Elvis Faithful Wrapup Anniversary Week
MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) _ The Elvis Presley faithful were leaving Memphis today following an emotional nine-day observance marking the 10th anniversary of the singer’s death.
″We just wanted to be close to Elvis at this time. It’s such a special year,″ said Lorraine Punter of London as she looked over the rows of flower stands along a walkway to Presley’s grave.
Ms. Punter, 23, saved for a year and a half to make the pilgrimage.
The celebration, called Elvis International Tribute Week, drew more than 50,000 tourists and fans to Presley’s former residence, Graceland, and its 36,000-square-foot souvenir shopping center, managers of the house said.
They came from across the United States and from France, Switzerland, Sweden, Japan and other foreign countries to take part in dances, musical shows, memorial services, Elvis trivia contests and tours of places around town that played a part in Presley’s life.
The largest single event, a candlelight vigil past Presley’s grave in a small Graceland garden, drew up to 20,000 spectators and participants, said Todd Morgan, a spokesman for the Graceland Division of Elvis Presley Enterprises.
The graveside vigil began at 9 p.m. Saturday and ended at 6:30 a.m. Sunday.
″This whole week has been exactly what we expected it to be,″ Morgan said.
Members of the Elvis Country Fan Club of Austin, Texas, the primary organizers of the annual vigil, released two white doves as the all-night procession ended.
The birds were apparently confused by lights from a television camera, however, and fluttered to the ground a few yards away, said Georgann Reynolds of Austin, a member of the club.
″It wasn’t as pretty as it could have been,″ she said.
Elvis fans and tourists streamed through Graceland in capacity numbers all through the week. Managers said they expected up to 4,500 visitors Sunday, including 1,000 fans from Great Britan.
Ms. Punter, a member of the group, said she saved for 18 months and took a second job at a pub near London 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.
She said she spent $2,500 for transportation and lodging and brought about $2,000 in spending money.
Another fan, Shirley Crombie, 22, said she and her husband, Duncan, delayed moving into a new house to save money for the trip.
″But it was worth every penny,″ she said.
Presley, his body wracked by drug abuse, was 42 when he died of heart disease at Graceland on Aug. 16, 1977.
The fans have returned each year since to observe the date, but the crowd for the 10th anniversary was said to be the largest ever.
Presley’s grave was covered Sunday with flowers dropped by fans, and dozens of floral arrangements lining a walk leading to the grave beside Graceland’s swimming pool.
The arrangements were shaped like hearts, guitars, lightning bolts and hound dogs, and one with a plastic telephone at its center carried a banner reading, ″Jesus Called.″
Several hundred fans attended a memorial service Sunday at Memphis State University to hear former friends and associates of Presley give accounts of his private life.
Graceland, a white-columned, two-story residence 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.