This Thursday, August 16, marks the 35th anniversary of Elvis Presley's death. The iconic singer spent a great deal of time in the Centennial State and had many adventures. In honor of the King, Backbeat is sharing some of these stories.
See also: - Retired Denver police officer Bob Cantwell on The King's "nurse" makes a house call - Bob Kortz on tracking down a black diamond for The King in the middle of the night - Velvet Elvis's Top 10 favorite Elvis songs in honor of the King's passing - Gym Elvis helped Denver Police Department build to be torn down
In early 1976, Elvis Presley snuck in the back door of Holy Family Catholic Church on 43rd and Utica dressed in a specially tailored replica police uniform. The occasion was the funeral of police captain Jerry Kennedy's brother. A year later, when the building was slated for remodeling, someone had the bright idea to auction off the thirteen-foot pew where the King had sat for the service. John Bucci was the lucky bidder at the church bazaar, which also featured one of Elvis's trademark jumpsuits.
In the summer of '77, Bucci had heard that one of Elvis's rhinestone-encrusted jumpsuits was being raffled off to help pay for the remodel. Denver police captain Jerry Kennedy had arranged this; he had, after all, been one of the King's guards and personal friends during Elvis's final years, and Elvis had personally seen that his backup vocalists sang at the funeral. Ever the generous superstar, Presley also donated one of the suits to help Holy Family pay its bills. "There was a full-length mannequin, and it was just... there," Bucci recalled recently at Nick's Cafe in Lakewood.
The pew where Elvis sat, while not an afterthought, was hardly the main reason Bucci was there. Neither were the various games and contests that made up the rest of the church's fundraiser bazaar. Bucci, a self-confessed Elvis aficionado, was set on winning that jumpsuit, going so far as to spend a quarter of his $850 monthly teacher's salary on raffle tickets.
It was a losing cause. A lady from New York ended up winning the jumpsuit. Adding injury to insult, she wasn't even in attendance when her winning name was announced. "You wouldn't believe the excitement and anticipation when they were announcing that jumpsuit," Bucci remembers. "It was a big letdown."
Down but not out, Bucci instead resolved to win the pew auction. It's a far cry from the instant recognition of the iconic Vegas-era outfit, but he figured it was worth trying for. Bidding started at $10, but it quickly went up. $20, $30, $40 -- in 1977 dollars, mind you -- until it came down to Bucci and one other aggressive bidder.
When the bidding hit the $50 mark, however, the other guy backed off. Bucci was the winner of perhaps one of the odder pieces of Americana he could have imagined owning. And he was satisfied with it, too; when his auction competitor called the next day, offering double what Bucci had paid, he graciously declined the offer.
Americans have a bizarre fascination with pop culture artifacts in general, and Elvis-related memorabilia in particular. Whereas Scotland has its Robert Burns namesake destinations (1,357 according to Google Maps, including the Robert Burns Masonic Lodge), we have everything Elvis touched elevated to rarefied status. Even waffles.
So it comes as no surprise that the "Elvis pew" would become a pop-culture fetish. Yet it still leaves the question: What do you do with a church pew? After all, it doesn't exactly fit most folks' decor. "At the time I bought it -- and I was living in an apartment at the time," Bucchi recalls, "my vision was to put it in a basement until I got a home, and then put in a rec room or pool table room or something. I'd have a real novelty -- a conversation piece."
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