With the tons of activity going on at Forest Lawn Glendale surrounding the first anniversary of Michael Jackson's passing last month, I've been lax in posting any signfiicant updates here. Why? Well...
Life's been a blur since late May. My mom, Tillie, had a stroke so I went to Michigan to help her and my family out for several weeks in June. A week into my TLC trip, I received word from my neighbors at home, who were catsitting, that my cherished little love, Jackpot, died.
So, it's taken me a while to wrap my mind around inspired blogging, and life in general, since I returned to California. I've been absorbing a lot of changes and rethinking my priorities. It's a process we all go through from time to time.
Meanwhile, Michael's anniversary date, June 25th, also happens to be my Dad's birthday. Arn died in 1984 at the age of 54, and this year marked what would have been his 80th milestone. While I did have thoughts of events taking place back here, I spent the day sharing the family love with Mom (who's recovering remarkably well ~ thank you, God) by visiting Dad's grave at Glen Eden Memorial Park in Livonia.
Can you say heaping helpings of perspective? That said....
I guess the best way to approach things at this point is to offer a round-up of Jackson-FLG topics that people have asked me about or brought to my attention:
The First Anniversary
Needless to say, the media has amply covered this historic day, so I'll refer you to Google rather than rehash the play-by-play. FL officials estimated that approximately 6,000 guests visited the park that day, many making their first pilgrimage. Because I wasn't there, I have no personal perspective, but have enjoyed reading the accounts of many, many fans online as well as watching videos, even raw footage such as this one from PSBSatellite.com:
The post-25th set up at the cemetery now consists of a wood-n-astroturf platform adjacent to the Holly Terrace entrance. Forest Lawn spokesperson Bill Martin tells me that "it was constructed by Forest Lawn in order to facilitate the placing of tributes by the public, while still allowing authorized visitors of the Great Mausoleum unimpeded access."
The influx of fans making first-time or regular pilrimages to Michael's final resting place has grown trememdously. This is a no-brainer. Summer in Los Angeles is high tourism season. Michael's death anniversary and his birthday, August 29, more or less bookend this timeframe.
Visitors to the cemetery who I've talked to run the gamut from lifelong devoted MJ fans bringing tokens of love to the mildly curious bringing their inquiring minds.
Here's what it looked like on Saturday, July 31st:
The structure is about 10'x12' in size and, as one fan aptly described it, resembles a putting green. I say this with all due respect to the Forest Lawn crew who constructed it, but this is Michael Jackson we're talking about. Many, rightly or wrongly so, expect and are acustomed to Hollywoodesque opulence. So the critiques I've heard (mainly from devoted fans who have previously had the opportunity to leave flowers and gifts at the Holly Terrace door) have been unflattering. But it does serve its purpose.
The astroturf was replaced earlier this week after a recent candle mishap resulted in two burn holes. One was actually kind of heart-shaped. Cue "Twilight Zone" music. Do it with love, but also, let's be careful out there.
What happens to the items now that there are so many? Reports vary and fans have definite opinions as to what should happen to them, ranging from going to Michael's children and family to various charities. So far, nothing official has been announced, although Justice4MJ.com had something to say about it on their site today.
Update 8/3: I asked Bill to clarify the flower placement issue brought up in the Justice4MJ.com blog piece, and here's what he told me ~ once again, thanks for your time, Bill!
"The charge they're referring to is a placement fee, a service made available to guests who wish for Forest Lawn to place the flowers/arrangements on their behalf at the interment site of their choice. In this case, we place flowers/arrangements according to our agreement with the family.
Arrangements are placed on the platform adjacent to Holly Terrace and then placed inside the sanctuary as space permits in order to accommodate the wishes of the family, while adhering to our internal standards."
Last month's discovery of writings on the exterior of the Great Mausoleum gets the blue ribbon when it comes to causing distress and disharmony among the MJ fan base and tabloid media regarding Michael's grave site. All told, I spent about a day's worth of my life that I'll never get back reading message threads on Facebook and Twitter trying to make sense of it all.
In a nutshell, at some point in time, more than one misguided MJ fan wrote messages of love to their idol under a stained glass window. Once discovered by fans, it became a heated topic of - I'll call it "debate" - on Facebook on or about July 11 from what I saw. TMZ picked up on it and stirred the pot on July 13 and July 14 and their stories were picked up by skads of other media such as local news station KTLA.
On July 13, I touched base with Bill Martin to get the official word on what was going on and was told that the cemetery maintenance crew had cleaned it up and there would be no external costs. Your basic non-issue. Great! End of story.
