Sunday, August 23, 2015

HGB Podcast Ep. 63 - The Life and Afterlife of Elvis Presley

Moment in Oddity - La Pascualita

There is a very eerie mannequin in the store window at a bridal shop located in Chihuahua, Mexico. La Pascualita, as the mannequin is called, was installed in the window at La Casa de Pascualita in 1930. She is so life-like that legend claims she is a real woman who has been perfectly embalmed. Even more curious is that the owner in 1930, Pascuala Esparza, had a daughter who had died on her wedding day after being bitten by a black widow spider. The mannequin bares an uncanny resemblance to Esparza. It is not only the face of La Pascualita that seems so life-like. Her hands are so detailed that they look just as human as my hands. And her legs even have varicose veins. People who come into the shop claim that her eyes follow them as they move around the store and employees think she moves at night. An employee who has to change the mannequin's clothes says she gets very nervous when she has to do it because La Pascualita seems so real. Some have dubbed her the Corpse Bride. One legend claims a magician would come and bring her to life at night and take her out on the town. She more than likely is the work of a very talented sculptor who captured the likeness of the previous store owner, but just like a doll, she sure gives us the heebee jeebees because she is so odd.

This Day in History - Mt. Vesuvius Buries Pompeii

On this day, August 24th, in 79 AD, the most catastrophic eruption of a volcano occurred. Near the ancient city of Pompeii in Italy was located a volcano named Mount Vesuvius. Pliny theYounger, who was a Roman poet, gave an eyewitness description of the destruction wreaked when Mt. Vesuvius literally blew its top. For several years, violent earthquakes had rocked the area giving early indications that all was not well with the volcano. On the morning of August 24th, ash and smoke began to spew from the volcano. At 1pm, Vesuvius erupted throwing ash across the region, blanketing everything. Then a quick moving deadly flow of lava that was intensely hot began rushing forward, knocking down every building in its path. The eruption lasted for two days. It is believed that 1500 people died during the eruption. Modern day research and study of the cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum, which were completely destroyed, reveals that many of the people were killed by falling roofs and debris, rather than from the ash. Some people were encased in ash though and their bodies were slightly preserved because of this. Many were killed in a fraction of a second. The blast was a hundred thousand times the thermal energy of the Hiroshima bombing. Proving that even man cannot create something as powerful as what nature can create.

The Life and Afterlife of Elvis Presley

Being born into poverty does not usually relegate someone into a life of opulence and superstardom; a fame so great that everyone knows the person by just one name. Such was the life of Elvis Presley. It was a life cut short 38 years ago this month, but the legacy of Elvis lives on whether it be his influence on music, style or entertainment. After his death, it was popular for there to be sightings of Elvis. Some thought he faked his death so he could live a normal life. While many sightings have been of fully alive people who happened to look like the man dubbed "The King of Rock and Roll," other sightings have been of a ghostly image of Elvis. On this episode, we explore the life and afterlife of Elvis Presley.

Elvis Aaron Presley was born on January 8, 1935 along with his twin Jessie Garon to Gladys and Vernon Presley in Tupelo, Mississippi. Jessie was stillborn and Elvis would feel the pain of that loss his entire life. Vernon had built a small two room shotgun style house before the twins were born and Elvis entered life in that house. Vernon and Gladys were poor and Vernon had a hard time finding work. In 1938, the Presleys would lose their house and Vernon went to jail for eight months for check fraud. Gladys and Elvis would form a very close co-dependent bond and she would come to rely on Elvis more than Vernon. The Presleys attended church and Elvis started his love of music there.

Elvis' first public performance was at the age of ten. He dressed up like a cowboy and sang "Old Shep" at a contest. He took fifth place, but his parents soon bought him a guitar and encouraged him to continue with music. Elvis enjoyed listening to Mississippi Slim's radio show and picked up his hillbilly rock sound from that while also being inspired by the spirituals he heard sung in his mostly black neighborhood. Mississippi Slim taught Elvis how to play chords on his guitar and even let him sing on-air. Elvis was a loner and painfully shy. He got stage fright and was unable to sing the first time he was invited on the radio, but he was able to sing the next time.

In 1948, the Presleys moved into public housing apartments in Memphis, Tennessee. Elvis entered high school in Memphis and had a music teacher that thought he had no talent and disliked the music Elvis performed. Elvis was also bullied as a mama's boy because he was so close to his mother. Vernon continued to be a never-do-well in Memphis. In 1950, Elvis started singing with a group of boys performing rockabilly. At this same time, Elvis blossomed into his own unique self that would cause him to standout for the rest of his life. He grew his sideburns long, styled his hair with vaseline and started wearing wild stylish clothes he purchased with his own money he earned working odd jobs. In 1953, he took to the stage at a talent show and he soon found himself popular in school based on his performance. Elvis decided that music would be his life.

