Rare Photo: Gladys Presley's Original Gravesite at Forest Hill Cemetery — Mother of Elvis Presley



Digging through a box of dusty 35mm slides purchased at a Memphis estate sale, I found the usual stuff — family photos, shots of Christmas trees, lots of living rooms and kitchens, and lots and lots and LOTS of pictures of flowers in somebody's garden.

And then I found this — a rare photo of Gladys Presley's original gravesite in Forest Hill Cemetery, taken in 1958, judging from the date scribbled on the slide mount.

Most people vaguely familiar with the life of the King of Rock-and-Roll know that his beloved mother died while Elvis was stationed in Germany Texas after being drafted into the Army. But after that, they're not so sure about things.

Here's what happened. Gladys, in poor health for years, died of heart failure on August 14, 1958. She was just 46 years old. Elvis was given a short leave to return home and help his father, Vernon, with the funeral arrangements. After a service at Memphis Funeral Home on Union (since demolished), Gladys was laid to rest in Forest Hill Cemetery, just up the road a bit from Graceland.

For some reason, some Elvis biographers say she was buried just outside the entrance to the old mausoleum at Forest Hill, but that's wrong. Her original grave is at the top of a hill, in the older section of the cemetery. As you can see in the old photo, a very impressive white marble monument, adorned with an angel and cherubs, stood guard over the grave. I've never been able to find out much about this monument; one source said that members of Elvis' band bought it for him, but I don't know if that's true.

Almost 20 years later, Elvis died at Graceland, on August 16, 1977. He was placed into a crypt in the Forest Hill Mausoleum, and Gladys was disinterred and placed in the crypt just below his, in a gated room inside the mausoleum. So you see, Gladys was actually buried at Forest Hill, and then later her body was placed in the mausoleum. About two weeks later, as most people remember, there was a botched attempt to steal Elvis' remains from the crypt — the exact motive for this has never been revealed — so city officials determined that the bodies of Elvis and his mother, in their matching copper coffins — would be moved to Graceland, where they rest today.

And what about this imposing monument at Forest Hill? It was actually dismantled and moved to Graceland as well, where it stands just outside the Meditation Gardens. A spokesperson for the cemetery remembers when it was moved: "Oh yes, it was quite a job." If you go to Forest Hill today, and know just where to look, you can find the concrete slab for the Presley monument is still in place. In fact, here's a photo (below) I took last week, from the same vantage point as the original photographer. The dark slab in the foreground marks the site of the Presley monument. That stone building in the background — which isn't as gloomy-looking today as it seems in the old photo — is a private tomb for another family.

And as for the girls in the photo? I have no idea. Does anybody recognize them?

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Ask Vance is the blog of Vance Lauderdale, the award-winning columnist of Memphis magazine and MBQ: Inside Memphis Business.  Vance is the author of three books: Ask Vance: The Best Questions and Answers from Memphis Magazine's History and Trivia Expert (2003), as well as Ask Vance: More Questions and Answers from Memphis Magazine's History Expert (2011) and Vance Lauderdale's Lost Memphis (2013). He is also the recipient of quite a few nice awards, the creator of several eye-catching wall calendars, and the only person we know with a vintage shock-treatment machine in his den. 

You can find him from time to time in the pages of the Memphis Flyer and MBQ, on WKNO television, and on Facebook. When he is not exploring the highways and byways of Memphis, he spends his time sleeping, napping, and dozing.

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