Fans, News Media Flock to Jackson's Neverland

LOS OLIVOS, Calif. – Adoring fans and dozens of news crews crowded around Michael Jackson's Neverland Ranch on Wednesday in anticipation of witnessing the finale to the story of the King of Pop, only to learn that no funeral was planned there.

Hotel rooms in the bucolic wine country surrounding Jackson's estate sold out within minutes of the first — and eventually, erroneous — reports Tuesday that the pop icon might be buried there.

And residents of Los Olivos, who were plagued by reporters following Jackson's 2003 arrest on child molestation charges, once more had their lives upended by streams of TV vans and fans eager to mark the passing of the pop culture giant.

By Tuesday night, more than 30 TV news trucks parked outside the gates of Neverland Ranch. Yellow police tape kept gawkers and media off the property of two private schools across the street from the ranch, which is tucked off a winding, two-lane country road in Santa Barbara County, and fans in campers trickled in.

The excitement, however, appeared to be for nothing.

A person with knowledge of the situation told The Associated Press that no public memorial would be held at Neverland Ranch and that Jackson would likely be buried in Los Angeles. The source, who was not authorized to speak for the family and requested anonymity, told the AP that nothing is planned at least through Friday, although the family could have a private memorial at Neverland after Jackson is buried.

Inside the gates of the theme-park-style estate, at least two dozen workers could be seen placing fresh sod along the drive to the main house, mowing the lawn and doing maintenance on an ornate, iron-and-gold gate within the ranch.

The fountains were on and sprinklers had been set out to water the grass. Fresh flowers surrounded its train station.

A receptionist at KW Custom Iron, which had a crew at Neverland, said the company was not authorized to comment on what kind of work they were doing there. She declined to give her name.

Meanwhile, at Fess Parker's Wine Country Inn, rooms sold out within 20 minutes of the first media reports that Jackson would be buried — or at least memorialized — on the grounds of Neverland, said Jessica Larsen, the hotel's general manager.

"It was first media and then after about an hour, the fans were calling in," she said. "There's been quite a few people calling, even internationally, and it's been hard for them" to learn the inn is fully booked.

Residents in Los Olivos, a laid-back town used to wine tourists, took the crush of fans and reporters in stride — especially after weathering a similar onslaught during Jackson's arrest, trial and eventual acquittal. More than 2,200 reporters camped out at the Santa Barbara County courthouse for the proceedings and dozens roamed the winding roads around Los Olivos during that time.

Rebecca Gomez, a local artist, was busy early Wednesday setting up an exhibition of her work that was scheduled to open later that day. She said she'd already noticed that the people arriving for this chapter in the Michael Jackson story seemed different than the ones who jammed the city when he was on trial four years ago.

"Whatever happens now is respectful instead of that other crowd we had the last time," she said.

Eligio Baustista, who was sweeping the stoop in front of the Los Olivos Cafe, said his boss had told the staff to prepare for a busy week as the King of Pop's burial plans unfolded.

"My manager said we're expecting of lot of people who will be coming up for the viewing," he said, before it was learned that there would be no public memorial there.

___

Associated Press Writer Gillian Flaccus and AP Photographer Chris Carlson contributed to this report.


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