It was "for the kids," Patsy Anderson pleaded. And sure enough, one woman paid $80 for a bottle of spring water that had been loaded onto Elvis Presley's tour plane the day he died, to benefit the Children's Cancer Fund.
The bottle was "an Elvis Presley artifact," insisted Ms. Anderson, who coordinates Elvis Presley fan clubs. "It's the first time the Elvis Presley estate has let anything out."
The auction was the centerpiece of a "Tribute to Elvis Weekend" that included a dinner and dance Friday night, an appearance by the Jordanaires, Elvis' back-up singers, and performances by impersonators.
There was a teddy bear cookie jar and a hound dog doll; a pink umbrella decorated with black music notes and Elvis Presley silhouettes, an Elvis doll and a black leather belt with gold chains and gold studs made by the same guy who made Elvis' jewelry. It went for $125.
The cancer foundation has raised nearly $100,000 over the last six years through the annual event, according to Shirley Howard, foundation chairman.
"Elvis' whole life revolved around doing good for others," she told the 100 or so who showed up early yesterday. "Each year, we do this in his memory. We know he's looking down on us."
As the day wore on, the crowd grew larger, wandering among the tables of Elvis memorabilia, listening to Ms. Anderson or Joe Esposito, Elvis' road manager, denounce the supermarket tabloid stories that portray The King as a bloated junkie.
They loved Elvis, they swore. Elvis was "a fantastic person," insisted Kathy O'Connor, an Annapolis woman who said the night she saw Elvis at the Capital Centre was "the best night of my life."
And they were there for the Elvis impersonators. Early yesterday, Mrs. Howard introduced radio announcer Johnny Dark, who introduced TV sportscaster John Buren, who introduced, "my main man, MIKE EL!"
The drum roll started. A guitar twanged the opening notes of Richard Strauss' "Also Sprach Zarathustra" once, twice, three times. Cymbals crashed and the back-up band vamped the first few bars of "C .C. Rider" as Mike El emerged at the top of the stairs in the back of the room.
He was led to the stage by John Hillstrom, a portly 6-footer in his 60s who is a computer programmer in real life and a member of the Baltimore County Republican Central Committee.
Mike El, in a black-and-gold sequined jumpsuit and cape, stomped his pointy-toed, black patent-leather boots, grunted and grimaced, moved his arms windmill-fashion, and dropped to his knees as he sang "C. C. Rider," "Johnny B. Goode," "Don't Be Cruel" and "Love Me Tender."
Mr. Hillstrom, dressed in a dark suit, white shirt and red-and-white striped tie, stood impassively behind the singer, his hands folded across his stomach. Occasionally, he would drape a scarf around Mike El's neck. The scarf soon went to a woman who pressed close to the stage with dozens of others.
"It seems preposterous," Mike El said later as he explained to the women who crowded around him. "But there are so many Elvis fans out there who have gotten so caught up in his image that he is the love of their lives. And to watch an Elvis tribute show, like mine, is as close as they can get to him."
On one side of the stage, Lori Erdman snapped away furiously with her Polaroid camera, shaking each picture to dry it. She and her mother and her sister and her kids had been at the dance Friday night, driven home to Stevensville on the Eastern Shore and come back early for yesterday's show.
"I love the excitement," explained Ms. Erdman, 20, who named her son David Aaron, using Elvis' middle name. "I'm following in my mother's footsteps."
Her mother, Crystal, dressed in white Elvis Presley sweats, stood nearby smiling.
What was it about Elvis they loved so much?
"His body," mother and daughter chorused.
Uh, uh huh.