MEMPHIS - Enough activities are in place for Elvis Week 2K here to fill a thick brochure and keep the thousands of visitors expected from around the world entertained.
The Aug. 16 anniversary of Elvis's death, when he was 42 years old, has since 1977 been a major happening that is citywide, extends to Tupelo, Miss., the star's birthplace, and culminates in an all-night candlelight vigil at Graceland, his mansion that has become hallowed ground for his fans.
In the meantime, Graceland and all things Elvis in the Elvis Presley Boulevard neighborhood here, including his cars and plane, play to a steady flow of daily visitors.
Watching their uninhibited emotions and overhearing conversations as visitors walk through the mansion where Elvis lived, played, entertained, and died is a touching experience.
The very British woman ahead of me in the line for the shuttle explained why she and her husband put Graceland at the top of the list of places to visit on their first trip to the United States. "We wanted to see where it all ended," she said, adding how wonderful Elvis Presley was for teenagers in England.
It would have been easy to abandon standing in the shuttle line in 98-degree heat but I was so intrigued by the throngs of Elvis's fans who obviously still care. The tour takes visitors past the roped-off living room, with his parents' picture and stained-glass peacock wall panels, and the dining room, where a black marble table is set for six people with black linens. Handkerchiefs blot tears, and in whispered tones visitors draw their own conclusions about the star's preferences. He must have liked magnolias, one said. Another commented that he sure liked purple.
The Jungle Room, with its animal-skin print upholstery on oversize furniture, like the garish peacock panels and reflective rhinestones on couch pillows, hint of Elvis's taste for flash at home.
There is little doubt that music was his life at home as well as on the road. A machine holds 100 records in the TV room, the jukebox was connected to each of the rooms, and his piano is the focal point in the music room.
Emotions peak in the Meditation Garden, where Elvis and Presley family members, who once lived together in the mansion, are buried. Fans show their devotion and respect with colorful bouquets and wreaths of silk flowers, and there are some teddy bears at Elvis's grave.
There is little doubt that the sky might fall if I dared to say that I was never an Elvis fan, then or now, although I was sad about his early death. So I won't.
But I was compelled to see the attraction that continues to draw more than 750,000 Elvis fans from around the world annually, and where an estimated 3,500 people will keep an all-night candlelight vigil Aug. 15-16. The lasting impression I gained at Graceland was not of Elvis's music playing in the background, not the big mansion and exquisitely groomed grounds, or even the trophy room. It was his determination as a poor boy to make his dream of a better life for himself and his parents come true by using his God-given talent for music.
I hope that the first chapter in the Elvis Presley story will be an inspiration for young people who just might be able to overcome hard knocks if they use their natural ability, and, in return, receive a soft pat of encouragement.
Mary Alice Powell is a retired Blade food editor.
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