A visit to Michael Jackson's childhood home in Indiana
Be my guide: Mourners remember Michael Jackson as a neighbor in his native Gary, Ind. [Updated]
Michael Jackson fans are convening all over the world to mourn a superstar. But to residents who gathered this afternoon near his childhood home in Gary, Ind., Jackson was a once-beloved neighbor.
A man walked down Jackson Street sobbing uncontrollably to someone on his cellphone. A woman carrying a bouquet of flowers wore sunglasses to mask the tears. Stuffed animals and signs commemorating the music star were placed near the door to the home.
Though many in the crowd had driven from Chicago and other nearby cities, Gary?s locals reminisced about the boy who used to hang around outside and cause a racket.
Jackson wasn?t just a catchy tune on the radio or an exquisite dancer on the TV screen to these people. He was the local boy who loved to sing, a customer at nearby stores and eventually an inspiration to many.
Paul Warner, a freelance photographer whose shots are featured by Getty Images and the Associated Press, lived near the Jackson home in the humble neighborhood. (Describing it as humble is, in fact, a serious understatement.)
[Updated June 28: This story originally said Warner lived "down the street." He actually lived a few blocks away. The story also gave the impression that he lived in Gary during the initial boom in Jackson's popularity.]
?I was here during the boom,? said Warner, who lived in the nearby town of Hammond, Ind., when the Jacksons blew up onto the national stage. When the gravity of Jackson?s death sunk in today, ?I wept in the train coming back? from Chicago, he said.
Warner, who is also an amateur drummer, said the Jacksons? explosive success spread music throughout the neighborhood. ?They were a huge inspiration,? Warner said. ?When they exploded, all of the kids here started picking up musical instruments.?
Gary isn?t normally a place where big dreams are made. In this neighborhood, many houses are vacant or abandoned. Crime is a problem. ?I don?t come down here at night,? Warner said. ?You don?t want to be here at night.?
But things changed Thursday night when the news broke of Jackson?s death. For the first time in a long time, locals said, the neighborhood was bustling past midnight. ?This is great,? Warner said, but ?it?s a shame that it took Michael Jackson?s death to do that.?
Wyatt Puryear, a young truck driver who has lived in Gary his entire life, stood in front of the house last night and returned this morning. The gathering is a sort of medication for the pain.
Holding an autographed, Jackson-branded cologne bottle and a Moonwalker Sega Genesis video game cartridge, Puryear recalled Jackson?s 2003 visit to Gary. Jackson grabbed Puryear from out of the crowd to sign his memorabilia and give him backstage passes to an upcoming concert.
?He helped everybody,? Puryear said.
Not everybody could wrap their heads around all the hype.
?I don?t understand why everyone is out here,? said Michael Fuller, a high school student from Gary who rode his bike over to see what the commotion was about. ?He?s been gone for years.?
But Jackson brought hope to many of the impoverished citizens of Gary. Now they?re saying their goodbyes to a former neighbor, who hadn?t lived in the area for decades but still touches the lives of those who remember him.
? Mark Milian, Los Angeles Times staff writer
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