The Spirit of Neverland Lives On, In Some Little And Surprising Ways

by Allforlove

October 10, 2010

Michael once said that “Neverland is the totality of who I am.” Maybe it would be fair, then, to say that the $215, 000 Ferris wheel he purchased in 1990 from the Eli Bridge Company was the “totality of Neverland.” For over twenty years, it occupied a prime location just a few feet behind the carousel, and along with the carousel, became one of the two central, iconic rides most often associated with images of Neverland (at least, if we’re talking the amusement park section). The Ferris wheel was custom designed according to Michael’s specifications, even down to the color of the seats, which according to all the sources I’ve read, were painted a specified shade of “penoit noir red” as per Michael’s instructions. So in many respects, one could say that this Ferris wheel was as much one of Michael’s creations as any of his songs or dance moves.

Since Archway Amusements of Missouri bought the Ferris wheel in 2008, it has been quietly (and occasionally not so quietly) making its rounds at state and county fairs throughout the Midwest and South. A casual google of “Michael Jackson’s Ferris wheel” will pull up any number of a dozen stories of little towns and fairs where the Ferris wheel has been featured. Of course, these stories also draw out the skeptics and cynics who seem to believe the whole thing is a publicity stunt. But it’s also very obvious that the people calling it “a publicity stunt” haven’t done enough research to even know what Michael’s Neverland Ferris wheel actually looked like. When you compare the photos, it’s easy enough to see that it’s the real deal. After all, it was custom designed by Michael, which means you’re not going to find another exactly like it anywhere in the world. True, a few superficial changes have been made since its Neverland days. For example, the base has since been repainted green, replacing the bright red that Michael preferred. But in most respects, any fan can still look at it and know in an instant…yes, that’s it. I think I can safely say to most of the skeptics, if in doubt, ask the proprietors if their rides were provided by Archway Amusements. If the answer is yes, then you are indeed riding Michael’s Neverland Ferris wheel. And if you ask for Seat #13, according to urban legend, your butt will be sharing the same seat that Michael most loved to occupy. For trivia purposes, he was also the first person to ever take a ride in it. He was the one who broke her in when she first came to live at Neverland.

I haven’t been to a fair in ages. And I only went this time for the same reason that I’ve been going out of my way to see anything remotely related to Michael for the past year and a half. That is, to simply experience the connection; to feel a little closer to him. It was a wonderful experience and I’ll try to share a little of it here, along with some of the photos taken(at any rate, the best of the bunch).

After the inevitable jokes with some of my fellow fangirls about going down “to ride Michael’s big, beautiful…um, er, Ferris wheel” we headed down to the historic city of Selma, one of the prominent cities of the Civil Rights Movement. It somehow seemed fitting that of all cities, Michael’s Ferris wheel should end up there. When Michael lived at Neverland, one of his major goals was to make sure that many of the poor, inner city children of Los Angeles-children who had never seen a beach, or an amusement park, or anything in their lives that was fun or magical-got to come and experience a day at Neverland. Sometimes to the chagrin of his all-white, affluent neighbors, here was Michael Jackson opening up their neighborhood to busloads of poor, inner city, black children, so they could enjoy the magic of Neverland.

How intimidating can a simple, old-fashioned Ferris wheel possible be? Well, if you’re standing there beneath the base of Michael Jackson’s Ferris wheel, looking up at this 65-foot tall structure going at full, open speed, the answer is…very. It may look small in photos and from a distance, and it may look relatively tame compared to more daredevilish fare like “Moby Dick” or “the Sea Dragon” but don’t let that fool you. As a number of us found out yesterday, Michael’s Ferris wheel was not designed for the faint hearted. Nor for those just looking for an old-fashioned pleasure cruise “with the greatest of ease!”

The fact that we were willing to ride it all says a lot about our devotion to Michael. I bought seven tickets initially, thinking that cost would cover several chances to ride it. But no, since this was a “special” ride, its cost was five tickets per spin. The irony, though, is that they really were not going to any special lengths to advertise the Ferris wheel as having belonged to Michael Jackson. There were no signs, no announcements, no anything to indicate its history or association with Michael Jackson. In fact, even I would never have been aware thatMichael’s Ferris wheel was in Selma, had it not been for one newspaper story that was picked up by a fan on another board that I frequent:

Selma kicks off annual fair today

Well, as soon as I heard that the Ferris wheel was going to be practically in my back yard, of course I was going to go check it out! This was, as the article states, the Ferris wheel’s second year to be featured at the Central Alabama Fair. But the difference was that last year, with the news of Michael’s death still fresh and interest high, it seemed to have been played up more last year. This year, the ride’s history seemed relatively low played. According to this article, Archway Amusements itself has not gone out if its way to promote the Ferris wheel’s connection to Michael Jackson. Their whole attitude seems to be along the lines of, “If anyone asks, we’ll tell them. But if they don’t ask, don’t tell.”

