Friday, Jun. 26, 2009

A Private Playground

Nestled in the hills of California's Santa Ynez Valley near Los Angeles, Michael Jackson's 2,800-acre estate was a child's fantasy. Neverland, a sprawling theme park that took its name from the fantasy world of Peter Pan, came complete with amusement-park rides, arcade games and a private petting zoo. Among his companions at Neverland, which Jackson purchased for $17 million in 1987, was Bubbles, a suspenders-clad chimpanzee who slept in Jackson's bedroom and used his personal toilet. Even before it became the site of the singer's alleged lewd behavior, Neverland Ranch was a cultural touchstone that showcased its owner's many eccentricities: his largesse, his arrested development and — after he was forced to unload the vast property in November 2008 to help cover massive debts — his heart-wrenching downfall.