Mary Lou Martell put it off as long as she could. But she finally had to head to Memphis for an anniversary vigil at Elvis Presley’s grave.
“It’s my first Elvis Week. I’m a little ashamed to say that, but it is,” Martell, 60, said as she took part in a candlelight procession to Presley’s grave at Graceland, his former Memphis residence. “We watched it on the computer last year and I finally said, ‘I have to be part of that.”’
The procession, called the “Candlelight Vigil,” drew several thousand Elvis fans who lined up in the street in front of Graceland for a single-file procession up a long, winding driveway to his grave in a small garden.
Fans weren’t scared away by an intermittent drizzle during the vigil, which began at 9:30 p.m. EDT.
“We’re doing fine,” Martell said, peeping out from the hood of a plastic parka. “It’s just for Elvis we stay out doing this.”
The vigil, which runs into the early morning, is the highlight of a weeklong series of fan-club meetings, dances and Elvis-impersonator contests to commemorate the anniversary of his death. He died of heart disease and drug abuse at Graceland on Aug. 16, 1977. He was 42.
Martell of Dunkirk, N.Y., said she visits Graceland often but avoided Elvis Week in the past because of the crowds. She came early for her first graveside vigil, though, setting up a lawn chair at 9 a.m. at Graceland’s front gates.
Many Elvis pilgrims return each year, and the graveside vigil draws visitors from around the world. But it’s largely ignored by Memphis residents.
Jennifer Hobson, 29, of Memphis and a group of hometown friends formed a “Blue Hawaii” club to try to change that and sent out vigil invitations to their friends.
The group set up a small canvas canopy in the street in front of Graceland and decorated it with inflatable palm trees, blue lights and an Elvis bust sporting a blue lei.
“This is part of our city,” Hobson said, “but when we come down here, we rarely see people we know. Y’all need to come out.”
Hobson said the group had to leave some decorations at home because of the rain.
“I have a velvet Elvis, but because of the rain we couldn’t bring out all of our good stuff,” Hobson said.
Graceland supports a sprawling complex of souvenir shops, and fans waiting for the procession packed the stores pouring over Viva Las Vegas bobble head dolls for $19.99, Burning Love scented candles for $14.99, Jailhouse Rock T-shirts for $24.99 and hundreds of other Elvis-flavored gifts and do-dads.
Nancy Rooks, a former Graceland cook, was set up at a souvenir shop table to sell her book, “Elvis’ Maid Remembers,” and talk with fans.
Generally, the 71-year-old Rooks said, the fans ask about Elvis’ personal habits, when he went to bed, when he got up, what he liked to eat.
“I tell them he ate breakfast at 5 o’clock in the afternoon, but then he’d eat dinner at 1 o’clock at night,” she said. “We always had a meat loaf cooked, just in case he wanted it. If he didn’t want meat loaf, then we knew to give him roast beef. He liked soul food.”