Loyal to the end--and beyond--fans flock to Graceland and remember

August 17, 1991|By Rafael Alvarez | Rafael Alvarez,Sun Staff Correspondent

MEMPHIS, TENN. — Kathy Jean Sidlowski was 13 when she saw the movie "Elvis Aloha from Hawaii."

It changed her life forever.

She had fallen for The King, and yesterday, almost 20 years later, on the 14th anniversary of his death, Kathy Jean finally made it to Graceland.

"I've been waiting a long time," said the Perry Hall resident, who graduated from Northern High School in 1976. "But then I got married and then I had kids, and it was put on hold."

She couldn't make the trip while she was married to a man who only allowed her to put up Elvis posters in the laundry room. But Kathy Sidlowski is 32 now -- and single -- and this week she was among some 30,000 people from around the world who came to this Mississippi River town to pay tribute to The King of Rock and Roll.

She was ecstatic.

"It's great," she said yesterday as she toured the white-columned home that sits on 14 acres of former farmland. "Just to see where he sat and played the piano . . . just to be close to that is fabulous. But it was so crowded I just wanted everybody to get out of my way."

Her feelings -- a strong emotional attachment to someone she never knew -- are typical of many of the people who come here every year on Aug. 16, people from Czechoslovakia to Japan to South Africa.

Hot Springs, Ark., resident Naomia Stiers, believed by Graceland to be the world's oldest Elvis fan at 87, said that it happened for her like this in 1956: "The first time I saw him on the Ed Sullivan show, it just seemed to me that he was pleading with me to love him."

Those are the kind of people that Kathy Sidlowski met in the last two days as she took part in a 12,000-strong candlelight vigil at midnight Thursday, as she bought Elvis clocks and towels and mugs for a home where she can put The King anywhere she wants, and as she walked through the "Hall of Gold" that displays some of the records Presley sold -- records that, spinning end to end, would reach around the equator at least three times.

She met people like Eddie Fidal, a former Waco, Texas, disc jockey who befriended Elvis in the spring of 1956. "I invited him back to my home after a show and we were sitting up talking late," said Mr. Fidal, whose wife could never burn the bacon black enough to satisfy Elvis when he stayed to eat. "But the fans figured out that he was at my house and they swarmed the place. They were in the trees, in the bushes, and on top of the house."

Ms. Sidlowski had a guided tour of Memphis and Graceland from an expert, Pat Carr, president of the "Welcome to Our Elvis World" fan club -- one of three Baltimore-area Presley organizations with members here this week.

Ms. Carr walked through the mansion with Ms. Sidlowski, pointing out minor errors in the tour guides' spiels. A year ago, Ms. Sidlowski didn't know Ms. Carr or even that a club existed in her own hometown devoted to the same man to whom she is devoted.

"I went to an Elvis convention at the Harford Mall in January and found out about the fan club," she said. "Then I went to one of their meetings, just walked into a room full of people I didn't know, and I knew we had something in common. They made me feel at home. We have the same feelings."

Ms. Sidlowski told Ms. Carr she had never been to Graceland, DTC and the club president said that she needed a partner for this year's pilgrimage. "I said: "That's me!" Ms. Sidlowski recalled.

While here, she toured the Elvis jet and the Elvis car museum and attended a long memorial service at Memphis State University.

The tour of the Presley mansion takes only 90 minutes, but Ms. Sidlowski discovered that she couldn't do all the Elvis hoopla in a day or even a week. So she wants to come back next year, and every year after that. "I'm tired," she said after the second day of her non-stop Elvis binge. "But I'm not tired enough."

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