This quote was according to Archway Amusements co-owner Therea Noerper in an “Ok” article from last year:

“We ourselves really didn’t advertise it,” said Noerper. “When he died, it kind of blew up. There’s no keeping secrets then.”
-Theresa Noerper

In another article, it states that Archway Amusements basically leaves it up to the individual fair owners as to the degree that they wish to promote the Ferris wheel’s “Jackson” connection.

Archway Amusements doesn’t go out of its way to publicize the Ferris wheel’s ties to Jackson; it leaves it up to local fair organizers to decide whether to make them known. But word of mouth has gotten to some hardcore Jackson fans.
Michael Jackson´s Ferris wheel spins into new life

In this video, fairgoers in Olivette last year express their reactions on learning they have just ridden Michael Jackson’s Ferris wheel, including the skeptics:

As I said earlier, other than the one mention in a local paper, there was certainly no ballyhoo around the Ferris wheel. It seemed almost an “inside” thing; if you knew its history, you were part of the club. If not, oh well. It’s your own loss. Yet, as I stood by watching the scattering of occasional couples or families taking their seats on board, and the almost bored looking operator who seemed to get his biggest kick from teasing those few fans “in the know” I couldn’t help but think how huge the crowds and lines would be if they would but simply put up a sign that says, “Come Ride The King Of Pop’s Ferris Wheel,” with maybe a poster of Michael in his Fedora and white glove, with Billie Jean playing to entice the crowd; maybe even an imperosonator dancing out front. You know then that the crowds would come!

So it really begs the question, why don’t they? Why keep it so lowkey, considering the money they could generate if they really played this thing up? Perhaps there are practical and valid reasons. Crowd control, for example, was a big concern last year when the story first broke. But sadly, part of me couldn’t help feeling that it may have more to do with the stigma still attached to Michael’s name. Perhaps their bigger fear is not crowd control, but rather loss of revenue due to what they fear might be a boycott of parents refusing to bring their kids out for what is supposed to be a family event. I wish I could say the thought did not cross my mind; call me a cynic if you will. But deep down, I can’t help but feel that is the real reason, no matter what excuses they give. Why else would they not do more to take advantage of what rightfully should be the fair’s single biggest attraction? I’m sorry, but from my standpoint, it makes no sense. I think if people would just let go of their fear of this stigma, they would be pleasantly surprised to know how many people do love Michael Jackson. Including people like us who drove over three hours to get there, just to see the Ferris wheel and to ride it. And knowing what I do now-that Michael actually specified almost everything that went into the Ferris wheel’s design and creation-it seems doubly wrong somehow. Almost like playing one of his his songs, enjoying it and making money from it, but refusing to give him writing credit. The truth is that every time someone takes a joy ride on this wheel, they are enjoying something that was the product of Michael’s creative imagination. Just as we’ve been enjoying all of the products of that imagination for over thirty years. But so often, it seems, giving so very little in return for all that joy.

Weirdly enough, however, it was one of those things where almost everyone who worked at the fair seeemd to take pride in “our big secret.” They would get a glimpse of our MJ t-shirts, and would just sort of smile and nod as if exchanging secretly coded winks: “Yeah, we know why you’re here. Yes, we have the Ferris wheel from Neverland.” And you could tell, there was a kind of pride they took in that, even if they weren’t shouting it from the rooftops.

“I sure do love that Billie Jean,” said one employee. “And that song he did with Chris Rock.” (I debated if I should embarrass the poor guy by correcting him, but I had to since there was no way I could endure hearing Michael’s name even put in the same sentence with Chris Rock).

The lady at the pizza booth just smiled and winked when we talked about riding Michael’s big…Ferris wheel (sorry, couldn’t resist just one more time!).

It was still daylight when we first arrived, so I was able to get a good look at the Ferris wheel in both daylight and after dusk, when all the lights came on. I have to say, there is no comparison! Once she lights up, she truly becomes something magical and wondrous to behold!

For sure, my experience made me realize even more how important it is to keep the legacy of Neverland alive. Not for what it became, but for what it was. I’ve heard various talks about recreating it, whether that be at its original location, or the proposed theme park in Gary, Indiana. I don’t know if any of those plans will ever come to fruition. And even if they do, it’s been pretty much a foregone conclusion that any attempt to recreate Neverland will be just that-a recreation made up of replicas and approximations. Most of Neverland’s original animal inhabitants have long since been scattered to various wildlife preserves and private owners. A few have met tragic ends:

Sad End For Some of Neverland’s Animals

And rides such as this Ferris wheel, Michael’s pride and joy, will most likely remain in the hands of those who have purchased them (perhaps, unless the price is right); their fate destined to be a never-ending tour of little state and county fairs until they are finally, without ceremony, quietly dismantled and retired forever.

But yesterday’s experience has taught me (if I needed reminding) that the spirit of Neverland and its creator cannot be just so easily replaced, or artificially “recreated.” Those rides-the Ferris wheel being but one prime example-were Michael’s creations. They were, and remain, as unique as the man himself.

There was, and can only be, one Neverland Ferris wheel. I’m proud to say I had the chance to experience it. There can be no substitute.

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