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Image: Mayor Rudy Clay
M. Spencer Green  /  AP
Gary Mayor Rudy Clay joins mourners outside the boyhood home of pop star Michael Jackson Friday, June 26, in Gary, Ind.
updated 6/26/2009 12:07:44 AM ET 2009-06-26T04:07:44

The hardscrabble city of Gary, Ind., which rose to prosperity in its steelmaking heyday and saw its fortunes fall with the industry, sees an opportunity in the death of its most famous native: Michael Jackson.

The mayor is calling Jackson’s modest boyhood home the new Graceland, and others hope to use Jackson’s name to raise funds for a museum.

But Jackson and his family, like so many others, left the northwest Indiana city behind a long time ago.

Flags flew at half staff outside Gary’s City Hall on Friday as Jackson’s hits, including “Bad,” blared inside the building intercom system. Outside Jackson’s childhood home, fans danced to a boombox playing “Thriller” and performed his trademark Moonwalk on the street.

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Major Rudy Clay said he would like to transform the downtrodden community into a mecca for the pop singer’s fans. He said even he’d like to arrange to have the pop icon, who died Thursday at the age of 50, buried in Gary, though he has not broached that possibility with Jackson’s family.

“If they can do it for Elvis Presley in Graceland, we can do it for Michael Jackson in Gary,” Clay, 73, told The Associated Press.

But tourism experts said they were skeptical that Gary could really draw Jackson fans.

For one, Jackson only lived in this community about 30 miles southeast of Chicago through the age of 11. Since then, the pop star rarely visited.

Roger Brooks, the CEO of Destination Development International, believes that Jackson’s famed sprawling Neverland ranch in southern California has more potential to be a lasting tourist attraction.

“It was his place as an adult,” he said. “It was his vision that built the place from the ground up.” And, he said, it was the place associated with all the bizarre and troubling stories about Jackson.

“People would go to California to see that,” Brooks said.

Slideshow: Michael Jackson: 1958 - 2009 But Clay shook his head when asked if Neverland might be a better location for die hard fans to connect to the singer’s legacy.

“No. No. No,” Clay said. “If you’re going to build a museum to Michael Jackson you should build it where the true love for him is.”

The Jacksons moved from Gary after the Jackson 5 recorded their first album in 1969.

By that time, the steel industry, in which Jackson’s father had worked, had started to decline. Over the following decades, the city’s unemployment and poverty soared, crime increased and the population dwindled.

Slideshow: The face of change Nearly 200,000 people lived in Gary in the 1960s. By 2007, that dropped to 96,000 and one-third of residents lived below the poverty line, according to recent U.S. Census data.

Clay said he hopes Jackson’s death will help energize officials to push for building a memorial, which could include arts center and museum, to the singer in his childhood hometown. Proposals also include moving the Jackson home near an interstate that serves as a main route for commuters heading to and from Chicago, Clay said.

More than 100 people gathered Friday outside the small white-colored home where Jackson lived, creating a circus-like atmosphere. As a boombox blared “Thriller” and other hits, some fans danced while others did the Moonwalk down the asphalt Jackson Street — initially named after U.S. President Andrew Jackson.

Dozens of teddy bears, flowers and affectionate notes piled against the door.

“If you’re a real Michael Jackson fan, this is where you come,” said Kandy Keaton, 38, who drove from nearby Hammond to pay her respects. “This is about his roots. This is where he and his brothers practiced and practiced. This is where his dad pulled it all together.”

But at least a few neighbors said they were disappointed Jackson didn’t do more to help his hometown when he was alive. His reported pledge to help raise money for an arts center that would bear his name never materialized.

“This is great that this (Jackson’s death) is now bringing attention to Gary,” said Darrell Hodges, 49, who went to the same elementary school as Jackson. “But the Jacksons could have done more for this community.”

Clay dismisses such criticism.

“Michael Jackson’s rare show in the city shouldn’t suggest he didn’t care,” Clay said. “His physical body wasn’t always here, but his heart was always in Gary.”