Later that night I saw a tweet go by on my MJ community news feed from Taaj Malik mentioning that Lorene Malaika was onsite that day taking the cleaning job on herself, having tackled five of eight messages. I went back to Bill for clarification and comments, and he asked if there was a way to get in touch with Lorene to speak with her directly. Taaj helped me get the word to Lorene, done and done.
Afterwards Bill followed up to say that he was pleased to have spoken with Lorene and had let her know that he appreciated her efforts, and that Forest Lawn would happily take care of the cleaning from there.
"Whenever we encounter instances where the public has defaced the grounds, we address the maintenance or repair internally," Bill explained. So, bottom line best practice note: any MJ fan, or park visitor in general, who may find something amiss on the cemetery grounds in the future should alert Forest Lawn authorities to the problem so they can handle it.
Makes perfect property-owner sense to me.
I was still a bit confused as to exactly where on the Great Mausoleum messages had been written so I asked Lorene and Taaj to meet me at Forest Lawn this weekend to give me a walk-thru as well as the opportunity to ask questions about their experience.
While I was under the impression that the messages were closer to the Holly Terrace patio, they were actually under a window located behind bushes and directly under the Ascension Sanctuary Windows on the opposite side of the building. The messages were mostly small in nature, about 4" long, except for one that was a bit more bold at approximately 20" by their estimates.
Lorene told me that she spent about an hour using water, a scrub brush and dish soap on the markings, a few which had been written in eyeliner, the rest written in permanent ink that looked like a Sharpie pen. The eyeliner, obviously was the easiest to remove as it transitioned from words to a purple smear stain before finally coming off.
While both ladies told me that they expressed initial outrage at the vandalism, and still consider it wrong, Taaj explained that after talking to at least one culprit who admitted guilt, they gained an understanding of their intentions and the vandal learned a huge, scary lesson from the fallout. "They meant no harm, it was, in their way, an expression of love and our thought was okay let's deal with it and clean it off."
Writing on walls in the name of MJ is, to say the least, a hot-hot-hot button topic that has lead to jaw-droppingly vile threads here, there and yonder on the internet, and also a Facebook group devoted to an anti-defacing campaign. Personally, I'm against the practice, although once during my college years when I was very drunk I was guilty of the same sort action, so I'm not going to throw any stones or Sharpies.
But overall, the major concern among fans is that this type of action ruins the reputation of fans in the eyes of Forest Lawn and will affect their ability to visit. So far, thankfully, that's not been the case.
The Newest Barrier
I was alerted late Friday by a Forest Lawn visitor with legitimate access to the Great Mausoleum that while inside the building they saw a big black curtain strung across the entire front of the Ascension Sanctuary, obscuring it completely from view, and that a security guard was positioned near the inside of the Holly Terrace door.
Yesterday a similar report hit Facebook, I read it on Official Michael Jackson Fans of Southern California. Speculation and worry about what this meant to fan access to Forest Lawn, frustration over being separated further from him, etc. etc. etc. was rampant and I started to feel dizzy. This is the point in the program where I begin to question, for the purposes of this blog and time management, what constitutes a worthwhile story?
Anyway, today, I read a post by one of the group's admins, Amy Kimes, who reported that after she participated in the Heal The Children walkathon at the Rose Bowl (raising over $1000 in pledges from MJ fans, kudos all) that she stopped by Forest Lawn to inquire with security about the development.
"They are preparing for many followers of [Paramahansa] Yogananda to visit this week who is also buried in Holly Terrace. The curtain is only temporary and will be removed," she wrote. Thank you, Amy.
A quick check of The Self-Realization Fellowship 2010 World Convocation itineary confirms they will be making a pilgrimage to Forest Lawn this Tuesday.
Update 8/1: Bill Martin also confirmed today that "the screen was placed on a temporary basis as a result of other scheduled visitations throughout the Great Mausoleum." Thank you, Bill. Also, thank you Taaj for confirming even earlier yesterday on Facebook information about the temporary situation with the curtain live from Forest Lawn, just seeing your initial bulletin now. I very much appreciate everyone who works hard to distribute facts, thus quelling untold amounts of speculation that results in needless heartache.
Want to read Yogananda's fascinating mortuary report? Click here.
The Big Picture
This round up report has turned out to be longer than I expected it to be, so I'll end here for now.
There are other good news stories happening out of Forest Lawn, like a number of successful flower and gift delivery initiatives that have blossomed in the past year, people who do random acts of kindness and I'm also going to share with you a bit of Art History, FL style.
That's the big picture I see, the one I choose to focus on and invest time in down the road. I hope you'll join me as we head into year two of Micheal Jackson-related coverage, not to mention more stories from other Los Angeles cemeteries, the idea this blog was founded on.
Thanks for reading!