By Jennifer Armstrong
Updated August 29, 2009 at 12:00 PM EDT

Thousands gathered in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park late Saturday afternoon — despite an unseasonable chill in the air and a persistent, gloomy mist — to celebrate the late King of Pop’s 51st birthday. The five-hour-long festivities, organized by director/Brooklyn local Spike Lee (left), showed what two months of perspective can do: Fans have clearly gotten to acceptance, and perhaps to a sixth stage of grief, partying. It felt like a truly joyous (and endearingly amateurish) celebration of Michael Jackson’s enormous influence, with none of the disbelief and sadness and even soul-searching (what did his bizarre life say about us as a society?) that weighed on earlier commemorations. Toddlers decorated a black umbrella with puffy paint that spelled out “MJ Forever.” Electric Slide pockets erupted spontaneously throughout the crowd. Naturally, people sold things — homemade T-shirts (the things you can do with Photoshop!), framed pictures, sunglasses with Jackson’s birth and death years etched onto the side (why not?). And naturally, people dressed in, shall we say, homage to the star. (Sparkly socks? Nice. Guy in full Jackson regalia, including black suit, white glove, penny loafers, fedora, curls, white pancake makeup, and fake entourage with umbrella-holder? A little much.) Despite the oddities, however, the crowd remained almost eerily peaceful and patient and friendly, content simply to listen to Jackson tunes, dance together, and occasionally participate in sing-alongs and call-and-response as led by Lee and organizers from a bare-bones stage set-up. Aside from the self-appointed souvenir hawkers, there were no food and drink booths, no official vendors. “There’s nothing here except peace and love,” a fellow fan, Manhattanite Erin Carlson, marveled. And she was right, as hippie-ish as it sounds. It was nice to know that Jackson’s music is still bringing folks together, spreading joy despite the dark, sad parts of his life. Even on a rainy day in Brooklyn.

Photo credit: Neilson Barnard/ Getty Images