In 1954, Elvis headed down to Sun Records to record a present for his mother. He wanted to make her a record. He performed "My Happiness" and "That's When Your Heartaches Begin." Elvis told the receptionist at Sun Records that he didn't sound like anybody else and he was right. Sam Philips was the owner of Sun Records and he took note of Elvis' name, but was not initially interested in his singing. Most people in the music industry did not appreciate Elvis' talents. He was told by one man to stick to truck driving because he would never make it as a singer. Philips had long been seeking someone that had the sound of the black soul singers, but was a white man. He thought Elvis might just be that person. He asked two local musicians, bassist Bill Black and guitarist Scotty Moore, to play on a record with Elvis. The trio worked for hours to develop something to no avail. They were about to give up when Elvis started strumming his guitar and singing "That's Alright Mama." Philips knew that was the sound he wanted and he recorded the trio's first record.

Philips took the record to a local DJ and people went nuts for the song. Callers phoned in all night asking who the singer was and the DJ ended up playing the song on a continuous loop for the last two hours of his show. And the legend that would become the "King of Rock and Roll" was begun. The next day, the trio recorded "Blue Moon of Kentucky" and it became the B side of "That's Alright Mama." The group began performing locally and Elvis found that his stage fright caused his legs to shake. He would move his legs to try to hide his nerves and the cut of his pants emphasized the movement. Girls started to notice. Elvis realized that the movements got positive reactions, so he went with it and his bassist Black would follow suit, riding his bass and beating on it with what Elvis' called a jungle drum sound. The trio continued to record and play clubs and finally made it to the Grand Ole Opry stage. It would be Elvis' only performance there as the manager felt he did not suit the venue.

Elvis had been playing the same guitar he had received as a child this whole time. He finally purchased a new Martin guitar after the group was booked for the Louisiana Hayride for repeated performances on Saturdays. Elvis was moving up in music, but his mother was not happy. She continuously worried about him and guilted him for being away. In 1955, Elvis met Colonel Tom Parker who was a promoter. He took Elvis under his wing and began booking him. Elvis found himself in a weird predicament at this time when it came to his music. One could say he was the first crossover artists. Radio stations did not know what genre his music was and the records had a hard time finding airtime. Some said they were blues, some said jazz and others said country. His songs were actually a mix of all of them and this sound became known as rockabilly.

D.J. Fontana joined the trio as a drummer and they began playing in shows with Bill Haley and the Comets. Parker got Elvis signed to RCA Records. They reissued his Sun Recordings and he began singing new songs under the label. In January of 1956, Elvis recorded "Heartbreak Hotel" for RCA. Colonel Parker took on the role as Elvis' manager at this time as well. Elvis' debut album with RCA was the first rock and roll album to ever top the Billboard charts. Elvis made two appearances on the Milton Berle Show with the second appearance causing a huge firestorm across America because of his exaggerated gyrations. The Steve Allen Show forced Elvis to stand still, dress in a tux and sing "Hound Dog" to a basset hound. Elvis made the best of it and played it like comedy, but he always felt it was his most ridiculous performance.

Paramount Pictures signed Elvis to a seven year contract at this time and it was an open contract that allowed him to work for other studios. Elvis would make 31 films in his career and not be happy with most of the roles he played. He loved watching movies and he desired to be like James Dean. He wanted gritty roles, but most movies would basically showcase his singing talent. His debut film "Love Me Tender" did well and probably came closest to giving him the kind of role he wanted. Jailhouse Rock was one of his grittier roles as well and Diane's favorite Elvis movie.

Elvis continued to perform live and his concerts became near riots with girls screaming and passing out the minute he would step on stage. His records continued to hit number one and in 1957 he was able to purchase his beloved Graceland, an 18 room mansion in Memphis. He moved both of his parents into the home with him. Elvis was drafted the following year and entered the Army believing that his singing career would be over. He managed to record some songs when he was on leave and as we all know, his career was anything but finished. Two major life events happened during his tour of duty. The first was the loss of his mother who died at only 46 from heart failure. She had been suffering from hepatitis previous to this. Elvis was devastated. The relationship they shared was strange and she was probably the only woman Elvis ever truly loved. The second life event was that he met Priscilla Beaulieu while he was serving in Germany.

Priscilla was only 14-years-old when she met Elvis at a party at his place in Germany. They dated while he was stationed there and when he returned to America, she thought the romance was over. By March of 1963, Priscilla was moved into Graceland despite being underaged. Her parents agreed to the arrangement as long as Elvis promised to marry her and as long as she attended an all girls Catholic school. Priscilla was left at Graceland while Elvis went to Hollywood to make movies and he carried on multiple affairs with his co-stars. He did eventually marry Priscilla in 1967 and she would give birth to Elvis' only child, Lisa Marie.

Elvis' abuse of amphetamines began while he was in the Army and he would abuse prescription drugs for the rest of his life believing they helped him perform and helped to keep the weight off. He got Priscilla started on them as well. Their marriage was doomed from the beginning. Elvis had never wanted to marry and his fame and the Memphis Mafia, which was his close circle of friends and body guards, kept Elvis distant from Priscilla. And then there was Colonel Parker. While he helped Elvis attain much of the fame and success he had due to his management, he also pushed people away from Elvis and helped to keep him drug addicted.

