Burning love - Remembering Elvis
Sense of loss same at biggest vigil of all
Not even a torrential Memphis downpour could stop approximately 30,000 fans from paying their respects at the grave of Elvis Aaron Presley Thursday night.
They came from countries far and wide, piling flowers, stuffed teddy bears, heartfelt poems and trinket tributes around the bronze plaque beneath which lies the man who changed the way the world hears music.
The King of Rock and Roll passed away 25 years ago today.
The sun will have long risen behind the rolling Graceland estate today before the record crowds have left. Thursday was a night of memories and prayers. The Candlelight Vigil here on Elvis Presley Boulevard has been the essential pilgrimage for true fans since the first few gathered outside the gates back in 1978.
For the most fervent keepers of Elvis’s flame, this year is the same as any other. The 25th anniversary is neither more nor less meaningful than the second or seventh or 10th were. The latter, incidentally, was when Bill Rowe from Dayton, Ohio, made his first appearance at the head of the line.
“The only difference is a bigger crowd,” Rowe said. “Everything is like yesterday for me. The first time I saw Elvis on television. The first time I saw him live. The day he died.”
Yes, there were more people paying tribute to Elvis. But an even bigger audience was watching the Elvis fans.
Media from around the world focused their lenses and occasional barbs at the cult of the King. With Elvis particularly prominent in pop culture at the moment - a remixed hit single A Little Less Conversation is currently on the charts, a Disney film Lilo & Stitch is introducing new generations to Elvis and a much-anticipated greatest hits album is due for September release - the rain-soaked grounds of Graceland held the world’s attention Thursday night.
Cameras scouting the crowds naturally zoomed in on folks who showed up in costume. The world can’t resist sideburns and a jumpsuit, as Joe Creazzo from Easton, Pa., learned in the late afternoon.
“I hadn’t planned to wear the suit. I had it in the car. But my nephew told me to get it out.” Creazzo, his hand shaking slightly, held up a card with the scribbled words “300 million.”
“That’s how many people will see me on television tonight,” he said.
Elvis, it seems, has fame to spare.
As fans young and old clamored to have photos taken with Creazzo, his excitement grew. “All these years have been building up,” he said. “This is the moment.”
At the last major anniversary five years ago, attendance at the vigil was estimated at 20,000 to 25,000, according to Graceland spokesman David Beckwith. With an estimated 30,000 on hand by about 10 p.m., officials were expecting even more people to show up after midnight.
As tradition holds, the grave’s “eternal flame” is transferred to a torch which members of the crowd used to light their candles as they filed through the gates of Graceland.
Members of the Elvis Country Fan Club from Texas - the group that initiated the first official vigil in 1979 - greeted the masses at the gates. Fan clubs from around the world led the solemn procession.
For many people, the annual trip to Memphis is more than just a vacation. It’s a way to remember the man who, whether through his film or music career, changed their lives.
And when folks like Katherine Mannerino aren’t on the road to Graceland, they’re paying respects in other ways. For the 52-year-old Chicago resident, her tribute meant careful thought. She considered two years, researched at the most reputable establishments and finally, two years ago, had Elvis’s face tattooed on her left shoulder blade.
“This isn’t a fascination,” she said. “This is a love. A love forever.”
- Christopher Blank: 529-2305
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