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Gladys Presley's Elvis-designed tombstone returns to Graceland

By: Elvis Australia
Source: EPE
August 17, 2018
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In recognition of the 60th anniversary of Gladys Presley's death, the tombstone Elvis designed for his beloved mother - complete with a Star of David, to acknowledge her Jewish heritage - has been exhumed from storage and placed permanently at the Graceland Meditation Garden, near the grave of Gladys' world-famous son.

Fans and mourners participating in Wednesday night's candlelight vigil will be among the first in decades to encounter the grave marker, which has been unseen since 1977, when Vernon Presley moved the bodies of his son and wife from nearby Forest Hill Cemetery to the south side of the mansion that was Elvis' home from 1957 until his death on Aug. 16, 20 years later.

The marble tombstone, which identifies Gladys Presley as the 'Sunshine of Our Home', was removed from the voluminous Graceland storage archive and placed in the Meditation Garden on Tuesday morning, on the anniversary of Gladys Presley's Aug. 14, 1958, death.

Gladys Presley's Elvis-designed tombstone returns to Graceland.
Gladys Presley's Elvis-designed tombstone returns to Graceland.

The stone is more or less reunited with the large marble cross, angels and statue of Jesus that originally were at Forest Hill and are now just east of the garden's burial plots for Elvis, Gladys, Vernon and grandmother Minnie Mae Presley. Each of the graves is covered with a large bronze marker; the garden also contains a memorial marker dedicated to Elvis' stillborn twin brother, Jesse Garon Presley. This week the graves are surrounded with elaborate floral arrangements, as thousands of fans from around the world make the journey to Graceland for Elvis Week.

The unearthing of Gladys Presley's tombstone was not publicized. Instead, Graceland officials mentioned it this week during a meeting of fan club presidents, on the theory that the news then would get out via word of mouth.

'We decided we didn't want to make a lot of fanfare about it', said Angie Marchese, vice president of archives and exhibits at Graceland. 'It was just done to honor Elvis' mom and to fulfill what we think would have been his wish'.

In any case, 'the night of the candlelight vigil, everyone's going to see it', she said.

Marchese - a Graceland archivist for 27 years - said she has been interested in restoring the grave marker to public view since she first discovered it inside a crate in the Elvis archives, now housed inside a 20,000-square-foot warehouse that contains an estimated 1.5 million items.

Gladys Presley's Elvis-designed tombstone returns to Graceland.
Gladys Presley's Elvis-designed tombstone returns to Graceland.

Reunited with the Presley marble cross and statues that overlooked it at Forest Hill Cemetery, the Gladys Presley tombstone has been removed from storage for display at Graceland.
Reunited with the Presley marble cross and statues that overlooked it at Forest Hill Cemetery, the Gladys Presley tombstone has been removed from storage for display at Graceland. (Photo: Graceland)

Gladys Presley was only 46 when she died, after being hospitalized with hepatitis in 1958, when Elvis was undergoing basic training at Fort Hood, Texas, after being drafted into the Army.

Elvis returned to Memphis on emergency leave, but Gladys died at the hospital of heart failure. Elvis had his mother buried in Forest Hill Cemetery, with a gravestone marked with a cross that identified her as Gladys Smith Presley.

Six years later, after Elvis was deep into study of his family history and what Marchese called 'his personal spiritual journey', he replaced his mother's now vanished and presumably destroyed original tombstone with a new one crafted to his specifications. In addition to a cross, the new marker included a Star of David, in recognition of Gladys' Jewish heritage on her mother's side. The new stone identifies Mrs. Presley as Gladys Love Presley, replacing her maiden name with her middle name, presumably because 'love' was the emotion Elvis most associated with his mother.

Vernon and Gladys Presley (Photo: AP).
Vernon and Gladys Presley (Photo: AP).

That tombstone was at Forest Hill until 1977, when an attempted 'body snatching' of Elvis' remains from the mausoleum where the singer was interred persuaded Vernon Presley to move his wife and son to Graceland, at which time the marker was put into storage.

Marchese said the anniversary of Gladys Presley's death seemed like an appropriate time to restore the tombstone to public view.

'We knew it meant so much to Elvis, but it had to be the right time', she said. 'When to do it, where to do it, how to do it - it had to feel right'.

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Interviews with or about Elvis Presley Interview with Vernon Presley by Nancy Anderson : Good Housekeeping, January 1978
Articles about Elvis Presley Vernon and Gladys Presley : Elvis Presley's Mother and Father
Interviews with or about Elvis Presley The Death of Gladys Love Presley : August 14, 1958

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Elvis Presley Photos Vernon and Gladys Presley
Articles about Elvis Presley Jessie D. McDowell (J.D.) Presley : Elvis Presleys Grandfather
Articles about Elvis Presley Elvis' middle name, is it Aron or Aaron?

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