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Image: Charlotte Stone of Griffin, Ga., at Graceland vigil
Jim Weber  /  AP
Charlotte Stone of Griffin, Ga., wipes tears from her eyes as the song "Can't Help Falling In Love" is played during a vigil at Graceland on Monday.
updated 8/18/2011 12:02:12 PM ET 2011-08-18T16:02:12

Silent mourners with heads bowed and candles in hand paid their respects to Elvis Presley at his grave at Graceland, his longtime Memphis home, to mark the 34th anniversary of his sudden death.

Thousands of Elvis devotees walked in the humid night to the graves of Elvis and his relatives, some wiping away tears as they filed past.

Flower arrangements and heart-shaped wreaths decorated the burial site as "If I Can Dream" and other songs played softly in the background.

Slideshow: Elvis Presley (1935-1977) (on this page)
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The vigil was to extend into Tuesday morning, marking the anniversary of the King's death on Aug. 16, 1977.

The vigil is the main draw of "Elvis Week," and some waited hours outside the stately mansion for the procession to start.

Paula Penna came with her family from Campinas, Brazil, for her sixth vigil. Penna, who met her Brazilian husband in an Elvis fan club, cried and hugged him, her sister and aunt after paying her respects.

Video: Mystery woman dishes on locking lips with Elvis (on this page)

She said Elvis songs have helped her family though good and bad. All four have Elvis tattoos.

"Elvis music keeps the family together," said Penna, who also was born on Aug. 16 and will celebrate her 27th birthday Tuesday. "I promised to come every year to pay tribute to Elvis because he is very important to the family life."

Fans like 60-year-old Joe Makowski — who claims he saw Elvis in concert 81 times — and his girlfriend, Pamela Hembree, were among the first in line and waited for hours along Graceland's outer brick wall.

A New Jersey native who owns four of Elvis' concert-worn scarves and has attended several vigils, he said it was time to introduce Hembree to the Elvis Week experience honoring the life and career of the rock 'n' roll star.

"I get to meet new fans and meet new people, so that's why I line up here early in the day," said Makowski, who went to Las Vegas twice a year between 1971 and 1976 to see Elvis perform. "The biggest thing I get out of it is seeing the young fans that weren't even born until years after he passed away."

Video: Remembering Elvis as a young man (on this page)

Makowski said he admires Elvis because of his singing and performing prowess, of course, but also for what he called the singer's overall coolness.

"He helped me break out of my shell because I was kind of a shy kid," said Makowski, an actor who now lives in Palm Harbor, Florida.

Visitors came from Japan, England, Germany and other countries. Some wore full Elvis outfits, others just his trademark sunglasses or sideburns.

Patrick Lucas sported sideburns and a pompadour as he walked to the vigil with the rest of the Elvis Presley Fans of Alabama, a club he joined on the Internet. Hunter, 22, came from Ehlange-sur-Mess, Luxembourg, for the vigil.

"I try to be like him, in the ways that he was nice to people and how he treated people," Lucas said. "He was a giving person."

Video: Guide to Graceland (on this page)

Temperatures were in the high 80s Fahrenheit much of the day, sharply down from the suffocating 100-degree F heat that greeted Elvis fans last August.

About 15,000 to 20,000 people attended, according to estimates by police and an Elvis Presley Enterprises spokesman — nothing near the 75,000-strong crowd that's expected to flock to Graceland in 2012 for the 35th anniversary of the singer's death.

The annual vigil began when some Elvis fans traveled to Graceland the year their idol died. It grew into an organized event in 1982.

'He was sexy'
This year, fans have something else to commemorate. It was 55 years ago — 1956 — when the first two Elvis albums were released. That year alone, Elvis sold 10 million singles and 800,000 LPs.

Glenys Sites said she still remembers watching Elvis perform "Love Me Tender" for the first time.

"He's got everything — stage presence, charisma; he was sexy, great voice," Sites said. "There's never been anybody like him. I don't think he'll ever die."

Video: 'Elvis loved to teach,' ex-wife says (on this page)

Many still remember where they were when they found out the singer was dead.

Debbie Moller says she was seated on her couch when her sister called that August day in 1977. She didn't believe her sister at first, so she turned on the radio.

"I was bawling non-stop," said Moller, who makes Elvis T-shirts and is now attending her 15th vigil.

Slideshow: Rare images of the King (on this page)

Like many who make the walk up the hill and see the Elvis gravesite and those of his parents, Moller expected to get emotional.

"I cry," said Moller, of Colorado Springs, Colorado. "The songs they play make you think back to what you were doing they day he died."

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Mystery woman dishes on locking lips with Elvis

  1. Transcript of: Mystery woman dishes on locking lips with Elvis

    MATT LAUER, co-host: We're back now at 8:19 with a decades-old mystery solved. In June of 1956 , an intimate set of photographs were taken showing a young Elvis Presley with a woman whose identity has remained unknown for 55 years. The most iconic from the series is known as " The Kiss ." Well, now vanityfair.com is revealing that woman's name and the story behind the pictures. So who is our mystery lady? Well, here she is, Barbara Gray , and she's with us, along with the photographer, Alfred Wertheimer . Good morning to both of you. What a pleasure.

