Elvisfans return to Graceland in droves to remember and honor the King during Elvis Week

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John Beifuss
Memphis Commercial Appeal
Linda Brown of Goose Creek, Louisiana, attended this week’s Elvis «Candlelight Vigil» in leather boots that had been home-accessorized in recognition of the 60th anniversary of the movie «Blue Hawaii.»

The boots were blue and swathed in fabric patterned with photographic reproductions of Elvis on a surfboard, Elvis strumming a ukulele, Elvis in Hawaiian shirt and lei.

Like those made famous by Elvis’ «Speedway» co-star, Nancy Sinatra, Brown’s boots were made for walking — for walking up the driveway of Graceland to the grave of Elvis Presley in the Meditation Garden, where Brown placed a dozen yellow roses, as she does every year on the anniversary of Elvis Presley’s death Aug. 16, 1977, at the age of 42.

A retired nurse, Brown and her husband, Bert Brown, 70, haven’t missed a Candlelight Vigil in 22 years. They were here last year, when the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in a «socially distanced» vigil that was limited to three hours and 720 ticketed mourners — or fans or celebrants or whatever is the correct word for a person who travels to Memphis to light a candle and participate in a ritualized appreciation of the life and art of the singer whose 1954 sessions at 706 Union Avenue have been described as the Big Bang that ignited the rock ‘n roll explosion.

«It was a ghost town, but we couldn’t skip it,» Linda Brown said of the pandemic-altered 2020 Graceland experience, when all «Elvis Week» events other than the vigil were canceled. «Seeing all the people here makes all difference.»

If «all the people» were not as many as in years past (the large international fan contingent was mostly absent, due to pandemic travel restrictions), Elvis Week 2021 showed that «things are progressing and picking up,» said Alicia Dean, marketing, promotion and events specialist at Elvis Presley Enterprises, which manages the Graceland mansion and its across-the-street campus of attractions.

She said about 5,000 people attended the Candlelight Vigil, which began at 8:30 p.m. Sunday (the event begins on the eve of Elvis’ death) and concluded after 2 a.m. Monday.

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In addition, many Elvis Week concerts and events — this year’s Graceland-organized celebration of the King began Aug. 11 and concludes Tuesday — were filled to capacity, with tours of the Graceland stables, a Priscilla Presley-hosted cocktail party and an outdoor screening of «Blue Hawaii» among the sold-out happenings.

«Elvis was connected always with his fans,» said Priscilla, 76, Elvis’ former wife, who made a surprise appearance at the event, just before the candles were lighted at 8:42 p.m. Sunday. «They made him and he never forgot them.»

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