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Photos: World reaction

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  1. Michael Jackson fans cry as they embrace during a public gathering to watch Jackson's memorial service on a giant television screen along 125th street in the Harlem section of New York on Tuesday, July 7. (Mike Segar / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Residents walk past a graffiti depicting late U.S. pop star Michael Jackson in Port-au-Prince, Tuesday, July 7. (Ramon Espinosa / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Michael Jackson fans gather to pay tribute to the late pop legend at a shopping mall in Hong Kong on Tuesday, July 7. (Kin Cheung / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. A Michael Jackson look-alike dances during a tribute to the late pop icon in Mexico City's main square Zocalo on Tuesday, July 7. (Eliana Aponte / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Images and messages to singer Michael Jackson are displayed on the wall outside the Lyric Theatre in London, on Tuesday, July 7. (Leon Neal / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Swiss fans of Jackson attend a memorial ceremony at the Rathausbrucke bridge in Zurich, Switzerland, on Saturday, July 4. (Arnd Wiegmann / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Mackenzie Houck, right, visits a makeshift memorial for Jackson that has sprung up outside the Jackson family home in the Los Angeles suburb of Encino on Wednesday, July 1. (Jae C. Hong / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Michael Townes holds a portrait of a young Michael Jackson as he and other people wait in line for a public memorial for the pop star at the Apollo Theater on Tuesday, June 30. Fans began converging on the Apollo soon after Jackson died Thursday in Los Angeles. It has continued to serve as an impromptu memorial site in the days since. Jackson's ties to the theater go back to 1967, when The Jackson 5 won the Apollo’s Amateur Night contest. (Stan Honda / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. A hat, sunglasses and a single white glove are displayed on stage at the Apollo Theater on Tuesday, June 30, in New York. (Bryan Bedder / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Bronx resident Conchita Jones, right, comforts her crying daughter Essence, 13, during a tribute to Jackson at Harlem's Apollo Theater in New York on Tuesday, June 30. (Jason Decrow / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Kena Patterson of Los Angeles writes out "MJ" with lit candles at a makeshift memorial outside the family home of late pop star Michael Jackson in the Encino neighborhood of Los Angeles early Monday, June 29. (Gus Ruelas / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Graffiti depicting the young Michael Jackson on the walls of an undergound passage in Stuttgart, Germany. The painting was created over the past weekend during a legal graffiti session at Stuttgart's "Hall of Fame." (Marijan Murat / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Pakistan's Sindh provincial Minister for Culture Sassui Palijo, left, lays a flower bouquet beside a huge poster of Michael Jackson during a ceremony to pay tribute to the late entertainer Monday in Hyderabad, Pakistan. (Pervez Masih / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Singer Janet Jackson, sister of the late singer Michael Jackson, speaks at the 2009 BET Awards held at the Shrine Auditorium on Tuesday, June 28, in Los Angeles. (Kevin Winter / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. A poster board containing greetings from fans of the late Michael Jackson was on hand during a candlelight vigil in front of Hitsville, the Motown Records Museum in Detroit, Mich., on Sunday, June 28. (Gary Malerba / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. A Michael Jackson fan mourns the death of the "King of Pop" at the U.S. embassy in Moscow on Sunday, June 28. (Natalia Kolesnikova / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. A fan of Michael Jackson shouts before a candlelight vigil held in tribute to the pop music icon in the city of Lima, Peru, on Sunday, June 28. (Enrique Castro-Mendivil / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Michael Jackson's fans gather for a commemoration in Piazza del Duomo in Milan, Italy, on June 27. (Vince Paolo Gerace / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Filipino inmates perform in front of a portrait of Pop star Michael Jackson inside the Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center in the central Philippines on Saturday. Around 1,581 orange-clad Filipino inmates who gained worldwide attention for an impressive "Thriller" performance on YouTube paid their last respects to the late "King of Pop." (Dennis M. Sabangan / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. A member of Michael Jackson's Fan Club in Vietnam poses with a portrait during a memorial tribute at a cafe in Hanoi on June 27. Jackson's death dominated news bulletins, radio airwaves and Web sites the world over on June 26 as tributes poured in for a man called the "King of Pop" and "natural heir to Elvis." (Kham / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Taiwanese Michael Jackson impersonators Wang Chi-wei, 31, right, and Lee Yen-ting dance Jackson-stylized moves in Taipei, Taiwan on June 27. In 1993, Wang was voted as best impersonator of Michael Jackson in an island-wide contest allowing him to meet with the pop star. (Wally Santana / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. Fans dance to celebrate the life of pop icon Michael Jackson at Washington Square Park in New York on Friday, June 26. (Eric Thayer / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Fans read a banner hanging near the Jackson family home in Encino, Calif., on Friday. (Joshua Lott / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Michael Jackson fans react during a vigil in Santiago, Chile, on Friday, June 26. (Roberto Candia / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. Fans sing as they pay respects to the late pop star Michael Jackson near Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris on Friday, June 26.


    Are you at memorials for Michael Jackson? How are you remembering him?

    Did you take photos or video of public outpourings of grief or tributes to Michael Jackson? Share them here. (Gonzalo Fuentes / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. Michael Jackson's fans gather to mark his death in Paris, on Friday, June 26.

    Discuss the life and impact of Michael Jackson in PhotoBlog. (Thibault Camus / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. Two women sob at a sidewalk shrine at the star of Michael Jackson on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in Los Angeles on Friday, June 26.


    Are you at memorials for Michael Jackson? How are you remembering him?

