Bank and others. The Fuller Center has a goal of rebuilding eight additional homes in the neighborhood in 2016, but they are currently working to secure the necessary funds.
"We are exploring the next steps to see who may be willing to fund rehabbing some other homes," Freeman-Wilson said.
Robin Copeland, who lives in the neighborhood, said it's fun to chat with visitors and take pictures for them. She's hopeful that the Street of Dreams project will help the neighborhood thrive.
"It'll be a good thing for Gary and it will help the neighborhood look way better," Copeland said.
But beyond the house and an annual Michael Jackson festival in August, there aren't many signs marking Jackson's impact around the city.
Even before Jackson's death, there was talk about the city having a museum or performing arts center to memorialize arguably its most famous son. Jackson mentioned the performing arts center idea when he last visited Gary in 2003, but talks stalled when he was charged with child molestation soon afterward in California.
Jackson's father, Joe, was in talks with developers about a possible museum and hotel near Grant Street and the Borman Expressway. But those plans never went much of anywhere either.
Freeman-Wilson said the city hasn't been actively involved about bringing a Michael Jackson museum to Gary because "that's not a project the city can undertake." But a private entity did speak to her a few years ago about a Jackson-related project, she said.
"But whenever we would ask, 'What's the involvement of the Jackson family?' nobody seemed to know the answer," Freeman-Wilson said. "By that time I had developed a rapport with Mrs. (Katherine) Jackson, and I found that the family hadn't been consulted, so I knew not to take these people seriously."