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More MS news articles for August 2003

'It's Home to Us'

Illness, distance no match for vigil's diehards

http://www.gomemphis.com/mca/goelvis_king_weeks/article/0,1426,MCA_2779_2187040,00.html

August 16, 2003
By John Beifuss
GoMemphis.com

La Vera Chapel had planned to get her 15th Elvis tattoo this year, until she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

She already has "the three stages of Elvis - '56, '68 and '73" tattooed on her right arm, the gates of Graceland on her left forearm, a portrait of Elvis from Charro! above her right breast, and a bare-chested Elvis angel across her back, to name a few.

La Vera Chapel had planned to get her 15th Elvis tattoo this year, until she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

She already has "the three stages of Elvis - '56, '68 and '73" tattooed on her right arm, the gates of Graceland on her left forearm, a portrait of Elvis from Charro! above her right breast, and a bare-chested Elvis angel across her back, to name a few.

Each one is a souvenir of Memphis. They mark each of the 14 years the longtime Kmart employee and her husband, Donald, have come here from White Lake, Mich., for the annual Graceland candlelight vigil commemorating the Aug. 16, 1977, death of Elvis Aaron Presley.

But with multiple sclerosis, "The nerve endings, they tend to jump, and that's not good when you're getting a tattoo - 'Whoops, there goes Elvis's face!' " Chapel, 49, said Friday.

So instead of leaving with a new tattoo she came with a new wheelchair, in which she staked out her usual place near the gates of Graceland and in which she was wheeled to the grave.

This year, Chapel was third in line and part of an estimated 5,000 people at the vigil's opening ceremony at 9 p.m. on a muggy but clear evening. Police expected the total number of visitors to double by sunrise today.

Overall, about 35,000 people probably visited Graceland during this year's Elvis Tribute Week, said Elvis Presley Enterprises spokesman Todd Morgan. Last year, which marked the 25th anniversary of Elvis's death, some 30,000-plus fans and spectators attended the vigil.

"It's home to us," said Kath Hart, 42, president of the Gracelanders of York fan club in England, who visits Memphis twice a year with her husband, Ray.

The Harts said their children sometimes accompany them. "One of my lads likes Metallica," Ray said, "and one of 'em likes the Foo Fighters. But they always relate it back to Elvis because he's the King of Rock and Roll."

Houston engineer Henry Nguyen, 60, credits Elvis with inspiring him to leave South Vietnam for America in 1975.

"I love the culture through Elvis," he said. "I learn English from his songs and bootleg records - we had American GIs write down the words for us."

Forensic anthropologist Elayne Pope, 29, attended the vigil dressed in an Elvis wig and a snugly tailored jumpsuit. "Don't be blocking Elvis's bosoms," said Memphian Jay Good, 41, as he photographed his sons posing with the Shelby County morgue employee.

Pope said she's no fan of Presley's music, but "I just like dressing up like Elvis and coming out here." She said humans fascinate her whether they're on a slab or on Elvis Presley Boulevard. "It's all anthropology; it's all a study of people."

Chapel said her doctors didn't approve of her trip to Memphis, because excessive heat and stress aren't good for people who suffer from MS, a debilitating disease that interferes with the central nervous system.

They certainly wouldn't have approved if they had known that La Vera and Donald, 59, got in line at 10:30 Thursday night, and stayed throughout the 90-degree heat Friday.

Explained Mrs. Chapel: "My loyalty to Elvis is something I can give in return for all he's given me. He was sick, and he still performed for us."

"Loyalty" is a word Elvis fans use a lot.

"I came down here the day after he died, and I've been coming ever since," said Bill Rowe, 53, of Dayton, Ohio, first in line Friday night. "Basically, when I feel I can't stay away any longer, I show up at the gates."

What motivates his annual visits?

"Loyalty to the memory of Elvis Presley."

Chapel said her tattoos enable her to proclaim her Elvis pride in public. "You have your Elvis impersonators, you have your Elvis lookalikes, but I'm a living billboard for Elvis," she said. "Every day I live on, I remind somebody of Elvis. When they see me, it brings the name of Elvis to their lips."
 

Copyright © 2003, E.W. Scripps Company