    Did you take photos or video of public outpourings of grief or tributes to Michael Jackson? Share them here. (Reed Saxon / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. Russians lay flowers in memory of late pop star Michael Jackson at the U.S. embassy in Moscow on Friday, June 26. Fans around the world grieved for Michael Jackson while his star friends in Hollywood and music declared themselves devastated by the sudden death of the "King of Pop." (Natalia Kolesnikova / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  29. Fans hold up a sea of single-gloved hands in an impromptu celebration of the life of Michael Jackson. They gathered outside UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles after he was pronounced dead on Thursday, June 25.
    (Reed Saxon / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  30. Young fans of Michael Jackson take part in a candlelight memorial to commemorate him in Karachi, Pakistan, on Friday, June 26. (Shakil Adil / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  31. A fan sits after laying a tribute to Michael Jackson at the O2 Arena in London on Friday, June 26. The 50-year-old superstar was preparing for what would be a series of 50 concerts starting July 13 at London's famed 02 arena. (Nigel Roddis / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  32. Sand sculptures of Michael Jackson, a guitar and his fedora hat, made by Sudarshan Pattnaik, are seen at the Golden Sea Beach for the fans to pay floral tribute at Puri, India, on Friday, June 26. (Biswaranjan Rout / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  33. An Indonesian painter puts out a painting of the late U.S. pop star Michael Jackson in front of his booth for sale on the street in Jakarta, Indonesia, on Friday, June 26. The pop star Michael Jackson died June 25, collapsing after a cardiac arrest at his home in Los Angeles, officials said.

    Discuss the life and impact of Michael Jackson in PhotoBlog. (Adi Weda / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  34. A Japanese fan reacts as she looks at a commemorative stand for Michael Jackson at a music shop in Tokyo, Friday. (Kim Kyung-hoon / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  35. Michael Jackson look-a-like Wu Di, who has been performing as Michael Jackson in local bars for two years, dances as he poses for pictures in the street in Beijing, Friday. (Reinhard Krause / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  36. A woman checks the breaking news of Michael Jackson's death at an electronic store in Hsintien, Taipei county on Friday. (Sam Yeh / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  37. A fan of Michael Jackson attends a vigil in Mexico City on Thursday.

    Discuss the life and impact of Michael Jackson in PhotoBlog. (Eduardo Verdugo / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  38. A pedestrian in Times Square holds up a sign while a silhouette of Michael Jackson is displayed on a billboard in New York on Thursday, June 25. (Seth Wenig / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  39. Jermaine Jackson, brother of late pop star Michael Jackson, speaks at a news conference at UCLA hospital in Los Angeles on Thursday, June 25. (Gene Blevins / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  40. Fans mourn the death of pop icon Michael Jackson on Thursday, June 25, in Los Angeles.

    Discuss the life and impact of Michael Jackson in PhotoBlog. (Gerard Burkhart / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  41. Fans gather outside of the Apollo Theater in New York to remember pop star Michael Jackson on Thursday, June 25.

    Discuss the life and impact of Michael Jackson in PhotoBlog. (Cory Schwartz / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  42. Berry Gordy, the founder of Motown, pauses for a moment before a news conference held after the death of Michael Jackson, Thursday, June 25. (Jae C. Hong / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  43. Tyson Stevens, center, joins other fans on Thursday to remember Michael Jackson at the star they believe belongs to the pop star, but actually belongs to a radio personality of the same name on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in Los Angeles. (Philip Scott Andrews / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  44. A woman cries on the phone as she tells a friend that Michael Jackson has passed away on Thursday, June 25, in Los Angeles. The iconic pop star, 50, was rushed to the hospital after going into cardiac arrest, according to reports. (Ann Johansson / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  45. The Rev. Al Sharpton speaks in front of the Apollo Theater to the media on Thursday, June 25, about the death of Michael Jackson. (Louis Lanzano / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  46. Curator Curtis Huber, left, and curator assistant Eric Valencia lift a wax figure of Michael Jackson to put in the front display at the Wax Museum at Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco on Thursday, June 25. (Jeff Chiu / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  47. Lana Brown, a tourist from Dallas, cries as she hugs her 10-year-old son Tovre as they mourn the death of pop star Michael Jackson outside the UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles on Thursday, June 25.

    Discuss the life and impact of Michael Jackson in PhotoBlog. (Lucy Nicholson / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  48. Police tape hangs across the street near the emergency room dock outside the UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles on Thursday, June 25. (Mario Anzuoni / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  49. Fans of Michael Jackson gather at the UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles on Thursday, June 25. (Mario Anzuoni / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  50. People watch the news about Michael Jackson in New York's Times Square on Thursday, June 25.


    Are you at memorials for Michael Jackson? How are you remembering him?

    Did you take photos or video of public outpourings of grief or tributes to Michael Jackson? Share them here. (Mary Altaffer / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  51. TJ Thomas and Marie Bouchard remember Michael Jackson at what they believe to be the singer's star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in Los Angeles on Thursday, June 25. Jackson's star was covered by the red carpet for Sascha Baron Cohen's premiere of the movie "Bruno" when the news broke. (Nick Ut / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  52. A Michael Jackson fan reacts to the news about the "King of Pop" outside the UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles on Thursday, June 25.

    Discuss the life and impact of Michael Jackson in PhotoBlog. (Mario Anzuoni / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
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