Elvis Presley Phenomenon Becomes History - Forest Hill Cemetery on Aug. 18, 1977
Source: 1977 by Memphis Publishing Co
April 23, 2009
Above, A Memphis policeman carries away a young woman trying to reach the hearse bearing the body of rock and roll star Elvis Presley during the funeral procession to Forest Hill Cemetery on Aug. 18, 1977.
Thousands lined the route for the final farewell.
After two short prayers and a poem, Elvis' seamless copper coffin, flown to Memphis from Oklahoma City and blanketed with rose buds, was wheeled into the crypt room of Corridor Z and lifted into place.
Then, led by Elvis' white-haired father, Vernon, the family filed into the crypt and one by one touched or kissed the coffin. Mr. Presley, wearing a black pinstripe suit, stood for an extended moment with his hand on his son's coffin. He had to be supported when he left.
Elvis, who died Tuesday, apparently after a heart attack, at the age of 42, was entombed wearing a white suit, blue shirt and white tie. On his finger was a ring with the letters 'TCB' and lightning bolts on either side. The letters meant 'Taking Care of Business' and the lightning bolts meant in a flash.
Above, More than 3,100 floral sprays cover the lawn outside the mausoleum at Forest Hill Cemetery, where pall bearers deliver Presley's casket Aug. 18, 1977.
Shortly after the family visited the crypt room, the mausoleum was cleared. Almost immediately, five workmen entered the room with a wheelbarrow full of sand, a five-gallon bucket of water, some cement and a box of tools. Then, they began to seal the crypt, first with a double slab of concrete, then with marble. Although the marble was blank, a cemetery spokesman said it would be inscribed later.
Even before the workmen had completed the entombment, people began entering the cemetery from the rear and pressing themselves against the heavy steel doors of the mausoleum. 'You've got to get through three steel doors in order to enter this place', a cemetery employee said', but even so, I'll bet the security job here is going to get tough. The doors have never been locked until now. But after this they will be'.
Although the entire cemetery had been closed to the general public for the burial services, thousands of people stood on the street outside as the procession pulled through the gate and past the flower-bedecked grave site of Elvis' mother. That grave is about 50 feet from the mausoleum. Once the funeral procession was inside the cemetery, several bystanders in the street tried to break through police barricades. Much later, they were reported taking as souvenirs some of the thousands of flowers set up on the lawn outside the mausoleum.
A spokesman for the Memphis Chamber of Commerce said the cemetery would reopen at 8:30 a.m. Friday and volunteers would be on hand to pass out flowers to the public as keepsakes.
Thursday night, a few individual flowers were passed out by police officers to small groups of mourners who gathered at the gate to the cemetery.
Private funeral services Thursday afternoon were conducted in the music room at Graceland, the mansion on Elvis Presley Boulevard that the singer bought 20 years ago for $100,000.
The services had been planned by Vernon Presley, who called a Memphis minister at 1 a.m. Wednesday and asked him if he would officiate. The minister was C.W. Bradley, of the Wooddale Church of Christ, who had been a friend of the family more than 10 years. He was assisted by another minister, Rev. Rex Humbard of Akron, Ohio. Most of the music was performed by the Stamps Quartet.
They started with 'How Great Thou Art', and ended with 'Sweet, Sweet Spirit'.
Although the funeral was scheduled to have lasted but a half-hour, it went on for almost two hours. All the while, the crowd stood outside the mansion, an estimated 6,000 strong.
Rumors of all kinds were generated, most of them having to do with the identities of the stars that had come for the funeral. One rumor had it that John Wayne was in town. Another had it that Burt Reynolds had been smuggled in in a bread truck. Still another, that Sammy Davis Jr. was inside.
Apparently, none of those people was there. Those known to be on hand were Elvis' former wife, Priscilla, and their daughter, Lisa Marie, age 9; actress Ann-Margret and her husband Roger Smith; guitarist Chet Atkins; actor George Hamilton and Elvis' renowned manager, Col. Tom Parker.
Caroline Kennedy, daughter of the late president, and singer James Brown were at Graceland the night before the funeral, but they did not stay for the services.
Actually, the great mass of mourners were not the beautiful people -- but the plain and ordinary.
From all across the country they came, many of them not expecting to see anything, just to be present at the king's end. Some of them stood vigil all night and were there when a white 1963 Ford swerved into a group of young women, killing two and critically injuring a third.
The dead were Alice Marie Hovatar and Juanita Joanne Johnson, 19, of Monroe, La. The driver, Treatise Wheeler, 18, was charged with drunk driving and two counts of second-degree murder.
The vigil at the mansion ended for most people a little before 4 p.m. when the 49-car funeral procession rolled through the gates and headed for the cemetery.
'He's gone, he's gone', one woman screamed, over the clatter of helicopters overhead, as the procession left. Some of the people ran a little way behind the hearse, but were soon outdistanced.
The crush of spectators was just as big, if not bigger, at the cemetery. There, they pressed so hard against the double wooden gates that they threatened to break. Police called up enforcements and moved the crowd back.
