Elvis Presley fans from around the world are making their annual pilgrimage to Graceland to pay their respects to the rock and roll icon with a candlelight vigil on the 36th anniversary of his death.
Thousands of people carried lit candles as they walked slowly and silently through the Mediation Garden at Graceland, Presley’s long-time Memphis home. The garden is the location of his grave and the spot where his mother, father and grandmother are buried.
Wreaths of flowers and pictures of the star encircled the grave, while shadows cast by the glowing candles danced along the stone wall surrounding the garden. Soft music played in the mild night, as some in the procession bowed their heads or cried quietly.
Each year, fans of Presley’s music and movies come to the Tennessee town for Elvis Week, the celebration of his life and career. The King died on August 16 1977 of a heart attack after battling prescription drug abuse.
The vigil is the highlight of Elvis Week, which this year featured a listening party at Stax Records for the recent release of the three-CD box set Elvis At Stax.
Performances by Presley tribute artists and a screening of the Aloha From Hawaii television programme from January 1973 are other featured events of the week-long reunion, which wraps up on Saturday.
Police estimated 35,000 people would attend the vigil. Last year, an estimated 75,000 people descended on Graceland for the event. The star’s ex-wife Priscilla Presley and his daughter Lisa Marie Presley spoke at last year’s event, the first time they appeared together at the vigil since it began.
Christine Jeffords made her fifth trip to Graceland with her husband Jon and three other members of a fan club called the Elvis Midwest Mafia, whose members are from Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin. They wore red T-shirts with Presley’s image emblazoned on a king of hearts playing card on the front.
The back of their shirts had a quote that gives one reason why fans have made repeated trips to Memphis for Elvis Week and the vigil: “If you have a friend who is an Elvis fan, you have a friend for life.”
“Where else can you go where you meet people from year to year who have the same passion?” said Ms Jeffords, a pre-school teacher from Traverse City, Michigan.
The vigil started as an informal gathering the year after his death. It has blossomed into a major tourist event. Fans begin lining up along the outer wall of Graceland about 12 hours before the vigil, and many will stay until the early morning hours of the next day.
The event has also become an international affair and a tribute to Presley’s worldwide popularity, hosting fans from Australia, Brazil, England and Japan and other foreign countries.
Miguel Salinas Caceres, 53, came with other members of a fan club whose members are from Chile. Making his first visit to Graceland, he recalled making scrapbooks of newspaper article clippings about Presley when he was a teenager.
The articles and scrapbooks were a way he and his family followed Presley because they could not afford a record player or the records. He said his family used to pay a neighbour who owned a television so they could watch Presley movies and other programmes at the house.
“For a person who is an Elvis fan and has the chance to come to the place he lived, it’s emotional for me,” said Mr Salinas Caceres, of Santiago. “It’s hard to believe that I’m here on the street where he walked, the street corners where he stood, the restaurants where he ate.”