Has Elvis Left The Building?
The Many Afterlives of Elvis PresleyElvis Aaron Presley, King of Rock & Roll and the inspiration for thousands (millions?) of imitators and an odd but growing branch of chaos magic, died on August 16, 1977 at the age of 42. If there’s any truth to even a fraction of Elvis sightings reported since, even death couldn’t slow down The King. People have claimed that they’ve seen Elvis everywhere from Honolulu to Kalamazoo. To mark the 40th anniversary of Elvis’s passing, I’ve decided to take a look at some of the general patterns that have emerged regarding tales of Elvis encounters.
Ghosts of ElvisWhile the term “ghost” is often used to describe disembodied spirits, it’s important to understand that they are an entirely separate phenomenon. The simplest way to define a disembodied spirit is as a soul (whatever that may be) that remains on earth after death rather than undergoing whatever process most souls experience when they die. A disembodied spirit is the person they were in life, just without a body. In contrast, ghosts are psychic impressions that may or may not be imbued with some semblance of the actual person’s intelligence, personality, and memory. There are four generally agreed-upon classes of ghost, and Elvis has manifested in two (possibly three) of those forms, with only spectres (thankfully, given their malicious nature) unrepresented.
PhantomsPhantoms are incorporeal apparitions tied to a specific location. While they sometimes acknowledge and even interact with people, phantoms do not seem to have any real intelligence. They’re often compared to a video recording, playing the same scenes over and over again with only minor variations and always the same outcome. Phantom hitchhikers are one of the most widely-known subcategories of phantom.
Phantoms are believed to be psychic imprints of significant events, and many moments of Elvis’s life constituted significant events (to others, if not to Presley himself) due purely to his fame, force of personality, and (according to some) mystical qualities. Therefore, there are hundreds if not thousands of Elvis phantoms throughout the U.S. and at least a half-dozen confirmed manifestations in Germany. The most active of these is a phantom of Elvis in his late teens or early 20s walking along Union Avenue in Memphis between B.B. King Boulevard and Walnut Street.
WraithsWraiths are intelligent, semi-corporeal ghostly beings who take on the appearance, memories, and personality of the person they represent at a particular point in their life, which is almost always a period of great tragedy or triumph. Interacting with a wraith is very much like interacting with the actual person, but in most cases their memories are unreliable when it comes to earlier times in the person’s life that are not directly relevant to the events surrounding the wraith’s manifestation.
Since wraiths appear to act with intelligence and agency, it’s possible that they are imbued with some essence of the subject. Although we do not currently have the science to determine exactly how this happens, my research suggests that a wraith is formed when some small portion of a person’s soul or spirit “splinters off” during an emotionally-charged situation. Unfortunately, the theory remains incomplete because I have yet to determine why wraiths don’t manifest until after the subject’s death and have never encountered reports of wraiths of people who are still alive.
As documented in my book, The Ghosts of Elvis: The Implications of Ghostly Manifestations on the Concept of Identity (St. Hubbins Press, 2009), I have personally met and interacted at length with two wraiths of Elvis. Out of respect for what I believe to be sentient entities, I’ve chosen to keep their locations and other identifying information confidential.
The Graceland PoltergeistPoltergeists are invisible, incorporeal ghosts with the ability to affect the physical world. Despite their (well-earned) reputation for violence and harassment, there are also documented cases of helpful poltergeists. The (so far unverified) claims of a poltergeist at Graceland appears to be somewhere between the two extremes. While the ghost is credited with moving lost items to places where they can be more easily found, opening interior doors for staff members who have their hands full, and performing other helpful tasks, it also reportedly rearranges the mansion to its liking and occasionally makes a mess in the kitchen. Given the difficulty of proving that the poltergeist (if real) is in any way related to Elvis, I include this entry only for the sake of completeness.
Super ElvisOn February 4, 2009, the first video of a group since dubbed “The Justice Band” appeared on Youtube. The footage, which the poster claimed to have filmed the previous day near Clear Lake, Iowa, showed a group of famous (and deceased) musicians engaged in a pitched supernatural battle with a pulsating pillar of twisted, rippling blobs of color and smoke. Upon winning the battle, the heroes vanished in a cloud of ghostly fog. A widely circulated screen capture from a few seconds before the fog arose clearly captures the group: Johnny Cash, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Bob Marley, and Elvis Presley.
Since then, the group has been reported, and in some cases filmed or photographed, on several occasions. One video shows them battling demonic entities on an abandoned New York City subway platform. A photo shows them entering a diner in New Mexico where, according to locals, no diner has ever stood. Numerous eyewitnesses claim that members of the group were spotted observing the funerals of important musicians like Prince and David Bowie from a distance.