A barefoot woman fell to the ground at one point, clutching a stuffed dog and moaning', Oh, Elvis; oh, Elvis'. She was Sally Worty, 25, who had flown in from Phoenix on a one-way ticket.
Like many out-of-towners, she had no place to stay and few prospects of finding one. Partly due to a Shriners' convention and partly due to the influx of Elvis fans, the motels were jammed.
Colin Winski, 20, who came in from California dressed as an Elvis look-alike, was one without a place to stay'. I don't know what I'm going to do', he said', I'm supposed to go to Austin, Texas, but I don't even know which way it is'. A truck parked near Elvis Presley Boulevard bore Louisiana license plates and had been the transportation for three fans from New Orleans.
'He's gonna live through his name', said Joan Phillips, as she sat in the cab of the truck trying to shield herself from the heat'. He's gonna live in my heart forever.
'I don't think he lived for himself. He lived for people. I think that is what made him have his heart attack'.
Jerry Turk was the driver of the truck. He had climbed atop of the vehicle to try to catch just a small glimpse of the man he repeatedly called 'The King'. 'I came because he is the king. You've got to pay the piper. All the rest of those guys are so plastic. Like Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones. 'This is Elvis Presley from Tupelo, Miss., not some Englishman from London or Liverpool'.
Last night Mrs. Darlene Gibson and her daughter, Heather, 3, and Mrs. Gibson's sister, Mrs. Evelyn Townsend of Plant City, Fla., clutching their souvenir flowers given them by police, started an all-night vigil.
Mrs. Townsend and her three children, Herbert, 10, Debra, 13, and Daniel Lee, 14, left Plant City at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday and arrived in Memphis at 11:30 a.m. Thursday.
They hoped to be among the first admitted when the cemetery gates opened Friday.
There were visitors from Canada and France as well as Florida, Georgia and Connecticut.
Some had been standing for hours, afraid to leave their spots for fear they would never be able to regain it. They could not expect to see more than a few short moments of the white hearse, but still they waited.
As people slowly began to trickle out of the Presley mansion, the tension began to build and the crowd moved forward. For some the tension and the heat were too much. Several people dropped to their knees and methodically wiped their foreheads with handkerchiefs filled with ice.
Medics edged their way through the thick crowd trying to aid those who needed help. As soon as one person was taken off another moved into their place.
But finally, the moment everyone was waiting for came: The long line of white vehicles started their engines and moved slowly down the driveway.
Policemen snapped to attention, keeping an eye on the crowd. As the first car passed through the gate a woman cried out', Goodbye Elvis, we still love you. We still love you'.
The persistence of fans moved Police Director E. Winslow Chapman to say:
'I'm afraid we're going to have people trying to get inside the mausoleum (where Elvis is entombed) tomorrow (Saturday), and the day after, and the day after that. There's nothing like an Elvis fan'.
And he was right. There were arrests both at Graceland and the cemetery. At the mansion, a shirtless man was arrested for being a nuisance, handcuffed and carried off by sheriff's deputies.
They said he was drunk and had tried to climb the fence and jump on cars. Considering the size of the crowd, however, it was fairly orderly. The people stood in the sun, some sipping soft drinks, some just standing there, with sad eyes and somber faces, watching the procession of white limousines go by.
In the cemetery, the spectacle of flowers was overwhelming.
A funeral director said there were 3,115 sprays in shapes ranging from crowns to guitars. They covered the entire yard in front of the mausoleum which may or may not be Elvis' final resting place.
Permanent or not, the people who carried him to this particular resting place included the following pallbearers:
Joe Esposito, Elvis' road manager; Dr. George Nichopoulos, the physician who pronounced him dead; Charlie Hodge, a guitarist and close friend; Lamar Fike, a friend; Billy Smith and Gene Smith, both cousins; Jerry Schilling, a friend; and George Klein, former Memphis radio disk jockey.
Ticket Refunds Set
Refunds on tickets for the Elvis Presley concerts scheduled for Aug. 27 and 28 will begin at 9 a.m. Monday at the Mid-South Coliseum box office, E. E'.Bubba' Bland, coliseum manager, said.
Elvis Presley's Epitaph & Eternal Flame Memorial
Rock Idol Elvis Presley Dies at 42
Elvis' Funeral Procession August 17, 1977
A Broken Heart... Hastened Death
World's At Standstill For Elvis' Fiancee
Firemen's Call To Graceland Was Anything But Routine
Elvis Presley and the Events Of 1977
Australian Press 1977
Elvis Presley Family History : 1669-1935
Elvis Presley Biography
Gladys and Vernon Presley - Elvis Presley's Mother and Father
Jessie D. McDowell (J.D.) Presley - Elvis Presleys Grandfather
Elvis Presley's Graceland - 3764 Elvis Presley Boulevard
For a detailed history of Elvis Presley see our pages; starting at Elvis Presley 1935-1953
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