Fans brace for visit to Elvis' grave

Saturday, August 16, 2003

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- It was a dream that led Kenneth Bollermann to join thousands of other Elvis Presley fans Friday for an anniversary visit to his grave.

Presley died at 42 on Aug. 16, 1977, and is buried in a small garden beside Graceland, his Memphis residence. To cap a week of parties, concerts and fan get-togethers staged each year for the anniversary, fans holding lighted candles line up to walk past his grave.

Bollermann, 52, of Manasquan, N.J., longed to join the candlelight vigil for his first nighttime visit to the grave because of a dream he had a decade ago.

"I was standing at the back of Elvis' grave and could have sworn he came out of his grave and stood right in front of me," Bollermann, a kitchen worker at a retirement home, said of his dream. "I'm not going to say that will happen. It probably won't."

The city tourism bureau estimates more than 30,000 visitors have come to Memphis this year because the anniversary. Some stay a day or two, while others remain the whole week.

The graveside procession, which grew from a spontaneous fan gathering the year after Presley's death to drug abuse and heart disease, has been run by his estate since Graceland opened to the public in 1982.

The graveside vigil began Friday night and ran into today, the anniversary of the day Presley was found unconscious on a bathroom floor and pronounced dead a short time later.

While waiting for the vigil, fans shopped at the sprawling complex of souvenir shops across the street from Graceland. Presley imitators performed under a large tent in a shopping center parking lot.

Nina Neathamer, 65, of Cairo, Ill., said she has made an annual pilgrimage to Memphis for at least 16 years.

"Anybody who loved Elvis comes," she said. "I don't know how else to put it."

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