Antwyne Morland lives a few hundred yards from the Jackson family home. Fifteen years ago, Morland bought the house next to the King of Pop’s boyhood home for the price of a used car.
Today, Morland revels living near Gary’s most famous home, but he no longer parks in front of his own house. Years ago, around Thanksgiving, Morland discovered someone had dented his 2004 Cadillac Escalade. He had it repaired and now parks the vehicle several houses down.
Morland never found the person who hit his car, but he suspects a tourist caused the damage.
“It was pretty frustrating discovering it on Thanksgiving morning,” Morland said.
Living next to the home where Joe and Katherine raised Rebbie, Jackie, Tito, Jermaine, Latoya, Marlon, Michael, Randy, and Janet has made life interesting for an often overlooked group of people on and near 2300 Jackson St.: the neighbors.
Many stories have been written about the Jackson family home and the fans who flock there. But few know anything about the residents whose neighborhood draws visitors 365 days a year to see a piece of music history.
To some residents, it’s an exciting place to live. But when the traffic gets heavy around the Jackson family home, some neighbors wish the tourists would just beat it.
Rain, shine or snowstorm
Located in Midtown and Councilperson Linda Barnes-Caldwell’s 5th District, the home sits at the end of Jackson Street. Contrary to popular belief, the street is named after President Andrew Jackson and not Gary’s most famous family, who lived there from 1950 to 1969. Though all the Jacksons have moved away, Katherine Jackson still owns the home.
Along Jackson Street are tiny, one-story clapboard houses that visitors zoom by to get to the city’s biggest tourist attraction.
At the tip of Jackson Street is the home of Janine Bray, 71. She has lived there for 53 years but has been a resident in the neighborhood much longer.
Bray said that when she was young, she would play jacks with Rebbie, and the Jackson brothers would come over to play pingpong and other games in Bray’s father’s house a few yards away.
Bray’s current home — inherited from her grandmother — sits at the intersection of 23rd Avenue and Jackson, giving her a panoramic view of the famous home. During celebrations for the King of Pop, stages are set up in front of her house. She watches impersonators from her porch.
Bray has seen fans of all ages and races moonwalking down the street. She watched seniors wearing sequin gloves lip-synching Michael Jackson’s biggest hits.
“They’re here all the time,” Bray said. “It never ceases to amaze me what these tourists do when they come here.”
Bray doesn’t sit on her porch as often. After many years interacting with visitors, she finds ways to avoid long conversations with tourists.
“They always knock on your door and say, ‘Excuse me, can I ask a quick question?’ And you know it’s not going to be quick,” Bray said. “As soon as you answer, you better not say you grew up with them or know them personally. They would talk to you for an hour or more. They’ll ask all kinds of questions.
“One time, I asked a visitor, ‘Are you expecting Mike? Do you think he’s coming on a cloud or something?’ And they look at me like I’m crazy. I would try to be sarcastic and funny, but they take it as if he would actually come back.”
Bray said she’s seen tourists visit the home as early as 7 a.m. She “very seldom” sees tourists visit at night, “though you do see groups of them come out even in bad weather.”
“They would stand out there even in the winter,” she said. “They would wear shorts with snow up to their ankles while looking at the house.”
Bray said she often gets mail from people wanting to buy her home.
“It used to be $65,000. Now it’s $95,000,” she said. “It has a lot to do with it being close to the Jackson home.”
Baseball and cookouts
Another neighbor, Jacqueline Davis Staten, 71, is a retired teacher who lives several houses down from the Jackson home. Staten, who taught at nearby Roosevelt High School, said she has lived in her house since 1955, when the Jacksons were an ordinary, working-class family.
Staten said her father was a carpenter who owned a neighborhood baseball league that two of the Jackson boys participated in. Sometimes, “one or two baseballs would end up in the Jacksons’ front yard,” she said.
During her teenage years, Rebbie Jackson would come to her house before the two walked to Roosevelt High School together, Staten said. The Jacksons also came by to ask to borrow a furniture store van to carry their musical equipment.
“I was dating a young man named Robert Reese, whose father owned Reese Furniture Store,” Staten recalled. “Robert would drive them around.”
Today, Staten spends her time housekeeping and enjoying her grandchildren. She’s never been inside the Jackson home and rarely visits the structure.
“I have no real desire to go inside,” she said. “The only thing that gets on my nerves is they block the road. When they’re going the wrong way, I know it’s somebody who’s visiting Michael.”
Geneva Osawe, a professional social counselor, lives near Bray on 23rd Avenue. She gets “irritated that they [tourists] always park in front of my house. And it’s not just cars — it’s buses, too.”
Osawe and other neighbors complain about tourists driving south on Jackson Street, which is a northbound, one-way street.
“They made these streets one way for a reason,” Bray said. “They want to keep traffic down on the street. They also think about the kids. There’s already enough traffic and noise with the streets being one way.”
John Allen, a businessman who moved to Gary from Chicago in 1986, bought several homes in the neighborhood. One of his properties is the house that sits directly across from the Jackson family home. Allen’s house looks exactly like the Jackson house before it was renovated after Michael died in 2009.
He said he bought the house for under $26,000. He paid just $50 for another house in the neighborhood.
He’s seen all kinds of people take interest in the famous home. One day, Secret Service agents investigating a counterfeiting ring knocked on his front door asking a bunch of questions, he said. Then they stopped by the Jackson house to take pictures.
“I’m not kidding,” Allen said. “I couldn’t believe it.”
Allen said he made a lot of friends with parties and cookouts in his first two years as the homeowner who lived in front of the Jackson house. Tourists “would just come up to me and ask how long I was living there, and we became friends. Whenever they came here, they would spend the night.
“People would bring cake, food, and we’ll just have a party. It was something organic. Michael Jackson has a lot of people who liked him.”