A polyglot international crowd packed Elvis Presley Boulevard Monday night for the Assembly graceland “Candlelight Vigil”, to mark the 45th anniversary of the death of the singer whose music and image continue to maintain an unprecedented hold on popular culture and commerce.
“We are all part of this legacy, each of you with a candle in your hand,” said longtime DJ “Argo” (Derrill Argo Jr.) on the Channel “Elvis Radio” on SiriusXMas he led the hundreds and hundreds of people onto the street outside the Graceland mansion to light their candles to light up a “sea of solidarity” in tribute to the king of rock ‘n’ roll.
After the candle lighting, which took place at 8:36 p.m., fans walked the long driveway to Elvis Presley’s grave in the “Meditation Garden” on the south side of the mansion. Graceland officials said they expected 5,000 to 25,000 people to make the trip, which was expected to last well after midnight and into Tuesday morning. The line of people along the wall outside Graceland was doubled over as the doors opened, after Priscilla Presley, from a podium, greeted the crowd as “a beautiful sight”.
Members of fan clubs from Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands and Scotland were part of the “guard of honour” that lined the aisle, as palace guards, as others passed between them, in handcrafted Elvis jewelry, Elvis print skirts and shirts, and even Elvis jumpsuits. The size and international makeup of the crowd suggests Graceland has rebounded from the 2020 “socially distanced” vigil, which allowed only limited attendance due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the slightly discreet vigil of 2021.
The heightened security measures during the COVID era remain in place. For most of the Vigil’s history, fans could take to the streets and start lining up at the gates of Graceland whenever they wanted. Now Elvis Presley Boulevard is blocked in the afternoon by police barricades on both sides of the mansion, and fans pass through security checkpoints, with airport or music festival style bag searches , to reach the mansion, where Graceland employees and volunteers were waiting, to distribute thousands of white candles to fans. Admission through checkpoints on Monday did not begin until 7 p.m.
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Among those who not only passed through a security gate, but crossed an ocean to reach Graceland, were approximately 140 members of the Official Elvis Fan Club of Great Britainestablished in 1957, making it one of the oldest such organizations in the world.
“When I say I owe him my life, I really do, and so do my children and grandchildren,” said club member Lynne Hartley, 67, a Yorkshire resident who said she was “ a suicidal teenager” until she sees the television program now. known as “The ’68 Comeback Special”.
“When I discovered Elvis I just had a connection with him – I couldn’t get enough of him,” she said. “When you listen to him, you honestly think he’s talking to you – he’s just chatting, chatting with you.”
At 19, Hartley and other members of the official fan club traveled to Las Vegas to see Elvis perform at the International Hotel in 1974. Young Lynne could only afford to attend four shows, but at one she called a correction from the public, when Elvis misremembered the number of films he has made. Elvis replied, with good humor, which explains the shirt Hartley wore on Monday: “I spoke with Elvis Presley – Las Vegas – 1974.”
Elvis means so much to Hartley that her father insisted that she come to Memphis for the wake, even though he was seriously ill. With her brother from New Zealand staying with dad, Hartley came to Memphis on Thursday; On Saturday, his father, Donald Moore, 94, died. “He said, ‘You have to go,'” she said, tears in her eyes.
Meanwhile, Walter Terciani, 76, president since 1967 of Gang Elvis, an Elvis Presley fan club based in Sao Paulo, Brazil, said he was making his 36th visit to “Elvis Week,” as Graceland calls its annual nine-day celebration of Presley’s life, which culminates in the wake. (Graceland spokesman David Beckwith said nearly all ticketed Elvis Week events this year were sold out, so officials were expecting several thousand people at the vigil.)
Terciani said his club has nearly 1,000 members, 11 of whom came to Memphis this week. Elvis remains “very strong” in Brazil, he said.
Terciani’s 66-year-old junior Max Enderle, 10, of Chicago, was at the wake with his 12-year-old sister, Maddie Enderle. Third-generation fans, they’ve been coming here every Elvis week since they were young, along with their mother, Diana Enderle, 51.
What makes the kids particularly unusual is that they always dress up as Elvis. Posing for selfies with fans, Maddie and Max wore matching “Aloha from Hawaii” jumpsuits with red-lined capes. Maddie’s aviator sunglasses enhanced the Elvis effect, but she added a new twist: her long hair was twisted into a pair of braids that complemented the leis around her neck.
Maddie – who performed ‘Burning Love’ at an Elvis Tribute Artist show in the old Graceland mall parking lot when she was 6 – said her favorite song was ‘Jailhouse Rock’. Max accepted. “It’s the only song I know all the lyrics to,” he said.
The Enderle siblings were striking, but one of the most fashionable fans was Renée Harper, 44, a self-proclaimed “designer” who was decked from ankle to crown in Elvis attire: Elvis socks, an Elvis belt, an Elvis motif dress, and hand-cut and sculpted acrylic Elvis earrings, articulated to present a simulacrum of hip swiveling with every shake of the head. This head was topped with a homemade “hair fascinator”: a large flower, with an Elvis figure nestled in its petals, like the proverbial baby in the cabbage patch. Meanwhile, her husband, Jimmy Harper, 51, flaunted the kind of bling Elvis would envy: a badge. He’s a Border Patrol agent.
During their first visit to Elvis Week, the couple from Bisbee, Arizona had already traveled to Memphis in late spring 2020, just after Graceland reopened after COVID shutdown. In fact, they were the only two people on their tour of the mansion, so “we basically spent 20 minutes in the Jungle Room on our own,” Renée Harper said. “It was such a unique experience, it made us fall in love with Elvis all over again.”
Priscilla Presley, during her remarks at the start of the vigil, suggested that many people are falling in love with Elvis again, in part because of the success of the Film by Baz Luhrmann, “Elvis”, which appeals to a young audience. “I think it gave life to a lot of people, rediscovering Elvis.”