The lights went down, and the theme song from the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey started to play - and the 13,750 fans at the University of Dayton Arena came to their feet.
Shantay Parrish of New Carlisle had camped out at the arena with her mom in the cold for two days to get her tickets. The 15-year-old had waited weeks for this night.
It was time to see Elvis.
Thirty years ago today, Elvis Presley performed at the University of Dayton Arena. It was his fourth show at the arena, and unknown to the fans, it would be his last show there.
For fans like Shantay, it has been a long time since Oct. 26, 1976, but the memories of that night remain etched in their minds. 'Every hair on my body stands up when I think about it', she said.
The royal treatment in Dayton
On Oct. 25, 1976, Elvis' plane, the Lisa Marie, left Fort Wayne, Ind., and arrived at Dayton International Airport at 1:45 a.m. Elvis and his entourage went to Stouffer's Hotel, now the Crowne Plaza Hotel, in downtown Dayton. He had the ninth floor for himself. Of course, others tried to join him.
'My sister and I went to the Stouffer's Hotel, hoping to see him', said Elvira Allen of Hamilton. 'We were allowed in the lobby; we just couldn't get off of the elevator on the floor Elvis was staying on'.
A group of Elvira's friends had waited 36 hours around UD Arena for tickets that went on sale Oct. 1. at 7 a.m. Blanket-covered fans watched bootleg 8mm Elvis concerts on white sheets and on the backs of books while they waited. Arena employees ran extension cords outside, so fans could play music. Security guards estimated the crowd at 5,000. Nearly half of the arena was sold out by 10 a.m.
'The day of the concert, we decided to go to the beauty parlor. While we were there, there was another lady getting one of those bouffant hairdos. ... It was obvious she was going to the show', Elvira said.
The women were all talking about Elvis. When the woman learned where Elvira's seats were, she tried to do the unthinkable - separate Elvira from her precious sixth-row seats.
'The woman was taking her teenage daughter and wanted to get as close to Elvis as she could get. The woman kept raising her price until she got to $100. The original ticket was $12. I told her, 'Lady, you don't have enough money to buy my ticket'. '
Security fit for a king
Dayton Police Sgt. Larry Powell was responsible for watching the elevator on the ninth floor of Stouffer's Hotel and making sure fans - including Elvira - never made it to Elvis.
'I never went into Elvis' room, but I saw him several times. He'd come out and ask us what time it was. That's where I blew it. I should have given him my watch, and maybe he'd have bought me a car or something', Powell said. 'He was a very nice person. We were told we could order room service and have anything we wanted'.
Of course, Elvis always got what he wanted, even if the hotel couldn't meet his needs. 'Elvis loved pizza rolls, and nobody could find them in the hotel', Powell said. 'So he sent his people out looking for them. We had to give them directions to the store'.
According to a Dayton Daily News article from Oct. 24, 1976, Dayton Sgt. Charles Dungan headed up the 35-officer detail protecting Elvis during his two days in Dayton.
'Colonel (Tom) Parker calls me up when they first schedule the show and set up a security force. We supplement Elvis' own security people, set up building and room security, and get him to and from the show', Dungan said.
The concert started at 8:30 p.m. The Sweet Inspirations and J.D. Sumner and the Stamps Quartet were getting the crowd warmed up. Elvis left Stouffer's a little after 9 for the short drive to UD Arena. The car pulled into the arena and Elvis entered the building.
Up close and personal
Bob Heis of Miamisburg had seen Elvis many times before. He attended 49 Elvis concerts - his first in 1971. Bob was not just a local fan catching the Dayton concert - he was an Elvis photographer. Bob used a single-lens reflex camera and often got front-row seats to get the best shots. If he didn't get toward the front, he found a way to move up.
'I'd see a woman with a small child and I'd offer to make her copies of my photos if I could have the kid's seat', Bob said.
Bob was friends with other photographers and avid fans. Bartering was a commonplace among them to capture Elvis from as close as possible during each show. 'I spent two days at UD and got 10 front-row seats', Bob said. After getting tickets, Heis would find other photographers and fans looking for seats, and they would trade. 'I'll give you two seats in Dayton for two seats in Chicago'.
Thirty years later, Bob's Ohio license plate remains ELVIS, and he has no plans on changing it anytime soon.
'The most perfect voice ever'
'I got back from the military, and a girl I was dating at the time got me three seats', said Bill Rowe of Dayton. 'We got down there at about 5:30 p.m. and we couldn't get across the Stewart Street Bridge. It was pandemonium down there'.
