MJ Studies Today XXVIIII

Column by Kerry Hennigan, editor of the monthly newsletter, A Candle for Michael, and administrator of the widely-subscribed Facebook group, Michael Jackson’s Short Film ‘Ghosts.


Hennigan, Kerry. “MJ Studies Today XXVIIII (14-05-2018).” The Journal of Michael Jackson Academic Studies 4, no. 4 (2018). http://michaeljacksonstudies.org/mj-studies-today-xxviiii/.

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Michael Jacksons’s Neverland: Toy Trains and Museum Plans – How the media promulgates confusion through selective use of information.  By Kerry Hennigan

Photo montage “Trains, Trains, Trains” compiled by Kerry Hennigan from a photograph by Hamid Moslehi (left) and a photo sourced from GWS Auctions Inc. (right). No copyright infringement is intended in this not-for-profit, educational exercise.

When a toy train Michael Jackson had purchased for his children was offered for auction recently, the story was quickly picked up by various blogs and entertainment columns around the world. “Neverland train up for sale” was a common heading for these stories, which were often accompanied by a photo of Michael with his son Prince sitting on the small ride-on train that he had installed on his ranch.

However, the train in that photo was notthe train up for auction. The one on which Michael is seen riding in the Hamid Moslehi photograph was the 610-mm narrow gauge railway pulled by an engine named “C.P. Huntington” (being a small replica of the first locomotive purchased by the Southern Pacific Railroad in 1871).  There was another (larger) Neverland train which was a 914 mm gauge model pulled by the steam locomotive named “Katherine” after Michael’s mother. [1] The latter was the same size as the steam trains at Disneyland.

The train up for auction earlier this year was an electric train set, custom-built in Germany, according to the initial Bloomberg news item, which Michael purchased for his children to ride.  In other words, it’s a toy.

“It went around a tree,” says Brigitte Kruse, owner of GWS Auctions Inc. in Agoura Hills, northwest of Los Angeles. “I’d say there are about 40 feet of track,” on which the train and its four cars would run round in circles. Each car fits two children—or one fun-loving adult.

 The train was purchased in either 2008 or 2009, Kruse says, by a devoted Jackson fan. “He’s been collecting Michael Jackson memorabilia since he was 5 years old. Now he’s in his mid-30s.” [2]

The article goes on to explain that the train hasn’t been touched since it was purchased and as the owner has health problems, “he wants to exhibit the rest of his collection in a museum” funded by the sale of this and other Jackson memorabilia from his collection. A photograph of the engine, tracks and carriages provided by GWS Auctions clearly shows that this toy train set and its mere 40 feet of track is neither of the Neverland trains known and seen in numerous photographs taken at the ranch when Michael lived there.

The media confusion over the train set is another opportunity to ponder matters relating to the industry.  In today’s “cut and paste” world of syndicated publishing, fact checking does not appear to be a high priority.  (If it were, most of the negative press still targeting Michael Jackson would not get published!)

Let’s look at another recent example that caused confusion amongst the fans and other readers.  An article by Gary Trock on The Blast website first reported that “Michael Jackson‘s famed Neverland Ranch will be getting new life breathed into it, because the late singer’s estate may dedicate a whole museum to the King of Pop and pay homage to his treasured home, but they’re looking for a change in venue.” The name “Neverland Ranch” has been registered by Triumph International, the company that handles intellectual property for the Estate, Trock explained.  The idea for a museum has been discussed for quite some time and the Estate needed to begin the process of securing a name as they move forward.

“As for where the museum will be built, we’re told the actual Neverland Ranch — which is currently co-owned by MJ’s estate and a private equity firm — is not being considered,” Trock clarified, “but the people working on the project plan to incorporate items from the original home into the design, like the front gates to the ranch.”  The story was backed up by a screen shot of the registration form. [3]

When picked up by other sources and repeated with selective edits and added speculation, the story neglected to clarify that the museum would not be located at the actual ranch.  So, we had headlines that shouted variations on, “Michael Jackson’s Neverland Ranch to be a Museum”, giving many fans false hope that their dreams for the property had come true.

We cannot blame fans, or the public, for being confused when it comes to matters relating to Michael Jackson.  Granted, we are talking about reasonably innocuous matters here. However, such things can understandably cause concern amongst the fans – as when a pair of Michael’s loafers, from a private collection, were put up for an auction to take place in May 2018.

Some media reports claimed they were the shoes he wore when first performing the “moonwalk” on the Motown 25 TV special.  They were, in fact, the shoes he wore at the rehearsalfor that show, and which he subsequently gifted to choreographer and dancer Lester Wilson who stated that Michael gave him the shoes in his dressing room after rehearsing with his brothers for their performance. [4]

Facts appear to be inconsequential to some media in the quest to grab our attention and gain web clicks.  This type of “news” is mere click bait, and has nothing at all to do with responsible journalism.

We all know what Michael Jackson thought of the tabloids and the less-than-ethical behaviour of some media – in particular, those who promised to tell the truth, but then distorted it.  “Journalists seem willing to say anything to sell a paper,” he said in Moonwalk back in 1988.  “Most of what they print is a fabrication.  It’s enough to make you ask, ‘What happened to truth?  Did it go out of style?’” [5]

That’s really what it comes down to – caring about the truth. That’s equally relevant for all of us who research and write on the lives of others, whether in blogs or academic papers.  As Michael Jackson fans, I believe we owe it to him to go the extra mile to extract the bare facts from supposition, eschew sensationalism for accuracy and own up to our opinions when stating a case for our hypotheses.

It’s the very least we can do for his legacy.

Kerry Hennigan

May 2018


[1] Enola Lee’s Neverland blog “Tour of Neverland – Big Toys for Big Boys” http://enolalee.blogspot.com.au/2013/08/tour-of-neverland-big-toys-for-big-boys.html

[2] Bloomberg “Michael Jackson’s Neverland Ranch Train is coming to auction” https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-03-02/michael-jackson-s-neverland-ranch-train-is-coming-to-auction

[3] The Blast “Michael Jackson’s Neverland Ranch Museum” https://theblast.com/michael-jacksons-neverland-ranch-museum/

[4] GWS Auctions, LLC online catalogue https://connect.invaluable.com/gwsauctionsllc/auction-lot/Michael-Jackson-s-Personally-Owned-Motown-25-Fl_E61450EBD1/accessed 23 April 2018.

[5] Jackson, Michael Moonwalk1988, reissued by Harmony Books, New York 2009, p. 256.

2 Replies to “MJ Studies Today XXVIIII”

  1. About those rehearsal shoes… “Michael Jackson had not used the dance move in rehearsals for the show. It was a surprise to everyone, including the live audience and the 33.9 million people who would watch the tape-delayed event on television on May 16, 1983” per MJ Vibe’s blog of an article published on MentalFloss.com on the 35th anniversary of Michael’s ‘moonwalk’. Source: http://mentalfloss.com/article/542266/michael-jackson-moonwalk-turns-35-motown via http://www.mjvibe.com/michael-jacksons-moonwalk-turns-35/ It had been my own understanding that Michael’s performance of the moonwalk as part of his Billie Jean solo on Motown 25 WAS a surprise he had kept to himself, in which case, I guess those shoes up for auction that were given to Lester Wilson hadn’t performed the moonwalk – except perhaps in Michael’s private rehearsals at home. (Of course, for most of us, just owning a pair of shoes once worn by MJ is enough reason to want them, never mind what routines he performed in them!)

  2. In fact, Michael talks about the ‘moonwalk’ being a surprise in his autobography “Moonwalk” pp 210-212 of the Arrow Books paperback edition 2010.

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