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White Doves Set Free For Elvis

August 16, 1987

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) _ Elvis Presley’s ever-faithful fans observed the 10th anniversary of his death Sunday by releasing two white doves at his Graceland mansion following an all-night vigil past the singer’s grave.

The birds were apparently confused by television lights, however, and fluttered to the ground a few yards away, said Georgann Reynolds of Austin, Texas. The birds were carried to a nearby tree.

″It wasn’t as pretty as it could have been,″ said Mrs. Reynolds, a member of the Elvis Country Fan Club, the sponsoring group for the annual graveside vigil.

The nine-hour vigil, the highlight of a nine-day celebration called ″Elvis International Tribute Week,″ drew up to 20,000 spectators and participants, said Todd Morgan, a spokeman for the company that handles tours of the Presley estate.

Participants holding candles filed up a winding quarter-mile drive past Presley’s grave. While the size of the crowd waiting to join the procession varied during the night, several thousand people gathered at times at the Graceland gates and at the shopping center across the street, Morgan said.

″This whole week has been exactly what we expected it to be,″ he said.

Presley, his body racked by drug abuse, was 42 when he died of heart disease at Graceland on Aug. 16, 1977.

The fans return to Graceland each year to mark that date, and over the ″tribute week″ more than 50,000 tourists and fans were drawn to Graceland and it’s 36,000-square-foot souvenir shopping center, Graceland managers said.

″We just wanted to be close to Elvis at this time. It’s such a special year,″ said Lorraine Punter, 23, of London, one of nearly 1,000 Elvis fans from Great Britain. She looked over the dozens of flower stands along a walkway to Presley’s grave in a small garden beside Graceland’s swimming pool.

Elvis’ grave was covered with single flowers dropped by fans, and the red, blue and yellow floral arrangements lining the walk were in the shapes of hearts, guitars, lightning bolts and hound dogs.

One with a plastic telephone at its center carried a banner reading, ″Jesus Called.″

Ms. Punter said she saved for a year and a half and took a second job at a pub to collect enough money for the Graceland trip.

″It was really hard work and I hated every minute of it,″ she said, but added that the trip was worth the effort. The trip, she said, cost $2,500 for transportation and lodging, and she brought about $2,000 in spending money.

Shirley Crombie, 22, of Inverness, Scotland, said she and her husband delayed moving into a new house to save money for the Graceland trip.

″But it was worth every penny,″ she said.

Graceland, a white-columned, two-story house Presley bought for $100,000 in 1957, attracts more than a half-million tourists a year who spend $9 milion annually at the house and its giftshops.

Elvis gift shops at Graceland and souvenir fairs at nearby motels did a brisk business all week. Freelance hawkers peddling Elvis dolls, homemade replicas of sofa pillows at Graceland and flattened pennies bearing Presley’s likeness set up along Elvis Presley Boulevard, U.S. Highway 51 near Graceland.

Entertainment offered over the anniversary week ranged from a concert by former members of Presley’s band to a lip-sync contest entered by men in bespangled jumpsuits. A program at Presley’s former high school included a group of kindergarteners in camouflage T-shirts marching to ″GI Blues,″ a song Elvis recorded.

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