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), Glady 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 Glady was disinterred and placed in the crypt just below his, in a gated room inside the mausoleum. So you see, Glady 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?

Reader Comments:
Nov 19, 2012 12:42 am
 Posted by  Anonymous

Hi there:

I am an Elvis fan and author, presently working on a book about his army days. The above slide is very interesting and I would like to use it in my book if I may.

Please let me know. Check out www.elvis-in-munich.de

Thanks so much


Nov 19, 2012 09:36 am
 Posted by  Anonymous

Elvis had not yet shipped out to Germany when Gladys died. He was stationed at Fort Hood. He was granted emergency leave, and was able to visit with his mother before she died. The story about the band buying the monument is untrue.

Nov 19, 2012 11:02 am
 Posted by  hepcatkitten

What is now a slab and was then the marker is how my dad first showed me how to find one of my own family members (his older brother) who died as an infant in the early 30s, on the opposite side and across the road and behind a hedge bush.

It's how I remember to look for it to this day as well as other family members who are buried nearby.

It's good to see a photo of when it was still there. Today it looks as if pieces from the slab have been etched away, probably by fans.

Nov 19, 2012 12:14 pm
 Posted by  Anonymous

I went to Forest Hill during Elvis week 2012. I went into the Mausoleum, it was so so sad to think Elvis there all alone. I am so happy that Vernon had Elvis body moved back to his beloved home Graceland and is now lying there with his mother , father and Grandma Minnie Mae or lovingly known by Elvis as Dodger.

Nov 20, 2012 05:33 am
 Posted by  Anonymous

Can you please add the letter "s" to the two Gladys words that are without it?

This monument is not outside the Meditation Garden, it is very much an integral part of it. Although it wasn't in the Garden during Elvis' lifetime, it was placed near the graves when Elvis and Gladys were interred in Elvis' Meditation Garden.

This Cross Monument was most certainly not paid for by the band. Elvis would have paid for his own mother's Grave Monument.

Nov 21, 2012 06:14 pm
 Posted by  clmullins

"...the exact motive for this has never been revealed"
Surely jaded collectors like the Lauderdales can appreciate one of a kind collectibles. Once skeletal, what a fine addition to an equally musty library.

Nov 22, 2012 07:47 am
 Posted by  Anonymous

Further to my post above, Gladys is actually writen, not twice,but three times, without an "s". Please can it be corrected?

Also, this Monument is not an "Angel with two Cherubs" as stated. This Cross has the figure of Jesus Christ, and two Angels.

Nov 26, 2012 09:50 am
 Posted by  Anonymous

ANONYMOUS....get a life...really...are you a teacher?????

May 25, 2013 03:18 pm
 Posted by  Anonymous

I went to Memphis for the first time in June 09 but then it wasn`t enough, I had to go back, I went for the second time for Elvis week 2012 6th-17th was the date of our trip. My friends and I visited all the "Elvis places" including the cemetery at Forest Hill. I was so sad to think of him in that oh so lonely place. I am so happy that Vernon had Elvis moved to his beloved Graceland. I don`t think I have ever cried so much in my whole life except maybe when he died. (family of course) I cannot imagine my life had Elvis not been in it. He was is and always will be the greatest singer/entertainer the world has ever or will ever see. No one will replace him because no one will ever be good enough. Chris Clarke, England.

Aug 15, 2013 03:57 pm
 Posted by  mcna24

I was so saddened ,I left work fri 8/17/77 and my husband and I drove to Memphis from Salisbury N.C.I had to be there.I have a few pictures of the busloads of people and the long walk to the mausoleum ..,remember picking up some leaves from flowers that were left there as a memnto..and some small stones beside the wall and fence where we walked to get a view of the back of Graceland..65 and still fresh in my mind as if happened yesterday..hope to return and tour Graceland one day ..a dream of mine ..Tcb still Loving you ELVIS

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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. 

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