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A polyglot international multitude crowded Elvis Presley Boulevard on Monday night for the annual Graceland "Candlelight Vigil," to mark the 45th anniversary of the death of the singer whose music and image continue to maintain an unparalleled grip on popular culture and commerce.
"We are all a part of this legacy, every one of you with a candle in your hand," said "Argo" (Derrill Argo Jr.), longtime deejay on the "Elvis Radio" channel on SiriusXM, as he directed the hundreds and hundreds of people in the street outside the Graceland mansion to light their candles to illuminate a "sea of solidarity" in tribute to the King of Rock 'n' Roll.
After the candle-lighting, which occurred at 8:36 p.m., fans processed up the long driveway to the Elvis Presley gravesite in the "Meditation Garden" on the south side of the mansion. Graceland officials said they expected anywhere from 5,000 to 25,000 people to make the trek, which was expected to last well past midnight and into Tuesday morning. The line of people along the wall outside Graceland was folded five deep when the gates opened, after Priscilla Presley, from a podium, praised the crowd as "a beautiful sight."
Members of fan clubs from Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands and Scotland were among the "honor guard" who lined the driveway, like palace guards, as others passed between them, in handcrafted Elvis jewelry, Elvis print skirts and shirts, and even Elvis jumpsuits. The size and international makeup of the crowd suggested Graceland has bounced back after the "socially distanced" vigil of 2020, which allowed only limited attendance due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the somewhat low-key vigil of 2021.
Security measures reinforced during the COVID era remain in place. For most of the history of the vigil, fans could occupy the street and begin lining up at the Graceland gates as early as they liked. Now, Elvis Presley Boulevard is blocked in the afternoon by police barricades on both sides of the mansion, and fans pass through security checkpoints, complete with airport-style or music-festival bag searches, to reach the mansion, where Graceland employees and volunteers were waiting, to pass out thousands of white candles to fans. Admission through the checkpoints Monday didn't begin until 7 p.m.
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Among those who not only passed through a security gate but crossed an ocean to reach Graceland were about 140 members of the Official Elvis Fan Club of Great Britain, established in 1957 — making it one of the oldest such organizations in the world.
"When I say I owe him my life, I really do, and so do my children and grandchildren," said club member Lynne Hartley, 67, a Yorkshire resident who said she was "a suicidal teenager" until she saw the television program now known as "The '68 Comeback Special."
"When I discovered Elvis, I just had a connection with him — I couldn't get enough of him," she said. "When you listen to him, you honestly think he's talking to you — he's just chatting, chatting to you."
At 19, Hartley and other Official Fan Club members traveled to Las Vegas to see Elvis perform at the International Hotel in 1974. Young Lynne could only afford to attend four shows, but at one of them she called out a correction from the audience, when Elvis misremembered the number of movies he'd made. Elvis responded, with good humor, which explains the shirt Hartley wore Monday: "I Spoke with Elvis Presley - Las Vegas - 1974."
Elvis means so much to Hartley that her father insisted she travel to Memphis for the vigil, even though he was seriously ill. With her brother from New Zealand staying with dad, Hartley came to Memphis on Thursday; Saturday, her father, Donald Moore, 94, died. "He said, 'You have to go,'" she said, teary-eyed.
Meanwhile, Walter Terciani, 76, president since 1967 of Gang Elvis, an Elvis Presley fan club based in Sao Paulo, Brazil, said he was making his 36th visit to "Elvis Week," as Graceland calls its annual nine-day celebration of Presley's life, which culminates in the vigil. (Graceland spokesperson David Beckwith said almost every ticketed Elvis Week event this year was a sell-out, which was why officials expected many thousands at the vigil.)
Terciani said his club has close to a thousand members, 11 of whom came to Memphis this week. Elvis remains "very strong" in Brazil, he said.
Sixty-six years Terciani's junior, 10-year-old Max Enderle of Chicago was at the vigil with his 12-year-old sister, Maddie Enderle. Third-generation fans, they have come here every Elvis Week since they were infants, in the company of their mother, Diana Enderle, 51.
What makes the kids especially unusual is that they always dress as Elvis. Posing for selfies with fans, Maddie and Max wore matching "Aloha from Hawaii"-type jumpsuits with red-lined capes. Maddie's aviator sunglasses enhanced the Elvis effect, but she added a novel twist: Her long hair was twisted into a pair of braids that complemented the leis around her neck.
Maddie — who performed "Burning Love" during an Elvis Tribute Artist show in the old Graceland strip-mall parking lot when she was 6 — said her favorite song was "Jailhouse Rock." Max agreed. "It's the only song I sort of know all the words to," he said.
The Enderle siblings were striking, but one of the more fashionable fans was Renée Harper, 44, a self-described "creative" who was decked from ankle to crown in Elvis attire: Elvis socks, an Elvis belt, an Elvis-pattern dress, and acrylic hand-cut and sculpted Elvis earrings, jointed to present a simulacrum of hip-swiveling with each shake of her head. That head was topped with a homemade "hair fascinator": a large flower, with a figure of Elvis nestled in its petals, like the proverbial baby in the cabbage patch. Meanwhile, her husband, Jimmy Harper, 51, flashed the type of bling Elvis would envy: a badge. He's a border patrol agent.
Making their first Elvis Week visit, the Bisbee, Arizona couple previously visited Memphis in the late spring of 2020, right after Graceland reopened following the COVID shutdown. In fact, they were the only two people on their mansion tour, so "we essentially got to spend 20 minutes in the Jungle Room by ourselves," Renée Harper said. "It was such a unique experience, it made us fall back in love with Elvis."
Priscilla Presley, during her remarks at the start of the vigil, suggested a lot of people are falling back in love with Elvis, in part due to the success of the Baz Luhrmann movie, "Elvis," which is reaching a young audience. "I think that's brought life to a lot people, who are rediscovering Elvis."
This article originally appeared on Memphis Commercial Appeal: Elvis Week: Fans remember the King at Candlelight Vigil at Graceland