Marva White was doing fine until she got close to Paisley Park. Then, she started to cry.
A devoted fan of Prince since 1985, White had driven from Michigan to Chanhassen to pay her respects to the local legend and international superstar. As she crouched to read letters and hand-drawn pictures left along the property’s fence, she wiped tears away with the palm of her hand.
“It’s like someone you grew up with,” she said. “It’s like a family member.”
On Monday, White was one of the many visitors who came to the makeshift memorial. They arrived in single file — like the cars in a funeral procession — from Tennessee, Pennsylvania, Arizona, the Carolinas and beyond. Two-and-a-half months after Prince’s untimely death, fans used the long holiday weekend to make a solemn pilgrimage to Paisley Park.
The first days after Prince was found dead on April 21 saw a burst of memorials around the world, from a purple-lit Eiffel Tower in Paris to the London Underground quoting Prince lyrics.
But while many of the international tributes have let the purple fade, Prince’s compound endures as a place for fans to congregate. The crowds may have thinned and the offerings left along the fence may have withered, but people continue to come here to grieve.
“It’s very quiet,” said Robin Gunter, who was visiting from North Carolina with her daughter Denise. “It does seem kind of like church.”
The visitors walked slowly along the fence surrounding the artist’s home and recording studio and examined the impromptu museum of tributes left by previous mourners: large canvas paintings, unlit prayer candles, bouquets of flowers now dried and yellowed, deflated star-shaped balloons, matted lavender teddy bears, a single purple roller skate, empty candy wrappers tied around the metal links like Mylar confetti.
Plastic sandwich bags haven’t been able to keep out the condensation of Minnesota’s humid summer; the ink has run on the handwritten notes inside them. Only blank sheets with splotches of black and blue mold remain.
The first wave of mementos — which descended on Paisley Park like a purple explosion as soon as word spread about Prince’s death — have been removed for preservation by the trust handling Prince’s estate, in collaboration with local historical societies. Yet the tributes have kept coming.
Melanie Freeman, of Phoenix, left a poster, a bucket of purple lollipops and battery-operated candles in paper bags spelling P-R-I-N-C-E. It was her “love pilgrimage” with three Facebook friends from around the country, who drove together to Minneapolis from Los Angeles, where they had gathered to commemorate the seventh anniversary of Michael Jackson’s death.
In Chanhassen, she was broadcasting video of the scene surrounding Paisley Park through Facebook Live and Periscope to her fellow Michael Jackson fanatics, who also happen to adore Prince.
Freeman and her traveling companions listened to Prince’s music for the entire 25-hour drive from California.
“We cried a little bit, held each other and supported each other,” Freeman said. “But we felt we were on a mission.”
This was Mary Peterson’s third visit to the memorial, but unlike many of the other mourners, she’s familiar with the place. The 64-year-old from Duluth had been to Paisley Park at least 100 times during Prince’s lifetime for dance parties and concerts. “I’m just trying to find closure,” she said.
Peterson has tried to avoid news about the cause of his death — an overdose of fentanyl — and “just try to remember him as he was.”
She once ran into him — literally — while dancing, and both of them said “Sorry” at the same time. It was the only word they would ever exchanged. This time, she came to leave him a note hanging in a pouch on the metal fence.
“My love letter to Prince,” she said. “I hope he’s reading it on another dimension.”
She kicked off her clogs and climbed a little slope of grass to adhere a streamer of felt butterflies to the fence. It was supposed to be in the shape of a heart, but it sagged at the top and the streamer was getting knotted.
“Come on you guys,” she urged, “flutter.”
Just then, a breeze came through and lifted the little butterflies up off the fence and toward the sky.