The hits still kept coming from Elvis despite his home troubles. Nobody has touched the heights Elvis reached except for The Beatles. He and Priscilla separated in 1972 and were divorced the next year. Despite the divorce, Priscilla founded and ran Elvis Presley Enterprises in order to protect Lisa Marie's inheritance, but she also remained close with Elvis, holding his hand as they left the courthouse. Priscilla would turn the meager $1 million inheritance to $100 million with her business prowess.

Elvis continued to star in movies that were panned by critics, but commercial successes. During his marriage to Priscilla, the songs that Elvis recorded steadily sank on the charts. The number one spot alluded him for five years, save for one song, "Crying in the Chapel." He decided to perform in a television special that was dubbed, "The '68 Comeback Special." Elvis wore black leather and performed before an intimate crowd in a mainly acoustic style. It was a huge success. He fell in love with music again. He started performing in concerts again and wearing the elaborate jumpsuits that we all know him by today.

Elvis became a mainstay in Vegas in these later years and requests came in from around the world for him to perform. Newsweek proclaimed of Elvis, "There are several unbelievable things about Elvis, but the most incredible is his staying power in a world where meteoric careers fade like shooting stars." The schedule Elvis kept was grueling. He ate poorly and fueled his energy with prescription drugs. Elvis never thought of himself as an addict, but he was as addicted as any skidrow junkie and it would kill him eventually. His health began to fade quickly. In 1973, he overdosed on barbituates twice. This didn't stop him from running with an equally crazy concert tour in 1974. His bandmates really feared for his life and watched as he used the microphone stand to hold himself up and slurred through songs that were barely intelligible.

Elvis continued to record a few songs in the 70s, but his last albums were basically live recordings of his concerts. RCA set up a studio for him at Graceland, but Elvis was unable to record. He could barely perform live at this point. By early 1977, he was giving very short concerts, barely staying on stage for an hour, or just not showing up for concerts altogether. His concert tour was cancelled. On August 16, 1977, Elvis went into his bathroom and he did not come out. His girlfriend, Ginger Alden, found him unresponsive on the floor and called 911. Elvis Presley was pronounced dead at 3:30pm at Baptist Memorial Hospital. Years of drug use had taken their toll. Elvis' had genetic heart disease and the drugs probably hastened his death.

But some refuse to believe that Elvis is dead. To this day, people still claim to catch sightings of him. In 1998, a man by the name of Jimmy Ellis was murdered in a pawn shop he owned in Alabama. Jimmy had a music career at one time. He went by the stage name Orion and he wore a mask like Zorro. He gained some fame, not because of his talent, but because he looked and sounded just like Elvis. People began to believe he was Elvis. A new documentary entitled "Orion: The Man Who Would Be King" details his struggle to get out from Elvis' shadow. The world wanted Elvis back and that desire led many to believe Ellis was the King. Other sightings happened as well. But the sightings we are interested in are the sightings of Elvis in the afterlife.

As is the case with many haunted people we have featured on the podcast, Elvis' spirit is seen and felt at many locations. But his favorite place is still Graceland. Many fans have snapped photos of Graceland and captured what looks like the spirit of Elvis peering out from windows. His grave is behind Graceland and his full bodied apparition has been seen standing near the grave. He has also been spotted going up and down the stairs inside his home. Tour guides have been asked by visitors who the man impersonating Elvis is, but the tours do not feature Elvis impersonators. The sound of a male singing upstairs at Graceland has been heard.

On one particular tour, several people claimed that Elvis had appeared to them and asked what they were doing in his house. Then it happened again and again over several days. At least nine people claimed to have the same experience of a young Elvis asking them the question about being in his home.

It was in 1980, on December 20th, that Elvis was picked up by five separate people in their cars. He was wearing an Army uniform and was young. He asked the drivers to stop at the gates of Graceland. One of the drivers was driving a truck and he claimed that the young Elvis sang for him while they drove. There are others who have seen Elvis dressed in a uniform near Graceland on other days as well.

Wayne Newton claims to have seen the ghost of Elvis once when he was performing. He said that it happened when he was on stage playing a set and the lights went very dark and everything in the room seemed to stop. He looked up at the balcony, which was suppose to be empty and saw a man standing there. There suddenly was a light behind the man and there was no doubt in Wayne Newton's mind that the figure was Elvis in a jumpsuit. Then he saw his face and Elvis was smiling at him as though he approved of the performance. Then he disappeared, the lights came back up again and the room was full of the sounds of the performance.

The Las Vegas Hilton was a favorite place for Elvis to perform and he seems to be hanging out in the afterlife. His apparition has been seen wearing his traditional rhinestone jumpsuit hurrying in the direction of the stage. When people attempt to interact with the apparition, it disappears. Most interesting is that a ghostly Cadillac joins Elvis at the Hilton. Elvis used to have his own private entrance into the hotel. A concrete wall now stands where that entrance once had been. Witnesses claim to see a man who looks like Elvis driving a red Cadillac around the Hilton and that when he arrives at the concrete wall, he and the car go right through as if the private entrance was still there.

Elvis lived bigger than life. Is it possible for a life like that just to end? Is it just the legend of Elvis that lives on or does he continue on in the afterlife? Are people truly seeing the ghost of Elvis? That is for you to decide!

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