'Neverland' becomes a never for Jackson fans

5th July 2009, Comments 0 comments

Reports that the King of Pop would be laid to rest at his sprawling fantasy estate prompted a near stampede here to the rolling hills of Santa Barbara wine country, with hundreds of media satellite trucks parking outside the gate.

Los Olivosly -- After nearly a day waiting in a tent outside Michael Jackson's Neverland Ranch last week, Arturo Sanchez learned the funeral would be held elsewhere. But even that did not discourage him.

"We're going to stick it out until tomorrow morning," said the 29-year-old Los Angeles resident, camping with his stepbrother and sister in T-shirts bearing Jackson's picture and the title of his song, "You Are Not Alone."

"We hear all sorts of things," Sanchez said. "And besides, we meet lots of interesting people here. We'll make this a tribute to Michael Jackson."

Reports that the King of Pop would be laid to rest at his sprawling fantasy estate prompted a near stampede here to the rolling hills of Santa Barbara wine country, with hundreds of media satellite trucks parking outside the gate.

As police moved in to restrict traffic -- and enterprising local residents set up a hot-dog stand and offered to sell accommodation -- the Jackson family put an end to speculation he would be buried in his retreat.

Desiree Crossley, 49, who had driven up 250 kilometers (150 miles) from the Los Angeles area with a friend and her two daughters, decided to pack up. But she said she would head to any memorial event in Los Angeles.

"It's a little bit disappointing, sure, but the family has to do what it thinks is best. It must be really rough for them," she said.

"And Michael already gave us 50 years of his life," she said.

The road to Jackson's house, full of elite estates and cattle ranches, was already clogged with vehicles, foreshadowing a logistical nightmare if thousands of mourners descended on short notice.

"I can't imagine how they would have done it here," said Jackson fan Susana Jimenez, who also came up from Los Angeles.

"Just think if someone was smoking and lit up a cigarette. This place is so dry there could be a huge fire," she said.

Hotel owners said that their phones started ringing moments after reports that the 50-year-old pop icon could be buried at Neverland, a 1,050-hectare (2,600-acre) ode to childhood that once had tigers, giraffes and an amusement park.

With hotels booked up, some local entrepreneurs smelled business. One employee of a nearby grocery store approached reporters offering her home for 500 dollars a night.

Neverland Ranch's gates -- with the inscription "Once Upon a Time" -- mysteriously opened at regular intervals, a taciturn man in sunglasses directing fans and media to stand aside for entering vehicles.

One van brought construction workers who smiled bashfully for the cameras but declined to explain why they had come. Then came a large moving truck from Los Angeles. From a distance, a stereo blared Jackson hit "Smooth Criminal."

The Neverland ranch was named for the fantasy island of Peter Pan, the character who inspired Michael Jackson by refusing to grow up.

But the estate also had a dark side. Jackson was accused but acquitted of molesting children on the property and animal rights activists complained that the animals were neglected as his personal travails worsened.

The entire property was reportedly on the verge of foreclosure, prompting speculation that Jackson's mother Katherine, his estate's guardian, may try to turn it into an attraction along the lines of Elvis Presley's Graceland.

But such worries were not on the mind of fans, who left a pile of flowers, candles, teddy bears and handwritten signs expressing their sorrow.

Steven Auclair, a 16-year-old who lives nearby, said many residents supported Michael Jackson but that a vocal few in the wealthy area viewed Neverland as a nuisance.

"I think it would have been very fitting for Michael Jackson to be buried in Neverland. This was his home and his retreat from the world," he said.

"And it would also have been great for us to have it here," he said. "But after everything we did to destroy him, I don't know if we really deserve it."

AFP/Expatica

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