- The Washington Times - Monday, August 5, 2002

ATLANTA Russell Brock is growing his sideburns. Pam Wood is collecting teddy bears. Debbie Reeves has renewed her annual reservation at the Heartbreak Hotel.
They're among the folks from the Atlanta area bound for Graceland and Elvis Presley Week, an annual heat-and-humidity-soaked Memphis rite that ranges from a solemn candlelight vigil to impersonations by jumpsuited admirers. This isn't just any Elvis Week he died Aug. 16, 1977, making this the 25th anniversary of his passing.
"I had a dream," says Mr. Brock, an Atlanta insurance salesman who's going up to pass out Christian tracts for his Atlanta church, the Mount Paran Church of God. "I dreamed I was going up there and he was still alive, and he showed up."
Does Mr. Brock really think Mr. Presley is alive? "Shoot, no," he fires back.
He's going anyway, to pass out pamphlets to the thousands of people standing in line, who come from all over the world. "See the King of Rock 'n' Roll with the King, the Rock That Holds," they read.
While Mr. Brock is witnessing, Miss Wood, a psychiatric nurse, will be about an hour and a half outside of Memphis in Humboldt, at the Tennessee State Veterans Home. On Aug. 15, she and her friends will stage their second annual Elvis Party for the home's 120 senior residents, complete with Elvis impersonator Gene Lane.
As president of the Assembly of Elvis Fan Club, she's organizing her members to collect teddy bears (as in the Elvis song) to give to the residents.
"That is what Elvis fans are supposed to be about," she says. "If Elvis were alive, he'd be singing for these old people."
Elvis is not alive, however, except in the occasional tabloid story. His sudden death at age 42 has grown over the years into an enormous tourism industry in Memphis. Much of it is centered around Graceland, the home he bought for $100,000 in 1957 and where he is buried, but it spills over everywhere to Beale Street, the University of Memphis and Libertyland amusement park.
Elvis Week a nine-day week runs Aug. 10 through 18, filling hotels in the area with tens of thousands of fans from England, Japan and other points all over the globe.
"I've talked to British people who work second jobs to come to Graceland once a year," says Miss Wood, who has been attending Elvis Week for 10 years.
Debbie Reeves, 48, has been going for 17 years. Members of her fan club, Elvis Still Rockin', ranges from grandmothers to a 12-year-old girl, and about a dozen from metro Atlanta will be making the pilgrimage.
She'll be part of the Presidents Honor Guard the evening of Aug. 15. As thousands of fans carry candles up the long Graceland driveway hour after hour into the morning of Aug. 16, fan-club presidents line the drive.
"We stand quietly as a welcome to fans, and we answer questions," Miss Reeves says. "I consider it an honor and a privilege." Club members also have raised $300 for the Elvis Presley Trauma Center in Memphis by selling some of their collectibles.
There'll be no tour of Graceland for artist Joni Mabe, though. She went a few weeks ago to avoid the masses and instead hopes to catch an Elvis impersonator contest in Memphis. "It's just amazing all the nationalities you see," she says. "I've seen Chinese Elvis, Japanese Elvis, two black Elvises and women Elvises."
Miss Mabe's art installation "The Panoramic Encyclopedia of Everything Elvis" fills more than five rooms at the Loudermilk Boarding House Museum in Cornelia, Ga.
About Elvis Week, Memphis-bound Tom Brown says, "It's less a fan frenzy for me than a chance to catch up with some good friends." He is vice president of program production for the Turner Classic Movies cable channel. While working on Presley-related documentaries for TCM, he has been able to meet and become friends with musicians who played with the singer and members of the "Memphis Mafia."
Coincidentally, Mr. Brown grew up in Tupelo, Miss., a few blocks from the singer's birthplace.
"It's kind of distressing," Mr. Brown says of the annual hoopla and the sometimes disrespectful way Mr. Presley is portrayed in popular culture, "when the negative things overshadow what the guy actually did, which is the music.
"Elvis can't be blamed for anything that's happened since he died."
"I've reason to believe/ we all will be received/in Graceland."

Paul Simon
New York Times News Service


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