    Ms. BARBARA GRAY: Good morning

    LAUER: So now you're known. Is this a good thing or a bad thing?

    Ms. GRAY: Well, we'll see next week, won't we?

    LAUER: Yeah, exactly. Let's -- before I get to the story of these photographs from your side, let me bring Alfred in, OK? Take me through this photo shoot . What was happening?

    Mr. ALFRED WERTHEIMER: Well, you mean, how I got there...

    LAUER: Yeah. Yeah.

    Mr. WERTHEIMER: ...or how I even got to Elvis or...

    LAUER: Yeah -- no, how -- what was happening this day? What were you capturing?

    Mr. WERTHEIMER: Well, we got -- we went from The Jefferson Hotel in Richmond , Virginia , where I first saw Barbara in the lobby with Elvis , and after a little bit of coffee shop things, we took a cab to the Mosque Theater , which was where Elvis was performing two shows booked by Colonel Tom Parker with...

    LAUER: And you were taking pictures the whole way. I mean, you were just taking on and off.

    Mr. WERTHEIMER: Well, I was -- I was taking pictures before then and after then. But to cut to the chase , we were up -- I was up in the -- in the men's room where Elvis was changing and combing his hair, and The Jordanaires were there, and somehow I got distracted and I got involved with The Jordanaires and Elvis disappears on me. So I said, 'What kind of journalist are you, Al ?' I'm chastising myself. Where is Elvis ? So I left The Jordanaires , walked down the fire stairwell, and on the -- on the same platform as the show that was taking place that the Colonel had booked -- after all, it was the Elvis Presley show...

    LAUER: Right.

    Mr. WERTHEIMER: ...there was Elvis at the back of a long corridor with this woman in silhouette. And I said, 'There he is,' and I started photographing.

    LAUER: And -- which leads me perfectly -- you're a good storyteller...

    Mr. WERTHEIMER: Yeah.

    LAUER: ...leads me right to you. What were you doing in that stairwell? How did you come to meet the King of Rock 'n' Roll?

    Ms. GRAY: Well, we were talking about the things we had talked about on the phone earlier.

    LAUER: You called out of the blue , and this was kind of a...

    Ms. GRAY: Yeah.

    LAUER: ...spur-of-the-moment date, if you will?

    Ms. GRAY: Well, yeah, you could kind of call it that.

    LAUER: Was this the first day you'd met him?

    Ms. GRAY: Yes.

    LAUER: Wow! Barbara ! This was the first day you met him and these photos were the result?

    Ms. GRAY: Right.

    LAUER: So there were sparks?

    Ms. GRAY: No.

    LAUER: No?

    Ms. GRAY: Maybe he had sparks, but I didn't even know who he was.

    LAUER: He was a very young performer at the time.

    Ms. GRAY: Yes.

    LAUER: And by the way, on the day of the shoot, you never got her name.

    Mr. WERTHEIMER: No, I never did. I never realized that these would become iconic. You see, after Elvis died in 1976 -- remember, 19 years went by from '58 to '76 where nobody called me for an Elvis Presley photograph. It's the day he died, Time Magazine called up, they said, 'Bring your pictures over immediately.'

    LAUER: What do you remember about " The Kiss ," the picture called " The Kiss "? Tell me what was going through your mind at that moment.

    Ms. GRAY: Well, he's a very funny kid. He was very silly and we were running around, chasing each other and just being young. And he narrowed me down in the hallway there to ask me if I wanted to go to " The Steve Allen Show " with him. And I said, 'No, I don't think I can. I'm on my way to Philadelphia to see my boyfriend.' And he -- that's when the challenge started for him. So...

    LAUER: He was going to have his way. Did you talk to Elvis after that day? Did you keep in touch with him?

    Ms. GRAY: I got a Christmas card from him once, but that was it because shortly after that I left the state. So I don't even know whether he tried to reach me or not.

    LAUER: And, Alfred , I know over the years some women have come to you and said -- claiming to be the person, the woman in that photograph.

    Mr. WERTHEIMER: Yes.

    LAUER: Turns out those were not really the women.

    Mr. WERTHEIMER: No, they weren't.

    LAUER: How did you know Barbara was the real thing?

    Mr. WERTHEIMER: Well, let me put it this way. I knew that they weren't the real thing because if you look at the photograph, Barbara 's head is at the same height as Elvis . So everybody thought that she was at least five foot eight or five foot nine, maybe even six foot. But it turns out that she's up on the landing and Elvis is one step down. She actually 5'10", she tells me.

    Ms. GRAY: Four ten.

    Mr. WERTHEIMER: But at the time I thought she was 5'11", you know?

    LAUER: Four ten.

    Mr. WERTHEIMER: Four ten.

    LAUER: Four ten, yeah.

    Mr. WERTHEIMER: Four ten. Yeah, right. She's a short woman rather than a tall woman.

    LAUER: So...

    Mr. WERTHEIMER: So when they tell me five foot eight, I know they're immediately telling me a fib.

    LAUER: Just 20 seconds left. Now that the mystery has been eliminated...

