MEMPHIS, AUG. 16 -- At midnight Saturday, in an eerie overture to the 10th anniversary of the death of the King of Rock 'n' Roll, five Elvises converged in the plaza across from the Graceland mansion.

From a weary 7-year-old Iowa boy in white glitter jump suit, who lay cradled in his father's lap shielding his face with a sign reading "Sorry, No Pictures Now," to a "Blue Hawaii"-style look-alike in white linen and a blue-ribboned planter's hat, to a sleekly prosperous impersonator in his early forties with a blond woman on his arm, they seemed the living proof of Elvis Presley's immortality.

"There's nobody else who ever touched me the way he did," said Nancy Carswell of South Bend, Ind. "To me, he's like a fine piece of porcelain."

Saturday night, he was treated more like a plaster saint. An estimated 25,000 acolytes, dressed in Elvis T-shirts and carrying pictures of the dear departed, lit candles and filed past the stained glass proscenium of Presley's chapel-like grave site on the mansion grounds.

Many dropped to their knees at the wrought-iron railing and prayed or gazed fixedly at the brass plate in private communion. As the night wore on, a blanket of roses and handwritten messages offered by passing fans covered the foot of the grave.

"I knew I'd be all right until I got to the grave," wept Lil Fedderman of Marysville, Pa. But when a Graceland attendant offered assistance, Fedderman smiled and waved her away. "Just knowing that Elvis is happy with his mama," she said, looking uncomprehendingly at the melted candle wax all over her fingers. "Just as long as Elvis is happy."

Even Elvis, who once said, "I get lonesome right in the middle of a crowd," could not have been lonesome Saturday night. The faithful began gathering in the late afternoon, huddling close together outside the Graceland gates in a spiritual intimacy that transcended the 97-degree heat.

"As long as you've got an Elvis button on, you've got a friend," declared a Pennsylvania woman.

In the early hours of the vigil, there was a festive atmosphere that harked back to the old southern "sittin' " tradition, when funerals were one of the three great social occasions (the others being births and weddings).

Tourists from Thailand, Philadelphia, Amsterdam, Charlotte, N.C., Texas, Birmingham, Ala., and Los Angeles formed an impromptu international chorus, harmonizing on "Are You Lonesome Tonight?" A group of women about 20 feet from the coveted front line huddled around a boom box that was blaring "Blue Suede Shoes."

Eleanor and Jim Sheffield of Jacksonville, who had been living for a week on Elvis Presley Boulevard, using their mobile home to make themselves Presley's vicarious neighbors, settled comfortably in folding chairs at the Graceland gates -- seated, as it were, at the left hand of God.

"We've been here since about 3," said Eleanor Sheffield. "I've been saying all week I was going to be one of the first ones in line." But Sheffield was eventually reduced to splitting her prayers between Presley and an overeager Texas contingent that elbowed its way past her when the gates opened at 9 p.m.

"I prayed for all those ugly, pushy people down there at the gate," she said as she rose from her knees at the grave. "This is supposed to be a reverent time."

The Sheffields were not quite the first in line. Laurie Cousins of Winnipeg and Sheryl Fordin of Brooklyn, who became bosom buddies on their hotel shuttle bus, were firmly ensconced at the right side of the gate by noon.

"Elvis sacrificed so much for us -- he sacrificed his life and his career," said Fordin, a 36-year-old auditor who says she divorced her anti-Elvis husband. "He sacrificed so much we thought we should sacrifice some time for him."

Cousins, a 36-year-old aerobics teacher who wears two gold chains around her neck, one dangling a Playboy bunny and the other a Presley TCB lightning bolt ("Taking Care of Business in a Flash"), made her first pilgrimage to Graceland on the first anniversary of his death and spent $800 on souvenirs alone. Just trying to describe the love that inspired her to drive solo for 25 hours to lead the candlelight procession brought her to the point of tears.

"You know, when your mother or father die, the grief seems to lessen because you used to talk to them, write letters -- communicate," Cousins struggled. "But with Elvis you didn't ever see him, so the pain just goes on."

Cousins said not a day goes by without Elvis: She uses "Jailhouse Rock" to warm up her aerobics classes and "Can't Help Falling in Love" to cool them down. For Fordin, not a night goes by: She "sleeps with Elvis" in a Presleyana T-shirt.

