Elvis Week Blog 8 - Peace and Understanding: The Dream Comes True Again at 2019 Candlelight Vigil
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Graceland Blog

THE OFFICIAL BLOG OF GRACELAND

Welcome to the official blog of Elvis Presley’s Graceland! You can take Elvis-inspired quizzes, get first-looks on events here at Graceland and how-to guides on everything you need to know about Elvis and his home. Like Elvis, we come with a little southern charm

Elvis Week Blog 8 - Peace and Understanding: The Dream Comes True Again at 2019 Candlelight Vigil

By Jon Waterhouse

“There must be lights burning brighter somewhere.” So goes the opening line of Walter Earl Brown’s 1968 composition “If I Can Dream,” an Elvis signature song of peace, redemption, and unity.

Ironically, 42 years after Presley’s passing, the spirit of that song rings prophetic at the Candlelight Vigil. Last night just after dusk on the eve of the anniversary of Elvis’ death, a perpetual procession began at the gates of Graceland, winding its way up the mansion’s driveway to Presley’s graveside at Meditation Garden, and lasting throughout the evening. 

Tens of thousands participated in the annual tradition, candles in hand. Their lights glowed individually, but together burned brighter.

“I couldn’t have imagined this at all,” said Georgann Reynolds, president of the Austin, Texas-based Elvis Country Fan Club, the originators of the Vigil. “It’s unprecedented. But it’s Elvis. And everything he did was unprecedented.”

   

In mid-August of 1979, Reynolds and other members of the fan club chartered a bus to Memphis. On the night of August 15, Reynolds said she and fellow fans “were all out here wandering around the gates of Graceland. And we said, ‘We can’t let (Elvis) be forgotten. We just can’t.’”

So, they quickly began scouring convenience stores and five-and-dimes in the area, snatching up all the candles they could.

Once back at Graceland, Harold Lloyd, Elvis’ first cousin and longtime Graceland gatekeeper and security guard, allowed the fans just inside the gate.

“We lit candles, made a little circle, said some prayers, and sang some religious songs,” Reynolds said. “After that we filed out of the gate.”

And that was just the beginning. Each year on August 15, the fan club would return to Graceland with more people, more candles. Reynolds even borrowed a small public address system from her daughter’s elementary school to use at the event. More than a decade before the dawn of widespread Internet use, Elvis Country got the word out about the Vigil to members and fans via newsletter and other means. 

“It used to be telephone, tell an Elvis fan,” laughed Reynolds. “Everybody wrote hot and heavy letters back then. That’s the way you found out about stuff. We communicated very well, considering. But not like today by any means. Elvis wouldn’t have had a chance if we had the Internet back then.”

In 1982, the year Graceland opened to the public as a museum, Elvis Presley Enterprises began allowing fans to expand the Candlelight Vigil, creating the tradition of proceeding up the mansion’s driveway to the gravesite.

Today visitors continue trekking from all over the world to participate in the Candlelight Vigil, the heart and soul of Elvis Week. Fans from Japan, Australia, Brazil, and beyond cross borders literally and figuratively to clutch candles and pay respects to Elvis Presley’s life and legacy. Click here to watch the 2019 Candlelight Vigil.

“We’re a family from all across the world,” said 26-year-old Mary Clark of Fort Worth, Texas. “We break all barriers, because we have one thing in common. And that’s how we come together.”

Just after 8:30 p.m. last night, Elvis Presley Enterprises managing partner Joel Weinshanker welcomed the crowd, relaying a message from Elvis’ daughter, Lisa Marie Presley, thanking fans for their support and expressing the regret of her absence. 

SiriusXM’s Elvis Radio personality Argo emceed the proceedings, asking fans to light their candles in “solidarity.” “We’re all connected through Elvis,” he told them, before inviting members of Elvis Country to the podium.

“Elvis has crossed boundaries,” Reynolds said to the crowd. “Throughout the night, people of the world come together.”

Other Elvis Country fan club members shared thoughts and several songs boomed over the loudspeaker, including “If I Can Dream” and the 2019 Candlelight Vigil theme “It Keeps Right on a Hurtin’,” the latter recorded 50 years ago at American Sound Studio in Memphis. 

The procession began with fans lighting their candles at the base of the Graceland driveway before venturing up the winding path. Capturing the procession on film was 15-year-old Phoenix Kerkmaz, a lifelong fan from Gallatin, Tenn. 

“It’s very touching and beautiful to watch,” Kerkmaz said. “I’m impressed by all of the dedication and commitment from the fans. All of the decorations and memorials on Elvis Presley Boulevard impresses me the most.”

That tradition continues, too, thanks to the Memphis Police Department closing a sizable stretch of Elvis Presley Boulevard for the occasion. Fans, some relaxing in folding chairs and sprawling on blankets, visited as the Vigil rolled on. Others created the kind of shrine-like Elvis tributes that appeal to Kerkmaz. Elvis enthusiasm materialized in the form of chalk drawings, posters, candles, and spray paint-on-asphalt artwork.

Setting up shop on the street used to be an annual Candlelight Vigil tradition for Courtney Mullane and her family. This year the Nashville resident, a member of the Elvis in the Astrodome Fan Club, volunteered for the Vigil Honor Guard. This rotating group of fans, approximately 20 at a time each, stand just inside the gate in 20-minute shifts for the duration of the evening, quietly holding candles and welcoming Vigil participants as they start their walk.

“Despite our differences Elvis’ music touched us all, and that’s what drew us here,” Mullane said. “And we all get to share this together. I think there are very few things that are quite as beautiful as that. And our world needs more of that kind of beauty.”

At the closing of “If I Can Dream,” Elvis begs for the concept of peace and understanding to come true “right now.”

Each year, at least for one night at the Candlelight Vigil, it does.

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