An old high school buddy of mine is also an Elvis fan. He lives in Indiana and has a background in history education. So, it was a pleasant surprise when he sent me a copy of the Spring 2008 issue of Traces, the publication of the Indiana Historical Society, with this cover story: “The King’s Last Concert – Elvis Presley in Indianapolis.”
Although Elvis was in poor health in 1977, he still toured extensively. During the first six months, he gave fifty-five concerts all over the country. In June he embarked on a ten-day tour through seven mid-western states. He drew almost 18,000 fans to the last stop at The Market Square Arena in Indianapolis on June 26. Fifty-one days later he was dead.
The article in Traces was written by Rita Rose, former Assistant Entertainment Editor of the morning Indianapolis Star. Much of her story focused on her original review of the concert and that of Zack Dunkin, the rock music critic of the afternoon Indianapolis News. He slammed Elvis pretty hard on several counts. However, I cannot see the sense of this statement: “When you pay $15 to see Elvis, you should see Elvis for three hours instead of one hour, 20 minutes.” Come on, Mr. Dunkin, let’s be fair. How many other concerts did you ever catch that lasted for three hours? Not any, I’ll bet. Certainly, none of the fans (who attended the concert) interviewed for the Traces article said anything about believing they were shortchanged.
Unused ticket from the Elvis’ last concert, listed on E-bay at $300
Mr. Dunkin also said, “It’s time ardent Presley fans quit protecting their idol and started demanding more. They know ’the King’ can do better.” The concert review appeared on the front page of the News, and that created a lot of attention. For months afterward, Mr. Dunkin was tagged as an Elvis hater, and he received hate mail, even an angry letter from his father. I love Mr. Dunkin’s later quote: “What I learned was, you don’t mess with the King.”
Rita Rose’s own review in the Star began by referencing Elvis’ October 1974 concert in Indianapolis. “The big question was, of course, had he lost weight? His last concert, nearly two years ago, found Elvis overweight, sick and prone to give a lethargic performance. As the lights in the Arena were turned down, you could feel a silent plea rippling through the audience: Please. Elvis, don’t be fat.”
Coming on stage
Belting out a high note
What Ms. Rose wrote next was far more favorable than that of her counterpart at the other paper. “And then he appeared, in a gold and white jumpsuit and white boots, bounding onstage with energy that was a relief to everyone. At 42, Elvis was still carrying around some excess baggage on his midsection, but it didn’t stop him from giving a performance in true Elvis style.”
Booklet from last concert – get one on E-bay for $150
Of course, newspaper reviewers never had the same reactions as the Elvis fans who attended his concerts. Here’s a great quote by Sheilah Craft from the Traces article: “I remember when the lights dimmed as he prepared to take the stage. I gripped the rail in front of me so tightly that my hands were sore. When the 2001 theme began, my heart skipped a few beats. But when I saw the top of his hair in the spotlight as he came on stage, my face and arms became numb. In retrospect, I think I must have been in some kind of shock at just the sight of him.”
The Elvis fans in the area objected loudly when it was announced in 1999 that the Market Square Arena was scheduled for demolition. They tried to save the building because of its historical significance as the home of Elvis’ last performance. Their efforts did not prevail, and demolition took place on July 8, 2001.
However, on June 26, 2002, a granite and bronze Elvis monument was erected on the former site. It cost $10,000, paid for entirely by donations from Elvis fans.
The monument includes a time capsule to be opened in a hundred years. Contained inside are fan letters, photos of fans with Elvis, and a scarf given by Elvis to one of the fans at the concert.
Thus, it is no surprise that Ms Rose’s article in Traces starts with: “Elvis will never leave the building, even if the building – Market Square Arena – is no longer standing.”
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