At the Harold Washington Cultural Center, the line began forming at about 8 a.m., and it eventually stretched halfway around the building.
In Daley Plaza, as many as 150 people stood in silence during the normally bustling lunch hour, every head turned toward a JumboTron screen.
Even in quieter parts of the downtown -- at a Best Buy on Michigan Avenue, the bar in the House of Blues -- Chicagoans gathered to watch the live broadcast of the memorial service for Michael Jackson.
"This is the finale for Michael Jackson," said Tony Stevens, a 34-year-old peanut vendor in jeans and a baseball cap who sat on a railing outside the WLS-TV Ch. 7 studios on State Street to watch the broadcast from the Staples Center in Los Angeles. "This is the day that Michael Jackson will be put to rest. Everything he worked for ends today."
Lisa Doyle, a 52-year-old tourist from Bel Air, Calif., checked out late from the Hotel Sax because she couldn't tear herself away from the Jackson memorial broadcast. After leaving the hotel, she rushed next door to the House of Blues, where she was relieved to find a television above the bar tuned to the event. It was her last day in Chicago -- a beautiful day with blue skies and temperatures in the 70s -- but she couldn't stop watching the coverage, so she told her traveling companions to go on without her. "I can't think about anything else," she said. "I used to tell my friends that the only celebrity I really wanted to meet was Michael Jackson."
Likewise, Rodney Stewart ended up at the Best Buy on Michigan Avenue because, after dropping off his car to be serviced, it was the closest place with TVs he could find. Sitting on a tan leather couch, Stewart said he had come to "to honor and memorialize, and basically to pay tribute" to Jackson.
In Daley Plaza, scores of people -- including office workers, security guards and tourists -- gathered to watch the broadcast on a huge screen set up at the WBBM-TV Ch. 2 studios at Washington and Dearborn Streets. One onlooker -- Ron Wang, 30, a stockbroker -- moonwalked, performed a few spins and called out a few high-pitched Jackson-esque "ooohhhs!"
The Harold Washington Cultural Center showed the broadcast before a capacity crowd of roughly 700. As it began, the lights went down. Soon the audience was laughing, cheering and crying along with the mourners in Los Angeles. When Motown Records founder Berry Gordy Jr. declared that Jackson was "the greatest entertainer of all time," the Chicago crowd roared with approval. Later, they chanted "Michael! Michael!"
When the services in Los Angeles ended, the folks at the Cultural Center saw a finale of their own: 40-year-old professional Jackson impersonator Rico Hampton. Hampton, who has impersonated Jackson for 25 years, whipped the house into a frenzy as he tore through a lip-synced medley of tunes, leg-kicking his way through "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin' " and donning a werewolf mask for "Thriller."
Edith Beasley, 48, of Chatham, was one of the first to show up at the Cultural Center, arriving more than three hours before the service was scheduled to air. By the time the event was over, Beasley said she felt soothed and at peace.
"You know, I cried, I laughed, I smiled, I sang -- it was worth it. I'm feeling better."
This story was reported by Ben Meyerson and Michelle Ye Hee Lee; it was written by Colleen Mastony.
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