Four years ago I was a new girl in town and figuring out the local landmarks. I had heard of the fabled 24 Hour Church of Elvis (not really open 24 hours and no longer open at all) but didn’t have a reason to go there until I heard about the Dead Elvis Parade taking place on the death anniversary, which also happens to be the anniversary of my birth. I conned a bunch of friends into joining me (“C’mon, it’s my birthday… it’ll be campy and fun!”) so this particular Tuesday night found us in an alley in downtown Portland gathering with an odd assortment of night owls.

Loading Elvis into the shopping cart float

Stephanie Pierce, minister and celebrity spokesmodel for the 24 Hour Church of Elvis, came down and explained to us that the preperations for the parade were underway, but she needed someone to protect us from Elvis. I volunteered, invoking my birthday as a reason to pick me, but she went in favor of a pre-pubescent girl, explaining that she needed a “pure soul.” (Okay, she had me there.) The girl was handed a toy laser pistol and a sparkly Elvis cape while I was handed a mannequin torso with a string “strap” and a hammer to play as a dirge. The girl and the Saturday Market Elvis Impersonator faced off in the middle of the street as Stephanie announced that the Millennium was nigh and that Elvis would take over the world unless there was someone to stop him. Elvis and the girl drew their weapons, but the girl was faster. With a couple of faint blips from the toy pistol, Elvis staggered backward and fell to the ground.

Some punk kid with an Explicit Lyrics shirt rushed forward and put his ear to the street performer’s chest. “He’s DEAD!!!” This launched the gathered “mourners” into stream of wails, moans, and cries of “Elvis is Dead!” and “Long Live the King!” Stephanie recruited several strong people from the mourners and directed them to take care of the body, so they carefully deposited the inert form into a ready shopping cart decorated with holiday tinsel. With the shopping cart “hearse” in the lead, we wound our way through the streets of downtown Portland wailing about the death of the King. Then the hearse stopped. Someone cried out, “I think I saw him move!” as Elvis pulled himself out of the cart and proceeded to sing a couple of a capella tunes on the street corner.

We cheered and sang along until a contingent of mourners with carnival-style inflatable hammers beat Elvis to “death” and placed him back in the shopping cart. This pattern continued multiple times where we would moan and wail, Elvis would be resurrected and, then he would be beaten to death with inflatable hammers. The entire way I’m merrily beating out a dirge on the mannequin torso while one of my friends kept hissing in my ear, “I’m going to fucking kill you for dragging me to this thing. What a bunch of weirdos!!!” I shrugged it off because I was having the time of my life because this was high campiness! I finally agreed to leave the parade early after some creepy looking guy grabbed the ass of someone in my group, and we headed off towards the Gypsy in search of strong drink. (Yes, this really happened.)

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