Who will be next, Elvis?

Kevin Cowherd

June 28, 1991|By Kevin Cowherd

THE LONG national nightmare is over: Zachary Taylor died of natural causes and NOT as the result of someone slipping him an arsenic cocktail or dropping a piano on his head from 12 stories up or whatever it was that that writer was hinting at.

Certainly the news out of Louisville has done much to calm the American psyche.

Was it me or did it seem that everywhere you went in recent weeks, people were huddled around TV sets and radios, clamoring for the latest info on the exhumation of the 12th president of the United States?

Honestly, I was nearly going out of my mind here at the newspaper, --ing from one ringing phone to the next and barking into the receiver: "FOR GOD'S SAKE, WE DON'T KNOW ANYTHING YET! WHEN WE DO, WE'LL PRINT IT!"

But all that is behind us now. Lord willing and the creek don't rise, we can look forward to an exhumation-free rest of the summer and bask in the afterglow that naturally accompanies the re-interment of old bones, skull, fingernails, etc., of a person who died 141 years ago.

Until they dig up Elvis.

This is simply a matter of time now. Mark my words, Elvis will be the next target, spurred on by the legions of foamy-mouthed lunatics who insist The King is alive and bagging groceries at a Winn Dixie somewhere.

You think the country was buzzing about Zachary Taylor? When they start poking around in Elvis Presley's grave, it'll make the Persian Gulf war look like an entertainment filler on the 6 o'clock news.

In addition to determining whether the The King is dead or alive (I'm betting heavily on Door No. 1), exhuming Elvis would put to rest once and for all the elaborate conspiracy theories that have swirled around him for years.

"Honey, Elvis was killed by the Soviet KGB," a wild-eyed woman in a bar told me not long ago. "Had to do with the whole Lee Harvey Oswald thing."

"That a fact?" I said.

"Yup," she said, firing up a Salem and thoughtfully tossing the match on my arm. "I hear they murdered Elvis in Cuba."

Quickly I drained my beer and ran into the street to flag down a police car, as it was only a matter of time before the woman reached into her purse, pulled out a large kitchen knife, and began waving it at the patrons.

This is yet another reason why I don't frequent barrooms the way I used to: The quality of the drunks has gone downhill.

In the old days, drunks would do nothing more annoying than spill an occasional drink on you or pass out on the pool table.

Now they apparently have taken to the inhalation of cleaning fluids in the rest rooms and the ritual harassment of innocent customers with wild tales about Elvis.

Getting back to the Zachary Taylor exhumation, the question is: Why all the fuss about how he died in the first place?

As the story goes, Taylor became sick after attending the dedication of the Washington Monument in 1850. He died a few days later. At first the doctors didn't know why, although no one was ruling out demonic possession, a popular diagnosis at the time.

But after a spirited session of "Eenie, meanie, meinie, mo" around the Physicians' Desk Reference, they decided to list the cause of death as gastroenteritis, inflammation of the stomach and intestines.

Back then, of course, life was much harder and death did not hold quite the cachet that it does today.

People were dropping like flies all the time. You were lucky if you made it through breakfast without dying. If you were still alive at dinner, they'd break out a cake and candles and pass out the party hats.

So Zachary Taylor's death was no big deal -- at least to anyone except him and his immediate family.

And it remained no big deal for the next 141 years, until this nosy writer came along to research a book on Taylor (say, there's a best-seller in the wings).

Finally, after months and months of research, the writer came up with this wild story about the president being thrown from a donkey or pushed off a cliff or whatever it was that she said.

Frankly, I was losing interest in the story at this point, and found my eyes closing at the mere mention of the word "exhumation," unless it involved Elvis.

"I'm relieved it's over," Taylor's great-great-great-great-granddaughter said of the whole uproar.

She's relieved it's over?

I'm the one who had to answer the phones.

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