Neverland never more? Michael Jackson's California playland goes dark

Here lies Neverland. Trains once packed with laughing children no longer roll around the grounds. The arcade that pulsed with rap music, the curse words edited out, has fallen silent. No one waits at the gate with ice cream for youngsters to arrive.

After years of rumors about its demise, the fantasy playland Michael Jackson created as a celebration of childhood and a retreat from his troubles is going dark.

The pop star, now living half a world away, dismissed many of the remaining employees Thursday after agreeing to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in back wages to avoid a lawsuit by state labor officials. His spokeswoman characterized the moves as those of someone who will be away for an extended period, not someone abandoning a home for good.

Jackson once opened Neverland for everything from an Elizabeth Taylor wedding and celebrity fundraisers to field trips for busloads of children. That was before his trial on charges he plied a young cancer patient with booze and molested him in 2003 in the master bedroom. Following his acquittal last year, Jackson moved to the Middle Eastern kingdom of Bahrain.

He left behind troubled finances, a tattered reputation and Neverland.

The 2,600-acre (1,040-hectare) estate, which Jackson purchased for $14.6 million (Ђ12 million) in 1988, is tucked into the California countryside amid wineries northwest of Los Angeles.

Some of the curiosities behind its gates are world-famous: a menagerie of exotic animals, a mini amusement park, two trains and prominent pictures of Jackson holding hands with children.

The singer's trial revealed other oddities. A juke box in the arcade concealed a wine cellar. Other rooms were full of dolls and mannequins dressed as super heroes and film idols. Walls of videotapes, many of Jackson's Disney favorites, made some rooms look like a Blockbuster franchise.

On Friday, the home was undisturbed, except by an occasional fan and a delivery truck. The driver, who gave his name only as Larry because he has signed an agreement not to talk about Neverland, said he was delivering food for Jackson's animals. He said a woman who cared for and trained the animals was still working there Friday and that the animals, a bear and giraffe among them, appeared healthy.

"The animals are well taken care of," he said, adding that their food includes mangos, papayas and boxed fruit juices for the chimpanzees.

A man at the guard house just inside the gate, speaking through an intercom hidden in a mailbox, said he was a relative of Jackson's but declined to discuss the ranch, where he said he lived.

The singer named Neverland after the home of Peter Pan. In an interview aired in 2003, he insisted he did not just identify with the boy who would not grow up. "I am Peter Pan," he said, reports AP.


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