Elvis Week's Candlelight Vigil Is An International Affair

Elvis Week's Candlelight Vigil Is An International Affair

Ed. Note: I sent contributor Veena Rangaswami into the wild throngs of Elvis fans during this year's Elvis Week. This is her take on the 40th annual Candlelight Vigil. Originally published 2017. Updated 2019. 

Elvis Week 2019 is August 9-17. Read more here. 

I was raised on Elvis. My father became a fan as a high school student in India, and when he moved to Memphis in 1976 his appreciation for Elvis only grew. He passed that appreciation on to my brother and me, and we grew up singing his songs, watching his movies, and taking friends and family to Graceland.

However, for all my 30-odd Graceland visits and random knowledge of Elvis, until this year I had never been in town for the vigil. The single largest gathering of Elvis fans every year, on the anniversary of his death in August, and I had never attended? Some fan I was.

Knowing that this year was the 40th anniversary of his death, I made sure I would not only be in town but in attendance. I roped in my friend Christina, and on the evening of August 15th we made our way over to Graceland.

We waded through the crowds, we listened to Priscilla and Lisa Marie speak about Elvis’ legacy, and we watched as tens of thousands of fans raised their candles in a moment of silence and remembrance for this man who has brought together generations of people from around the world.

As fans made their way to queue up to enter the gates and walk up to the Meditation Garden, Christina and I chatted with people on the street. We met a couple from Alabama who were here for the fourth time.

We met a man from Scotland who has come approximately 18 times who spoke to us about the monthly dances that the Glasgow fan club continues to host. We met a couple from Ireland who came to celebrate the husband’s 50th birthday. And we met a couple from Hampshire, England, who gushed about the hospitality they have encountered during their time in Memphis.

We stopped by some of the shrines and met Christy Baller, who has been coming down from St. Louis for 15 years. We met Jerry Engleby and her husband; they have been coming from Jefferson City, MO, for 24 years to build a shrine and pay their respects.

In addition to those we met, we also heard Spanish, German, French, Dutch, Japanese, and at least one Scandinavian language being spoken. We saw people wearing shirts from Canada and Chile and Australia. We saw people of all ages and backgrounds, united in their love for the man who was so much more than just a performer for so many people.

I will definitely be returning to the vigil in future years - and hopefully making it inside the gates before midnight - and I encourage all Memphians to do the same at least once. Whether or not you are a fan, it is not an experience to be missed.

About The Author
Veena Rangaswami grew up on the banks of the Mississippi River, and after many years of splitting her time between Memphis and India, she has finally returned full-time to the 901. By day she is a program specialist for the Bridge Builders program at BRIDGES, and by night she can be found reading and writing, eating her way around Memphis, cheering on her favorite sports teams, plotting her next out-of-town adventure, and pretending to be a runner. All she wants is a lifetime supply of Dr. Pepper and to see the Grizz bring home an NBA Championship. Read about her adventures, and follow along for yourself on Instagram and Twitter.

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August 16, 2018 1:30pm