    Mr. WERTHEIMER: Yeah. Yes.

    LAUER: ...do you think in some ways it takes some of the mystique away from the photograph?

    Mr. WERTHEIMER: Well, a lot of women say, 'We don't want to know who the woman is because that can allow us to put ourselves into her position'...

    LAUER: More of a fantasy.

    Mr. WERTHEIMER: ...because, you know, the photograph is from three-quarters from the rear. But now that the story is out, well, that's the way it is . You know, you can't control everything.

    LAUER: I still like the fact that Barbara says there weren't sparks flying. That's your story and you're sticking with it, young lady .

    Ms. GRAY: Yes.

    LAUER: Thank you so much . What a pleasure to meet you. Alfred , pleasure to meet you as well.

    Mr. WERTHEIMER: Thank you. Thank you very much .

    LAUER: We are back with much more on a Monday morning after your local news and weather.

Photos: Elvis Presley (1935-1977)

loading photos...
  1. Young King

    Elvis Presley with mother Gladys and father Vernon in 1938. Vernon Presley was a sharecropper and truck driver, while Gladys was a sewing machine operator. The couple was married in 1933. Young Elvis Aaron Presley was born on Jan. 8, 1935. (Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Debut album

    Elvis Presley's debut RCA album. Photo taken on January 31, 1955 (RCA) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Shake it, baby

    Presley performs during a concert in the mid 1950s. Presley's hip gyrations caused a storm of controversy during early TV appearances on Milton Berle and Steve Allen's talk shows. (Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Thrilling the masses

    Presley sings and dances on stage before a predominantly female audience. The singer attracted hordes of teenage fans, which led one New York Daily News critic to write that pop music "has reached its lowest depths in the 'grunt and groin' antics of one Elvis Presley." (Frank Driggs Collection  / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Silver-screen King

    "Jailhouse Rock" was Presley's third Hollywood movie. He'd already made "Love Me Tender" and "Loving You." Presley made a total of 31 movies. (Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. The military years

    Presley received his draft notice on Dec. 20, 1957. He chose not to receive special treatment and was posted in Friedberg, Germany. He returned to the U.S. on March 2, 1960. (Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. A wave of success

    Presley starred as Chad Gates in 1961's "Blue Hawaii." The film told the story of a soldier who'd recently gotten out of the army and was celebrating with his buddies in Hawaii. It featured Angela Lansbury in a supporting role. (Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Happy couple

    Presley holds hands with his bride, Priscilla Beaulieu Presley, on their wedding day, May 1, 1967, in Las Vegas, Nev. (Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Baffling meeting

    President Richard Nixon meets with Presley on Dec. 21, 1970, in Washington, D.C. The meeting between two of the most improbable cultural icons of the 1970s lasted all of 30 minutes, but it has fascinated the nation for years. (White House via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Little Lisa Marie

    Lisa Marie Presley was born Feb. 1, 1968, to Elvis and Priscilla. Lisa Marie has been married four times -- Michael Jackson and Nicolas Cage were two of her husbands. Lisa Marie inherited her father's estate when she was 30. (Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Classic concert

    Presley performs onstage at the International Convention Center in Honolulu, Hawaii, on Jan. 14, 1973. The "Aloha from Hawaii" concert was broadcast via satellite and reached at least a billion viewers. (Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Life after Priscilla

    Presley with girlfriend Linda Thompson at the Hilton Hotel in Cincinnati, Ohio. Thompson began a relationship with the recently separated Presley in 1972. She lived with him at Graceland for three and a half years. (Tom Wargacki / WireImage) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Shocking news

    The front page of the Commercial Appeal newspaper in Memphis, Tenn., delivers the news the day after Presley's death. The main headline reads "Death Captures Crown of Rock and Roll -- Elvis Dies Apparently After Heart Attack." Later it was found that drug use played a role in Presley's death. (Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Paying homage

    An annual procession through the Graceland estate and past Presley's grave takes place every year on the anniversary of his death (Aug. 16, 1977). The largest gathering to date was in 2002 and estimated at 40,000 visitors. (Ron Galella / WireImage) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. We'll leave the light on

    Mark Omdahl of North Dakota, dressed as Elvis Presley, sings during a candlelight vigil on the 28th anniversary of Presley's death during Elvis Week 2005 at Graceland. (Carlo Allegri / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. 35th anniversary

    Fans from around the world take part in a candlelight vigil at Graceland, Presley's Memphis, Tenn., home, on Wednesday, Aug. 15, 2012. (Mark Humphrey / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Sing along

    A group of Australian Elvis fans lines the driveway of Graceland on Wednesday, Aug. 15, 2012 to pay tribute to Presley on the 35th anniversary of this death. (Lance Murphy / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Paying respects

    Fans pass by Elvis Presley's grave during a candlelight vigil at Graceland on Wednesday, Aug. 15, 2012. (Mark Humphrey / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
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  1. Photo of Elvis Presley
    Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images
    Above: Slideshow (18) Elvis Presley (1935-1977)
  2. Robert W. Dye / Elvis Presley Enterprises Inc.
    Slideshow (21) Rare images of the King


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