Wednesday 29 May 2013

Exploring Neverland: A Night Inside Michael Jackson's Abandoned Fun Park [Photos]

Long exposure shot of ride under the stars
Via - Environmental Graffiti
"It seemed as if a switch could be flipped and the park would come alive again. It never did, and all of the rides were removed only a few months before he died.”
Few places are as eerie or as melancholy as an abandoned theme park. The laughter and screams of delight that we imagine once echoed around the rides and other amusements have gone, leaving a strange silence that seems all the more heavy in contrast with the joyful cacophony it has replaced. Add a full moon and a back-story replete with scandal and tragedy, and you have an intensely atmospheric subject for a photographic series.
Michael Jackson’s Neverland was once a children’s fantasy made real. Then came the infamous child abuse allegations. In 2005, Jackson declared that he would never return to Neverland because he felt violated by the police searches that took place there, which he claimed were conducted without a warrant.

Bumper car tentBehind the Curtain: Entrance to the bumper car tent
With Jackson’s privacy invaded, an intended dreamland had turned into a place of nightmares for the late entertainer. In 2008, he went on to sell the property, and its many rides and attractions were also sold off one by one. Fortunately, not before these photographs were

Statue of Peter Pan

Peter Pan: A Neverland statue of the character Michael Jackson saw himself as
After the property had been placed in foreclosure, intrepid photographer Scott Haefner and his friend Jonathan Haeber decided to make a clandestine visit to Neverland. Haebner had discovered the site while driving back from San Francisco. After a solo tour of the property he called Haefner. The pair then hatched plans to visit the park together and capture it on camera in its abandoned state "before it was too late."
Front gate and wall with photo of Michael Jackson
Neverland Main Gate: The iconic front gate of the park with a photo of Michael Jackson leading a group of children on the left
Getting into a closed-off Neverland involved a certain amount of stealth and was no small challenge. Haefner and Haeber had to hike through farmland and over rough, hilly terrain for a couple of miles to avoid the main entrance to the park, which was under 24-hour guard. But they got there in the end. Haefner told us “the main gate was quite a spectacle,” and the feeling of standing outside it for the first time “pretty incredible” given that it is such a familiar icon.

Brass statues of children playing

Ashes to Ashes: Bronze statue of children known as the 'Circle of Peace'
From the gate, Haefner was able to see the entrance booth and some of Neverland’s famous bronze statues. In its time, the park boasted many of these sculptures portraying children at play – an eerie sight in the now empty park lit only by the moon.

Neverland Rides
Neverland Rides: The amusement park rides under the moon and stars
“Wandering around abandoned relics is oftentimes a visceral or even surreal experience,” explains Haefner. Yet, surely few locations could be more surreal than Michael Jackson’s famous – and infamous – Neverland.

Horses on carousel

Round and Round: The rather creepy looking carousel
Although some people might consider the nightime creepy for exploring an abandoned amusement park, Haefner, an experienced moonlight photographer, actually didn’t experience it as particularly spooky. At least, no spookier than any of the other places he has visited under cover of darkness. Indeed, he prefers taking his pictures under the full moon, as he says it makes the photography easier. No doubt it’s more straightforward sneaking into places undetected at night as well

Weeping Swings ride
Weeping Swings: One of the rides lit by the full moon
“I loved wandering around and photographing the rides at night,” Haefner says of the visit. “Photographing at night – under the full moon – adds to the drama of the photos and allows me to control and manipulate the lighting, lending more control over the photography process.”

Train tracks leading to rides
Broken Paradise: Train tracks running through the park
One of the characteristics of Neverland that surprised Haefner was its sheer size. He told us it was a lot bigger than he had expected, “sort of spread out, Disneyland-style.” Fortunately for his guests, Jackson provided two train loops around the park, one a 36-inch steam locomotive and the other a 24-inch gauge amusement-style train. After all, it wouldn’t have done to wear oneself out walking from attraction to attraction back before Neverland was deserted.

Disney-style railway station
Train Station: A site apparently full of Jackson’s relics
Before it was dismantled, Neverland boasted an incredible number of rides, including the Carousel, Ferris wheel, Octopus, Pirate Ship, Wave Swinger, Zipper and Super Slide. In addition to such attractions, Haefner saw the mansion (Michael Jackson’s former residence), duck ponds, gardens, arcade, various winding roads and, of course, the train station. In its day it all must have made for a pretty impressive back yard.

Bumper Cars

Bumper to Bumper: Parked for good – the bumper cars
Despite having been closed since 2006, the rides at Neverland were still in remarkably good condition at the time of Haefner’s visit – as if Jackson himself might return at any moment for a ride on the Ferris wheel or a spin in one of the bumper cars. Strangely, in 2009, an unexplained “shadow" seen in a CNN report filmed in Neverland's mansion sparked rumors that the place was haunted by the late singer himself!

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