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Elvis Faithful Brave Rain To Visit Idol’s Grave

August 16, 1985

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) _ Nancy Montalto rejected the idea of wearing a raincoat as she and 5,000 other Elvis fans ignored a light drizzle early today to march past their idol’s grave.

After all, she said, a coat would cover the T-shirt marking her as a member of the Elvis Country Fan Club.

″I wouldn’t stand in the rain for anybody but Elvis,″ the Toledo, Ohio, resident said as she prepared for a candlelight procession that began at 11 p.m. CDT Thursday and continued into today.

Presley died of heart disease Aug. 16, 1977, but the faithful still come each year to the two-story, white-columned house he called Graceland to mark the anniversary of his death.

The candlelight vigil, sponsored by Mrs. Montalto’s fan club, is one of the major annual attractions for Presley’s followers.

″When you come out of there, if your eyes are dry, there’s something wrong with you,″ Mrs. Montalto said.

Ken Brixey, marketing manager for Graceland, said the procession was expected to attract 10,000 people before thunderstorms swept through the area earlier in the evening.

An intermittent drizzle continued through the night, and Memphis police estimated the crowd at 5,000. Graceland managers put the estimate at 5,000 to 7,000.

Presley recordings played in the background as the damp but determined faithful lined up to touch their candles to a torch lit from a flame at the singer’s grave.

Then they walked up Graceland’s winding, quarter-mile drive to the small garden where Presley is buried.

Most of the fans wore Elvis T-shirts, buttons or jackets, and a few like Joni Mabe of Athens, Ga., went to greater lengths to prepare for the show.

Ms. Mabe, who described herself as a professional artist, wore a jacket equipped with 350 homemade buttons bearing Presley’s likeness.

She said she became an Elvis fan after his face started appearing in her art work and she began having dreams about him.

″I’ve loved him since 1968,″ she said.

Four pieces of her work, relying heavily on sequins, lace and black velvet, are entered in an Elvis art show sponsored by Graceland Enterprises Inc., managers of Presley’s former residence.

Brixey said 550,000 fans and tourist visit Graceland each year, paying $6.50 each for adults and $4.50 each for children. To tour Presley’s former jetliner, which is displayed nearby, the visitors pay $3.50 each.

Brixey’s company also manages most of the 10 Elvis souvenir shops across the street from Graceland.

A week-long, citywide observance of the Presley anniversary was expected to attract 40,000 tourists this year.

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