There’s now a vast online community of paranormal investigators, conspiracy theorists, would-be-disciples, and full-blown cranks who spend their time trying to solve the Justice Band mystery. It’s been suggested that they’re everything from angels to shapeshifting aliens to modern reincarnations of ancient gods, but there is no credible evidence to support any particular theory’s validity. Whatever the Justice Band are, my encounters with the wraiths of Elvis leads me to strongly doubt any connection between the Justice Band Elvis and the real King.
The King of the WashroomThere is absolutely no evidence to support the existence of an Elvis who appears in bathrooms to dispense advice to people in stressful situations. However, there are so many reports of encounters with “Bathroom Elvis”--a subreddit dedicated to the phenomenon contains over 2,000 posts, of which only about 20% are nakedly insincere--that I would be remiss not to include them here. The stories follow a consistent pattern: a person is experiencing something stressful or traumatic or facing a difficult decision and they go into a bathroom to collect themselves. As they stand in front of the sink, Elvis appears behind them in the mirror and dispenses exactly the assurances or advice they needed.
It’s unlikely that Bathroom Elvis is some kind of ghost; Ghosts are almost always tied to a single place, while Bathroom Elvis can seemingly appear in any bathroom. Furthermore, most of those who have encountered him insist that Bathroom Elvis is a solid, flesh-and-blood entity who frequently offers physical gestures of comfort. Many have also produced physical objects that they claim Elvis gave them: handkerchiefs monogrammed with “E.P.”, cards containing Bible verses, and (when smoking was still allowed nearly everywhere) zippo lighters bearing the TCB logo are the most common examples.
Assuming Bathroom Elvis is more than an urban legend, I don’t believe the entity has any connection to Elvis Presley. My main reason for this is that some of the advice offered by the being seems rather un-Elvis-like. For instance, one woman who killed her abusive boyfriend claims that Elvis told her to “shoot him in the face.” The murder weapon, which she claims Elvis gave her, was a large pearl-handled pistol with gold-inlaid lightning bolts that did not match any known gun model.
One proposed explanation is that Bathroom Elvis is an Elvis impersonator with multiple paranormal powers (teleportation to appear and disappear, telepathy to sense when people need a visit from The King, and illusion to appear as Elvis from any point in his life). This, however, seems like an unlikely combination of powers, celebrity fixation, and (not-entirely-clear) motivation. The theory I favor is that Bathroom Elvis is an extra-dimensional entity (or multiple entities) of the guardian angel or trickster variety. Given the tendency of humans to seek refuge in them, bathrooms would be a logical place for this kind of entity to appear. The fact that Elvis is a well-regarded figure who famously died in a bathroom may provide some magical explanation for why they assume his form.
Elvis Lives!We’ll end our survey of posthumous Elvis sightings with the most easily-debunked variety; Namely, reports that Elvis faked his death and is now living in a trailer park near Sheboygan or a nursing home in East Texas. While reports of encounters with a still-living Elvis still occur from time to time, the vast majority occurred or were first reported during a brief period in the late 1980s and early 1990s shortly after an alleged Elvis sighting in Michigan received national news coverage.
Between the lack of corroborating evidence, the brief span of time during which the encounters occurred, and the sheer effort that would have been required to fake the death of one of the most famous men alive, it’s likely that the Elvis sightings of the late 20th Century were simply the birth pangs of a new urban legend. Subsequent sightings are likely simply revivals of the tale or outright hoaxes. One could posit that some iteration of Elvis (in the form of a clone, refugee from a parallel dimension, or other anomalous figure) still inhabits our world, but such an entity would be distinct from the “real” Elvis.
In ConclusionGiven that wraiths are only known to appear after someone’s death and that I have personally encountered two wraiths of Elvis, I feel confident in asserting that Elvis Presley died at Graceland in 1977. Most sightings of Elvis since his death are routine apparitions that are to be expected after the death of such a famous person. As for Bathroom Elvis and the Elvis figure from the Justice Band, my opinion is that they are unrelated entities who merely take the form of Elvis to further whatever goals they are trying to achieve. As with all things, however, new evidence may arise that proves me to be, in Fort’s words, “nothing short of a negative genius."
Dr. Stanley Ampersand is the author of 12 books on parapsychology, and the recipient of numerous M-Force research grants and the Henry Fields Fellowship. He is the Director of Paranormal Operations for Ampersand & Ampersand Celebrity Services and a reserve agent and consultant with the Burbank, California office of M-Force.