Friday, February 25, 2011

Never to Neverland

In the United States there are five main houses that pretty much everyone knows by name and location: The White House, the Biltmore, Graceland, Southfork and the exquisite Hearst Castle. Then there is Neverland Ranch. It is not famous at all for the main house which was hardly more than a typical ranch home like others in the area and rarely seen. Neverland Ranch, the former home of the late Michael Jackson, was more about the collection of trains, rides, animals and other amusements strewn throughout the grounds to entertain Michael and the long list of famous and underprivileged visitors.

The infamous man-child entertainer had passed away some 18 months ago and hadn't lived on the property since 2005 after the fallout of the second child molestation case brought against him. The place was overrun immediately following the death of the superstar and there have been few serious efforts to sell the place since. It stood alone, quietly to itself among the other ranches and wineries in the area just north of Los Olivos one beautiful Saturday afternoon, the day I chose to finally go and see it for myself.

Leaving the hotel where I was staying on business in Woodland Hills the drive seemed no less shorter for starting in the San Fernando Valley. Heading west on US-101 I joined California #154 for the drive over the mountains in to the Santa Ynez valley about 30 minutes north of Santa Barbara. In this same area is the Dutch tourism village of Solvang but my radar was locked in on finding Figueroa Mountain Road leading to the mountain range on the north side of the valley. Five miles up and on the left was #5225, the former home of Michael Jackson, Neverland Ranch.

The gate was all anyone today can see. What must it have been like when Michael lived here, groupies at the gates hoping for a glimpse as the motorcade sailed past? The gilded lettering announcing "Neverland Ranch" is gone. All of the floral arrangements from mourners were gone but much of the small graffiti left on the low walls around the gate remained. I parked in a small bare patch on the opposite side of the road that clearly had seen much use and thankfully noted two other cars parked farther down - at least I wouldn't be the only fan making a pilgrimage. I shouldn't have worried. The seen-it-all guards at the security house on the other side of the gate never came outside to see what was going on.

I took pictures from every angle, through the bars, off to the side, up a slight hill and as deeply in to the grounds as my zoom lens would let me go as it followed the winding road about a mile in before the road disappeared to the left around a small hill towards the main areas. I read some of the graffiti from well wishers that had traveled from as far afield as Australia, Japan, and Italy to pay and leave their respects. In September Nancy from Germany wrote on this rock "You were the greatest entertainer of all time. I will always keep you in my heart. I will never forget you."

A young couple from Chicago drove up soon after I did and we took each other's picture by the gate. Most stunning of all, a family stopped by in a minivan and helped the elderly grandmother walk to the gate first, cane in one hand, determination on her face.

The security guards came out to talk to her but the gate remained closed. There is really nothing to see except, as if visiting some ancient ruin, where things used to be. The house is empty, the rides and animals long gone. All of it in fact, and Michael, too, is gone too soon.

Gotta go!

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