Nov 17 2011

There was ‘no room at the Inn’, so Michael stayed with the Walters Family

Category: Family,Friends,PhotosSeven @ 12:27 am

NOTE: This article first appeared in the August 2009 issue of The Washingtonian

With the Del Walters Family

On his final night in Loudoun County, Jackson hosted a gathering at the house, where he introduced his three children to the Walters family and posed with Taylor, 15, McClaine, 13, and their mother, Robin. All photographs courtesy of Del Walters

by Del Walters

This is the story of how Michael Jackson—the King of Pop and at the time one of the world’s most wanted men—hid out at my family’s house.

Among his staff, Jackson was referred to as the Principal. In our family, he was known as the Secret—one we kept for nine days five years ago. We believed then, and do now, that not revealing Jackson’s whereabouts was the right thing to do. Now that he’s gone, I can tell why and how we did it.

It was March 2004. The previous year, Jackson had appeared on TV explaining why he believed it to be normal for adults to share their beds with children, that it was the most loving thing you could do. What he saw as innocent a Los Angeles district attorney saw as criminal. Rumors were swirling that Jackson would be indicted on charges of child molestation by an LA grand jury. The King of Pop became a subject of ridicule. Gone was the cute boy who had swooned his way into the hearts of generations. He was replaced by a man-child, a suspected pedophile.

In April 2004, Jackson was to receive an award from the African Ambassadors’ Spouses Association for his humanitarian work. But few of the journalists seeking credentials for the event cared about his work in Africa—they wanted to ask him about what had happened at Jackson’s Neverland Ranch. So a routine trip to Washington became anything but routine. Jackson needed a place to stay, and those closest to him were finding that there was no acceptable room in a Washington hotel.

The real-estate agent assigned to locate lodgings for him was running out of options. Stopping for a bite to eat, she saw the April 2004 Washingtonian. It featured a “Great Places to Live” article with me, my wife, and our two children on the cover. The story talked about how we had designed a house near Leesburg with no walls and plenty of open space. The agent knew us well enough to pick up the phone and ask whether we’d consider allowing Michael Jackson and his children to stay in our home.

What would you have done if a friend had called out of the blue and suggested that Michael Jackson might be interested in staying at your home? We first assumed she was joking. But she was serious.

On the previous Sunday, the sermon delivered by our minister, Reverend Dr. Norman A. Tate, had been about the Good Samaritan. Reverend Tate was the first person we consulted. Should we offer Michael Jackson safe haven? That night, following a lengthy family discussion and vote, we ironed out the details and began preparing for the Jackson family’s arrival.

Michael Jackson traveled with an entourage of 14. There were two cooks, three nannies, three children, personal assistants, tutors, security men, and Jackson himself. He moves in, you move out. (We stayed at a hotel.) Those who surrounded him called him the Client or the Principal. Rarely was he referred to by name. There were stretch Hummers and Suburbans that suggested a visit by a head of state—which is what our neighbors suspected.

Before he moved in, the house had to be prepared. His entourage covered all glass windows and doors. He was to have white bed linens and towels only. His favorite scent, a mountain fragrance, was sprayed everywhere and lingered for weeks after his departure.

Then, under the cover of darkness, he arrived. His private jet flew in and out of the Leesburg airport.

That evening as he moved in, we dined at a local restaurant, courtesy of the entertainer, and wondered whether he was enjoying our house as much as we did. We wondered whether he admired the views of the Blue Ridge Mountains from the deck and whether he took a stroll and noted the seven species of birds that call our acres home. Did he play the baby grand piano? Did his children frolic in the small dance studio? Would he enjoy the pool and hot tub and five acres, or would he just hole up and hide?

The next morning brought invitations for us to attend several events, including a BET reception and the African ambassadors’ reception.

