The King Is Dead!

It was on this day 35 years ago that Elvis Aron Presley, sometimes styled “The King Of Rock And Roll,” or, more immodestly, simply “The King”, passed from this mortal plane, thereby engendering a wave of celebrity necromania unmatched by even the passing of the likes of Rudolph Valentino, James Dean, Marilyn Monroe, or Michael Jackson. There was something about Elvis that deeply touched the hearts and minds of his fans, and something about his legend that continues to attract new generations of fans to him.

Graceland is a major tourist magnet for the Memphis area, and millions have been to see Elvis’ grave there, yet there are those who nevertheless insist that “Elvis lives” and that he retired, incognito, to a simpler, private life. It’s an old tale. Czar Alexander I of Russia was said to have faked his death in 1825 to live his final years as a wandering “Starets,” a holy man. And many other notables have likewise been alleged to have done similar deceptions.

I have a rather unusual personal recollection of that pleasant afternoon in August of 1977. My Mom, my brother Rob, and I were in England, waiting for a train on the railway platform at Leamington Spa, after having seen “Henry VI Part II” at Stratford Upon Avon.

While we stood awaiting our down train, an elderly, white-haired woman in a long coat (which seemed a bit unseasonable for August, though it was by no means hot that afternoon) rushed up to my mother and implored, “Is it true??? Is it TRUE??? Is the king dead?????”

We all though the poor thing must have gone a bit off, England not having had a king in more than 25 years by that summer.

But then she added, “I cannot believe that Elvis has died! It simply cannot be true!”

Of course, the report was quickly confirmed. That was my first exposure to just how intense an impact “The King” could have upon his sundry and diverse fans.

As for belief or disbelief, I have always been affected by the author and critic John O’Hara’s response to the untimely death of George Gershwin: “They tell me George Gershwin died on July 11,(1937) but I don’t have to believe it if I don’t want to.”

But I may have a more “plausible” explanation for all those Elvis sightings these past many years. Elvis had a twin brother. An identical twin brother. Jesse Garon Presley is recorded as having died the very day he and Elvis were born, January 8, 1935.

Elvis’ family was, to say the least, of modest means, and record-keeping in Tupelo, Mississippi in 1935 was not what we might expect today. The family apparently never knew where the unfortunate Jesse was buried. In later his later years, Elvis hired a private detective to learn the whereabouts of his twin’s remains, apparently hoping to have them relocated to Memphis, or possibly to Graceland itself. But despite an exhaustive and fairly costly search, no trace of Jesse Presley was ever discovered.

My “plausible” solution for all those “Elvis sightings” is simply this: Jesse did not die on January 8, 1935, but records and such were mixed up. Thus, the body that is not in its grave is not that of Elvis, who indeed lies under marble at Graceland, rather it is Jesse Presley, long presumed dead, who actually walks this earth to this day, looking just like Elvis, but blithely unaware of his heritage. And it surely must be Jesse whom Elvis’ true believer keep spotting!

It makes perfect sense: we have no grave, no body, after all. So raise a toast to Elvis, “The King,” if you feel so moved today. Also raise a toast to his twin brother, Jesse Garon Presely, who preceded him in death before the world had ever heard of Elvis.

And keep an eye out for him, when you shop at your local convenience store or truck stop!

Jamie Rawson
Flower Mound, Texas

Till we meet again, may God bless you. Adios.

— Elvis Presley, at the end of a concert during his last tour, 1977.

After Blenheim

It was on 13 August 1704, that the combined forces of England, The United Provinces of the Netherlands, and The Holy Roman Empire joined to defeat the armies of France’s Louis XIV and his Bavarian allies near the small Bavarian village of Blindheim (“Blenheim,” usually pronounced “Blen’um,” in English.) The battle was the key action of The War of Spanish Succession, and, in the words of Robert Southey, “a famous victory.” Under the command of English general John Churchill, just two years earlier created Duke of Marlborough by England’s Queen Anne, the daring attempt by the French to seize Vienna was permanently thwarted, and the fortunes of war turned to favor the English.

Marlborough’s campaign leading up to Blenheim has been called the first example of modern military action, featuring sophisticated logistical support of supply and provisioning, and very rapid movements which recalled the famed celeritas (speed) of Julius Caesar 17 centuries before. Marlborough was ably assisted by some of the finest military talent in Europe such as Prince Eugenio von Savoie. The French side had its share of talent as well, but the thorough planning and unexpected speed of Marlborough’s execution caught them ill-prepared. The battle was a rout, pure and simple. The Franco-Bavarian alliance lost more than half of its strength, captured, wounded, or killed. It was nevertheless an expensive accomplishment for Marlborough’s side: the success cost them nearly a quarter of their effectives. But it was a famous victory …

What did this titanic struggle accomplish? Well, it did prove that the mighty and theretofore almost invincible armies of Louis XIV’s France could be beaten, and soundly. That realization changed the stage of European politics for generations.