By 1976, Bill had seen Elvis more than 25 times - mostly in Las Vegas. For him, the anticipation was the best part.
'The lights go down and then you hear the first strands of 2001, and it's just the best entrance anybody had', Rowe said. 'I've always said that Elvis could have sat down and read the phone book. He had the most perfect voice ever'.
From his Elvis carpet to his collection of music and rare memorabilia, Bill can see Elvis up close every day. For most of the last three decades, he has been first in line at Graceland every August for the candlelight vigil during which thousands file past Elvis' gravesite in Memphis. 'I miss him so much'.
Eye to eye with Elvis
Elvis took to the UD stage around 9:40 p.m. It was vintage Vegas-era Elvis. That night he wore a jumpsuit emblazed with an orange flame on the front and back.
See See Rider and I Got a Woman were his first two songs. Shantay Parrish would have loved to have been Elvis' woman. The 15-year-old had loved Elvis from a young age. Her mother was a fan and took Shantay to her first concert in Cleveland when she was 11. 'I think I must have been conceived to Elvis music', Shantay said.
Shantay wasn't like a lot of the other students at Tecumseh High School in the late '70s. They were listening to Lynyrd Skynyrd and the Rolling Stones while she was still rocking to The King. 'I didn't care. Back then they were nothing to me. Nobody is like Elvis'.
For the Dayton show, Shantay made Elvis a wall hanging featuring a man and a woman. It had the titles of some of Elvis' love songs on it. During the show, she was determined to get it to him. 'I was scared to death', she remembers. 'I made my way down to that stage and unrolled it on stage so he could see it. He held it down with his boot and looked at me and locked on my eyes - I just wet my pants. My heart (expletive deleted) near stopped'.
Shantay, whose last name now is Violette, recalls that Elvis' voice was in top form at the Dayton show. 'When he did How Great Thou Art, he brought the roof down'.
Not long before How Great Thou Art, Elvis did a new song titled Hurt, and the crowd could not get enough of it.
'Even though you hurt me
Like nobody else could ever do
I would never hurt, hurt you'.
That was supposed to be the end of the song, but the fans demanded he sing it again.
Jerry Geisel of Kettering lucked out and was able to trade in his upper-level seats for floor seats.
His wife, Carol, got a new outfit for the show. 'All the girls at the show were beautiful', Geisel said. Of course, the girls were not the only people there who were beautiful. 'Elvis was beautiful', Geisel said. 'I ain't gay or nothing, but Elvis was beautiful'.
Carol walked up to the stage during Teddy Bear and tried to get a scarf from Elvis.
'Elvis wiped his sweat on it and gave it to Carol', Geisel said. 'Then another woman swiped it from her. Then another woman came in and they started fighting over it, and they wouldn't let go. Someone cut it in half. Elvis motioned for Carol to go down to the end of the stage and he gave her a scarf'.
Carol died last year. Geisel still has that scarf along with hundreds of other Elvis items.
Christmas in October
One thing most of those at the Dayton concert remember was the October surprise. 'It was freezing outside, and Elvis asked if he could sing a Christmas song', Shantay said. He treated the surprised crowd to Blue Christmas - a song he rarely performed. 'I just cried', Shantay said.
After Blue Christmas, Elvis performed his early hit That's All Right and ended the show with his traditional closer - Can't Help Falling In Love.
After performing for one hour and 20 minutes, Elvis left the building. He stayed in Dayton that night. On June 26, 1977, he performed his final concert, in Indianapolis. Elvis died on Aug. 16, 1977 in Memphis.
When asked why Elvis fans have remained so dedicated over the decades, Shantay Violette said, 'Elvis wasn't God, but he was the next best thing'.
Set list from Oct. 26, 1976 UD concert
See See Rider
I Got a Woman / Amen
You Gave Me a Mountain
All Shook Up
Teddy Bear/Don't Be Cruel
And I Love You So
America the Beautiful
Polk Salad Annie
Early Morning Rain
What'd I Say
Johnny B Goode
Hurt (with reprise)
Funny How Time Slips
How Great Thou Art
Danny Boy - Walk With Me
My Heavenly Father
That's All Right
Can't Help Falling in Love
Elvis' Miami Valley concerts
May 27, 1956: University of Dayton Fieldhouse|
Nov. 24, 1956: Hobart Arena in Troy
April 7, 1972: University of Dayton Arena
Oct. 6, 1974: Two concerts at University of Dayton Arena (2:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m.)
Oct. 26, 1976: University of Dayton Arena
By Anthony Shoemaker
Dayton Daily News
Thursday, October 26, 2006