Gary celebrates Michael Jackson’s birthday but not much else

The city has no plans to build a museum to honor the King of Pop

August 29, 2013

(WBEZ/Michael Puente)
Mary Singer (right) stands with her daughter Rebecca in front of Michael Jackson’s boyhood home in Gary, Indiana on what would have been Jackson’s 55th birthday on Thursday. Singer says Gary should build a museum for the King of Pop.

It took her more than 15 hours to drive from Tampa, Florida, but Mary Singer finally made it Thursday morning to Gary, Indiana. She says there’s only one reason she drove all that way in the middle of the night.

“It’s because of Michael Jackson. I wouldn’t be in Gary, Indiana right now if it weren’t for Michael Jackson,” Singer told WBEZ while she stood outside the late singer’s boyhood home.

Today kicks off a three day celebration of food and music centered around the small, one-story white house at 2300 Jackson Street. The neighborhood has seen better days – there are almos as many boarded up homes as occupied ones nowadays – but fans from all over the world are still expected to show up to mark what would have been Jackson's 55th birthday.

Singer says she was surprised not to find a more permanent installation honoring the King of Pop in his hometown.

“This is Michael’s legacy now. I think if there was a museum or something here in Gary where he was born that people would come here more often than just on his birthday,” she said. “Turn that little house into a museum,” Singer suggested.

A year after Jackson died, there was an effort to build a massive, multi million dollar museum campus in Gary dedicated to Michael Jackson and his musical family. The idea had the backing of the late former Gary Mayor Rudy Clay and Joe Jackson, the patriarch of the Jackson family. The museum was to have been built over several acres near Indiana University Northwest, not far from Jackson’s boyhood home.

But those plans quickly fizzled when it was learned that the property that the museum was eyeing was wetlands. There was also concern that the city would have to provide some financial backing to get the project off the ground.

When Karen Freeman Wilson was elected mayor nearly two years ago, having the city fund such a project was not a priority. Today, Freeman Wilson says it’s not the proper role of government to back such a museum project – even for its best known former resident.

“In the past I’ve been pretty clear that I don’t envision a museum. I am certainly am open to any type of lasting legacy to Michael Jackson and his contribution not just to the City of Gary but to the world that is done by any private entity,” Freeman Wilson said. “But as it relates to a city-funded or city-driven project like a museum, that is not our vision of a commemoration of Michael Jackson that we would be willing to invest in.”

So for now, fans will have to be content with a little moonwalking on the sidewalk outside Jackson’s home.