By Erick Johnson
By Erick Johnson
Excitement was building. The time had come for the unveiling. Crowds had gathered to see what was under a ruby red cloth in the front yard of the Jackson family home on 2300 West Jackson Street. It was Friday, June 25, 2010. Michael Jackson had been dead for a year, and Mayor Rudy Clay had something to show his mother, Katherine Jackson, and the world.
Shortly after noon, the cloth came off the towering, rectangular structure. Cheers and applause erupted from the crowd as they gazed at an 8-foot black granite monument of the King of Pop. With spectacular images that include Michael on his toes with his hands in his pocket, the monument became an instant hit and a real thriller.
For the next seven years, fans from across the globe would snap selfies in front of it. From children to even groups of police officers, the monument had helped turn many visits to the tiny, ordinary house of Gary’s most well-known family into an exciting experience.
Today, three weeks before the 10th anniversary of the King of Pop’s death, the vertical portion of the monument is gone from the front lawn. For nearly two years, it has laid on a pallet underneath a tarp in the back of the Jackson family gift shop that is always closed.
Meanwhile, on the front lawn at the base of the monument remains two screw holes—a painful reminder of a structure that quickly became an iconic marker that helped visitors find the Jackson family home. What was Gary’s only monument to the most famous global superstar who ever lived, is now just a worthless, expensive object that has left fans asking for it to be restored to its rightful place.
Like a comet blazing across the evening sky, the monument was gone too soon.
The story behind the removed monument remains a mystery, but it begins with two of the youngest Jackson siblings: Janet and Randy. On October 27, 2017, the two came back to Gary one day after Janet performed at the Allstate Arena near Chicago. During their visit to Gary, Janet and Randy visited Roosevelt College and Career Academy (formerly known as Theodore Roosevelt High School) where the Jacksons performed in talent shows. The Jackson’s oldest sister, Reebie, graduated from Roosevelt in 1968.
Facing a throng of fans and television cameras, Janet and Randy also visited their childhood home, where the monument was still standing at the corner of the front lawn near the intersection of 23rd Avenue and Jackson Street. At the end of the day, the monument was gone, and Janet and Randy left Gary.
The company that removed the monument was Industrial Rents Inc., a Gary company whose phone number is no longer in service.
One neighbor, Janine Bray, who has lived in a house across the street from the Jackson family home, said she saw the monument being removed on October 27, hours after Janet and Randy visited the house.
“It was bitterly cold that day. She [Janet] came with Randy and they came through the alleyway,” said Bray, who inherited her the house in 2005 from her grandmother, who built the home in 1951. “The next thing I knew, this big truck with this crane parked in front of my house. They chained it up and lifted it up right out of the yard, drove around the alley and took it in the back.”
Pictures of Industrial Rents removing the monument were posted on the Facebook page, 2300 Jackson Street Jackson’s Fan Club, which still has the monument as their profile image. The group has persevered in their campaign on Facebook to have the monument returned to its place, but to no avail. Time to time, fans walked to a back alley to peek through a screen on the fence to view the monument resting on the pallet in the back. Some go by the driveway on the side of the house to take pictures of it with a telephoto lens.
“It was snatched out like a tooth and laid face down on the ground in the backyard … and has remained there to this time,” commented one fan, who calls herself the Opus Lady. “We are very concerned for its well-being, due to the fact that laying there on the ground for another winter can do more damage to it.”
Bray said she didn’t ask the crane operators why they were removing the monument because she thought something else was going to “be added to it.”
The monument was removed without a press conference or any official explanation from the Jackson family, including matriarch, Katherine Jackson, and patriarch, Joseph Jackson—both expressed their overwhelming approval when the monument was unveiled in 2010.
Members of 2300 Jackson Street Jackson’s Fan Club mounted a campaign, calling for the return of the monument to its base in the front lawn. Some thought it was stolen while others, including Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson, say Janet was planning to film a video or a movie at the house. There were also rumors that a documentary was planned and the monument was removed to make the house looked like it did when the family lived there in the 60s before they hit it big and moved to California. But that would also require removing the statue of two children, window shutters, bushes, flowers, and other upgrades that were installed after Michael died on June 25, 2009. Those renovations are still there.
However, in one news report, Gary police department Lt. Thomas PAWLAKsaid the family was planning to do some landscaping in the spring of 2018. “Once they are done, they’ll bring it back.”
Thomas also said the family has the monument and said the object was not stolen.
Time has proven most of the speculations or explanations wrong. Nearly two years later, there’s no video of Janet that shows the house. Neither is there a documentary. And, there are no changes to the landscape of the front yards as Lt. Thomas promised. The Gary police department hasn’t responded to a follow up question to Thomas’s statement and the Jackson family has not released any status updates of the monument.
During one visit by the Crusader, two men looked confused before one asked, “Where’s the marker?”
“People are pissed,” said Tony, a Gary resident who did not give his last name. “People come from out of town and it’s gone. It’s horrible. Ain’t no sign to show people where the house is. People drive around and they ask, ‘Where did they [the Jackson family] live?”
The Crusader also reached out to Janet through her agency Sunshine Sachs, which did not respond to emails by press time Wednesday. The Crusader also left a message with the creator of the monument, Stone Plans, which also did not respond by Wednesday’s deadline.
Sources told the Crusader that Janet and Randy had the monument removed because they felt like the house should be a tribute to the entire Jackson family and not just their famous brother.
“I understand where’s she’s coming from, but there’s plenty of room in the yard where you can put up other monuments,” Bray said.
There are other tributes to Jackson’s siblings outside the house. There are tiles embedded in the sidewalk honoring sisters Reebie, LaToya and Janet and brothers Jackie, Tito, Jermaine, Marlon and Randy. Katherine and Joseph had a special bigger granite tile installed honoring Michael and the late Mayor Rudy Clay has a granite tile with the city’s proclamation of June 25, 2009 as “Michael Jackson Day.”
But the removed monument that has graced many smartphones and Facebook pages remains the most popular. It’s the only monument in Gary that’s dedicated to Michael.
Soon, there will only be a few places honoring Michael Jackson in his hometown. The massive and famous Jackson 5 mural on Broadway will come down later this year when the Gary Housing Authority knocks down the vacant building to reduce blight. Community leaders in Gary’s Miller Beach neighborhood are raising funds to demolish the building that has the fading, 40-year-old mural of the Jacksons.
In 2014, the Gary School Board made plans to name a school after Michael, but those plans fizzled even after Katherine Jackson signed a memorandum of understanding.
Mayor Clay, who died in 2013, worked with Joe Jackson to establish a Jackson family museum, but those plans faded.
The statue was created by Stone Plans from Richmond, Indiana a year after the King of Pop’s death. The jet-black granite weighs 5,000 pounds and was crafted using state-of-the-art technology. On the front is a silhouette of Michael Jackson on his toes in one of his famous dance moves. On the back is a collage of pictures that include his childhood and his life as a global superstar.
The company’s CEO, Senthil P. Muruganantham—a huge Michael Jackson fan—had the monument made within 48 hours after speaking with city officials, according to Stone Plans’ website. The structure cost at least $26,000, but Stone Plans donated it for free. The monument was initially located at Gary’s Steelyard Stadium, but was moved to the Jackson family home in 2010, which, by then, had been renovated and cleaned up after fans wrote on the structure and left hundreds of stuffed animals in the wake of the King of Pop’s death.
During the unveiling in 2010, Katherine called the monument a “beautiful piece of art,” and thanked the hundreds of fans for supporting her son. She also said, “I’m sure my son would be very pleased.”