The famous victory also established John Chuchill as one of the great leaders in European military history. For his great victory, Churchill – already elevated to the new Dukedom of Marlborough – was granted a vast new estate and a promise from Queen Anne to build a great commemmorative Ducal palace for Marlborough and his Duchess Sarah. (Anne renegged on this promise after expensive work was well underway on “Blenheim Palace.” It would take several more years and intense political intriguing for the Crown to finally make good on its obligation. That whole drama is worthy of a book devoted to just that topic!) Blenheim Palace – either a masterpiece of the short-lived English Baroque Style or a hideous excrescence, pure and simple – remains the only non-Royal “Palace” in England.

Blenheim Palace is to this day the seat of the Duke of Marlborough, though its most famous resident was himself never a Duke, and resided there only briefly during his childhood. It was at Blenheim Palace in 1874 that the expatriate American wife of Lord Randolph Churchill, nee Jennie Jerome, gave birth to Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill, the future Prime Minister and great World War II leader of Great Britain. Winston Churchill would grow up to write a definitive biography of his famous ancestor John Churchill.

But in the grand scheme of things, the outcome of the Battle of Blenheim did not change things so very much. Though the Victorian military historian Edward Creasy accounted Blenheim as one of the pivotal battles of history, modern evaluations of it are less emphatic. True, the defeat of the French forces was important and had a key impact upon subsequent events, but Blenheim was part of a much longer campaign and the fighting lasted many more years afterward. Louis XIV’s France was overtaxed and its men and materiel were being exhausted by his many wars, and it is unlikely that France’s domination could have been sustained with or without the defeat at Blenheim. As with so many famous victories, the results could probably been achieved in other, less spectacular, less deadly ways.

There is one outcome from The Battle of Blenheim, however, that has always struck me as most apposite. In 1796, England’s future Poet Laureate Robery Southey wrote “After Blenheim,” one of the most powerful anti-war poems ever written. The power of this work lies in the ironic understatement with which it presents the famous victory and its aftermath. The poem is all the more interesting for having been written in the late 1700s. (Many contemporary folk seem to feel that anti-war sentiments are a modern phenomenon.)

If you have never read “After Blenheim,” here is the text:

Robert Southey

It was a summer evening,
Old Kaspar’s work was done,
And he before his cottage door
Was sitting in the sun,
And by him sported on the green
His little grandchild Wilhelmine.

She saw her brother Peterkin
Roll something large and round,
Which he beside the rivulet
In playing there had found;
He came to ask what he had found,
That was so large, and smooth, and round.

Old Kaspar took it from the boy,
Who stood expectant by;
And then the old man shook his head,
And, with a natural sigh,
“‘Tis some poor fellow’s skull,” said he,
“Who fell in the great victory.

“I find them in the garden,
For there’s many here about;
And often when I go to plough,
The ploughshare turns them out!
For many thousand men,” said he,
“Were slain in that great victory.”

“Now tell us what ’twas all about,”
Young Peterkin, he cries;
And little Wilhelmine looks up
With wonder-waiting eyes;
“Now tell us all about the war,
And what they fought each other for.”

“It was the English,” Kaspar cried,
“Who put the French to rout;
But what they fought each other for,
I could not well make out;
But everybody said,” quoth he,
“That ’twas a famous victory.

“My father lived at Blenheim then,
Yon little stream hard by;
They burnt his dwelling to the ground,
And he was forced to fly;
So with his wife and child he fled,
Nor had he where to rest his head.

“With fire and sword the country round
Was wasted far and wide,
And many a childing mother then,
And new-born baby died;
But things like that, you know, must be
At every famous victory.

“They say it was a shocking sight
After the field was won;
For many thousand bodies here
Lay rotting in the sun;
But things like that, you know, must be
After a famous victory.

“Great praise the Duke of Marlbro’ won,
And our good Prince Eugene.”
“Why, ’twas a very wicked thing!”
Said little Wilhelmine.
“Nay… nay… my little girl,” quoth he,
“It was a famous victory.

“And everybody praised the Duke
Who this great fight did win.”
“But what good came of it at last?”
Quoth little Peterkin.
“Why that I cannot tell,” said he,
“But ’twas a famous victory.”

Jamie Rawson
Flower Mound, Texas

Soldiers win the battles; generals get the credit. — Napoleon