Though he lived in California for much of his life, Michael Jackson is
a hometown hero in Gary, Indiana. The economically depressed city in
Northwest Indiana is the birthplace of the Jackson family, which held
its own memorial to the King of Pop. The free event drew thousands of fans, many of whom could not get a
ticket or could not attend the memorial in Los Angeles.
He may be known around the world as the King of Pop, but Gary, Indiana Mayor Rudy Clay says Michael Jackson is the city's claim to fame.
"You see Gary people, we believe that it is not where your physical body is, it is where your heart is," said Clay. "And the Jackson family and Michael's heart has been Gary, Indiana from the womb and I want to say to the people around the world that Michael Jackson put Gary, Indiana on the global map."
Even civil rights leader Reverend Jesse Jackson admits that on the surface, Gary, Indiana seems an unlikely location for a tribute to one of the world's most popular musicians.
"I've been asked by the media over and over again, why Gary? This is the origin. This is the place it all began," he said.
2300 Jackson Street is the address to the place where it all began for Michael Jackson. The small home where he grew up not far from downtown Gary is now a shrine to the late singer and his family. In the hours leading up to Gary's official memorial to it's most famous son, a steady stream of visitors took pictures and left mementos at his childhood home.
Even though the music icon only visited his hometown once after achieving stardom, Michael Jackson and his musical family are fondly remembered in Gary.
It is a mostly African American city that has suffered economic hardship for several decades, a stark contrast to the fame and wealth the Jackson family attained as a result of successful music careers after they left the city.
But among thousands of people and performers who gathered at the Steel Yard baseball field in downtown Gary to celebrate Jackson's life were people who remembered the Jacksons before their fame and fortune. Jackson's elementary school music teacher Anita Hill shared a story about the energetic young student eager to sing music.
"He inspired the other kids," she said. "Nobody would get up except Michael. Whenever I asked for volunteers, I would always ask 'Micheal?' He was very energetic and a wonderful student."
The memorial was an upbeat celebration of Michael Jackson's music, with local talent taking the stage to sing his hits or imitate his complex and iconic dance moves.
Organizers said roughly 30 members of Jackson's family attended the event. Joe Jackson, Michael's father, arrived later during the memorial and briefly appeared on stage.
He also made a visit to Gary last year, where he discussed plans to build a museum to Michael Jackson.
Mayor Rudy Clay says plans for that museum are underway. During the memorial ceremony he unveiled a granite slab monument to Jackson, which Clay hopes will become part of the museum.