Before Jackson’s arrival at the BET affair, a who’s who of Washington’s African-Amercan elite waited patiently. There were plenty of nasty remarks; some couples talked about how they wouldn’t let their children anywhere near Jackson. Then he arrived and the stampede began. Those who had ridiculed him the most were first in line.

His assistant ushered us to the front of the receiving line. We were told Jackson wanted to meet us first to thank us for allowing him and his children to use our home. He talked about the family pictures on the walls and how comfortable the place felt.

It was all very pleasant, but you could tell there was something unsettled about him. You could tell what he coveted most: He’d grown up without a childhood, and our house is filled with the kind of childhood memories money can’t buy—baptisms, first-birthday parties, family adventures.

To keep his stay at our house secret, we arrived there in the morning in time for the school bus to pick up one of our two daughters. We were always met by one of Jackson’s bodyguards dressed in all black. I finally told him that if he wanted Jackson’s presence to remain secret, he shouldn’t meet us every morning looking like Mr. T.

Reporters were in high gear searching for Jackson. We feared a media circus in our neighborhood. Our daughters, then 13 and 15, went to school each day wondering if their world would unravel.

On day eight, we were surprised Jackson wasn’t ready to leave, as the agreement had called for. That night, he arranged for a private wine-and-cheese reception at our own house so our children could meet his. He was more than gracious. While I worked, my wife and daughters were greeted by Jackson and his three kids. They spoke of childhood and normality. His children were very talkative; he was soft-spoken but playful. My wife described him as a gentle soul who obviously loved his children and they him. He also was willing to discipline his kids. He posed for pictures and agreed to autograph many things, including CDs.

CD autographed by Michael for the Walters family

CD autographed by Michael for the Walters family

By day nine, Jackson and his children were gone.

The empty wine bottles hidden around the house hinted at a man we now know was deeply tormented. There were other signs, but my wife and I have agreed they will remain secret. We knew from his representatives that Jackson tended to live nocturnally, sleeping during the day and roaming the house at night.

A visit by guests to our house now always leads to a conversation about Jackson’s visit. His picture, taken when he was standing by our baby grand piano, sits atop a table in the living room. Almost everyone sees it and wonders what it was like to talk to him and have him live in our home.

I’m always asked why I’ve never talked about Michael Jackson’s stay at our house. I say I met Jackson three times in my life—twice face to face.

Most African-Americans of my generation were introduced to a young Michael Jackson through the radio or by a friend who had one of his records. For me it was a 45-RPM played at Sonny Mason’s barbershop in my hometown of Wheeling, West Virginia.

The second encounter was in 1984 when Jackson and his brothers kicked off their Victory Tour in Kansas City. I stood out among the other reporters covering it because I didn’t appear to care about Michael Jackson the celebrity as much as I did the revenue the tour represented in the cities it visited. That night, I received two tickets to attend the concert and a private reception at Kansas City’s Arrowhead Stadium. In a receiving line for the Jacksons following the concert, I met Michael in person for the first time.

The third time was the Washington visit.

I, too, wonder why I’ve never talked before about his stay in our home. Was it because Jackson and I were the same age or the fact that, like so many African-Americans, I liked to remember the little kid from Gary, Indiana, more than I did the man with another reputation?

Perhaps, as Reverend Tate suggested, it was just the right thing to do.

As word of Michael Jackson’s death on June 25 spread, my family mourned the man we’d met not as the King of Pop but as a person trapped inside a world that was and was not of his own creation, a man who came to us through his representatives in need of a place to stay. As I sat on our deck and looked west toward the Blue Ridge Mountains, I hoped he now was seeing what I see each and every night—a perfect sunset.
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{ I’d lost reference for this story a while back. Thanks to ‘UK Loves MJ‘ on Facebook for finding it again! -Seven }

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6 Responses to “There was ‘no room at the Inn’, so Michael stayed with the Walters Family”

  1. julia corsolini says:

    Michael Jackson ,el artista mas famoso y talentoso del mundo,Todo lo que hacia era motivo de comentarios.Nunca pudo vivir tranquilo,comprender por favor a ese ser humano.Los que reconocemos su hombria de bien ,lo amamos con locura ,jamas sera olvidado.Hizo muchas cosas buenas nos alegro con su talento unico,su sonrisa siempre ,su filantropia .Justicia y reconocimiento para el señor Michael Jackson !Gracias Frank Cascio ,por tu book ,.I love you !!!!!!!!Kin of Pop! forever

  2. Heidi says:

    I too agree wholeheartedly with Max. The author just finished describing the WINE AND CHEESE RECEPTION provided by Michael as a thank-you for his stay in their home, and this suddenly turns into “empty wine bottles all over the house which “clearly” shows that Michael was a “deeply tormented man”. Give me a friggin break with these endless hidden agendas and constant inuendos. Do you really think Michael would risk the ensuing gossip if he personally left empty wine bottles all over? Michael had wine available for the pleasure of others even at Neverland, but Michael didn’t drink!!! Nor did he run around “tormented”. Listen to the available interviews with Michael during that same time frame. The accusations against him were pure hell no doubt, but Michael was CLEAR, PRECISE, and through it all he called himself STRONG and A WARRIOR. Now we must endure more bashing even if it’s covertly coated in “my friend Michael Jackson” books and stories? Nice “friends”.

  3. Sina says:

    What a lovely story . Michael looked strong and confident considering what he was going through at that time.
    I wouldnt think a second if I was asked to lend my house to Michael Jackson.
    A pity they had to bring in the wine bottles story, true or not.
    It seems whenever people tell sweet stories about Michael they never fail to bring in salicious details and inuendo. Maybe its a way to make them feel more important or they think it gives more credibility to their story since its Michael Jackson.

    On a lighter note. I was in a restaurant this evening and in the landing from the restaurant to the entrance of a discoteque in the same buildng is this almost wall high photo of Michael with his huge afro ,taken in my city when he was touring with the Jackson 5.I have this photo as my screensaver.
    What I love about it it was their first tour to Europe and Michael was so excited with everything he saw. He writes about it in Moonwalk.
    At that time he was still able to walk around more or less freely, not run over by fans and papparazi.
    The next time he visited things had changed dramatically and even a short sightseeing turned into a total chaos and for safety reasons he was ordered back to the hotel.
    This week was a very down one in many ways.
    But to see this beautiful memorial for Michael ,done in good taste and with respect for the man and the artist makes up for a lot.

  4. cjg says:

    I am always so impressed with how strong Michael was in the face of adverse situations. Here he was in the midst of the travesty of what was to be the 2005 trial gearing up and he is continuing to move forward with his life as normal as possible. As usual always remembering to be the appreciative, genorous person he was willing to be put on display, posing for pictures, and arranging the reception. I couldn’t agree more with Max about the reference to the empty wine bottles(and other signs) – I too thought how many other people had probably consumed it other than Michael- yet they were making assumptions and insuating it was him alone- resulting in gossip. Michael was a phenomenal human being. L.O.V.E. HIM!

  5. The Urge says:

    Amazing story!! One thing that sticks out is “Those who ridiculed him the most were first in line”. Let’s take that in for a moment…..

    Hmmmm, and they wonder why he liked hanging with fun-loving, non-judgemental children.

  6. Max says:

    I’ve seen this before, and it is very nice. It does disturb me that they found “hidden” wine bottles and somehow think Michael guzzled all that wine by himself because he was distraught. How many people did he come with? Thirteen? Why put it all on him? And what about the other “signs?” Thus is gossip born. From Frank’s book, for instance, we know that Frank had a stash of weed hidden in his quarters at Neverland. It wasn’t found when the police raided, but if it had been, guess who would have been blamed?
    I was more impressed with Michael’s graciousness in letting the family know how much he appreciated having the use of their home.
    Thanks for letting me have a second look at this story.