They were well prepared for the all-night vigil. "We've been taking turns sitting and standing and running back and forth across the street getting ice," said Fordin, pulling supplies out of her purse and a plastic bag. "We have an Elvis towel to sit on, a {hotel} towel to sweat on, a change of clothing, a pack of Elvis cards -- we've been playing rummy -- tissues for when we wimp out, wet wipes for sweat, a camera and lots of cigarettes."

Fordin giggled. "I'm afraid to tell you what I have in my purse -- my socks and a bra."

For those with less forethought, the nearby 7-Eleven matched the round-the-clock stakeout with a round-the-block line for hot dogs and cold beer. Several of the souvenir shops, the Heartbreak Hotel restaurant and a burger carryout across the street stayed open all night, as did the Pizza Inn up the street ("All night buffet, breakfast 3 a.m.").

As dusk fell, and video crews and reporters were admitted onto the mansion grounds, the fans, already jittery, grew feverish. "We want music!" they chanted and, as later comers tried to work their way past the guardhouse, "End of the line!"

All day the floral tributes had been arriving, and they mixed with the humid scent of the hundreds of roses clenched in the fans' hands into a heavy musk. The colored Christmas lights that year-round surround the trees on the grounds combined with the dozens of photographers' floodlights and the futile, faraway flashbulbs, like fireflies, of the crowd's cameras.

Finally, at 9 p.m., the service began, as two oil lamp torches, one held by Harold Loyd, Presley's oldest living cousin, were set alight from the eternal flame that burns at the head of his grave. Then the torches were carried ceremoniously down the winding driveway to the gates, where the passing fans solemnly lit their tapers.

As the masses spilled across the six-lane Elvis Presley Boulevard, their memorial finery was revealed: black shirts with Presley profiles in silver glitter that shimmered in the flickering candlelight, handmade sequined jump suits unzipped to the waist, and several heat-defying leather jackets and jeans.

Erma Brogan of Roanoke wore a silver lame' brocade Spenser jacket with stand-up collar, puffed sleeves and a black rhinestone arm garter with black and silver ribbons -- Elvis as Elizabethan troubadour. Four women from Japan padded up the long drive in formal white mourning kimonos, carrying long prayer scrolls to be left at the grave.

"It's a cult," said a man at the cocktail lounge of the posh Peabody hotel. "It's Rajneeshism, it's Jonestown ... How long before they declare it a religion?"

As the fans passed slowly through a gallery of flower displays, including a six-foot chrysanthemum hound dog and a plastic telephone with the slogan "Jesus Called," they murmured quietly, nodding at the cards and tributes on each. Finally they stood before him in an emotionally charged hush broken only by quiet sobbing and the click and whir of the dozens of cameras aimed at the grave.

In the past week, the presence of the media has become part of the Presley story. Some fans have sought out reporters to testify to their idol's undiminished appeal, and hung whole display cases' worth of buttons and insignia on their Elvis T-shirts in order to appear more photogenic.

The media have even begun covering each other, one Washington reporter being interviewed by a Memphis radio station, another being photographed by a Philadelphia crew member as she sat on the foot of Gladys Presley's huge marble memorial typing on a portable computer.

At the start of the vigil, the elongated telephoto lenses, minicams and tripods of the photographers were so tightly crammed into the small garden opposite the grave site that they resembled the Japanese Army massed to confront Godzilla. Some fans felt that the obtrusive news crews had crossed the last line of offense.

"I've been avoiding everybody who looks like they have anything resembling a camera," one woman complained to Graceland Communications Director Todd Morgan. "We're coming back at 5 {a.m.} when those awful lights are gone. You know, we take this very personally."

But by midnight, with the annual memorial prayer service in the plaza, the crowd began to quiet. By 3:30 or 4 the numbers had shrunk substantially, although there still seemed to be several thousand scattered about.

Members of the Austin-based Elvis Country Fan Club, which sponsors the annual candlelight ceremony, stood in honor guards in shifts all night.

At dawn, a pair of white doves were released into the air above Graceland, and by 7 a.m., with the arrival of 1,100 British fans, the tours had started again.

Despite the record 25,000 fans at the candlelight vigil, Graceland officials now concede that probably only about 35,000 gathered for Elvis International Tribute Week, far short of the 50,000 to 100,000 figures being bandied about earlier.

"Elvis is still the biggest thing to happen to the Memphis tourist industry since the Mississippi River," claimed one staffer. But the relics of Ramesses, in a matter of weeks, have drawn more than 600,000 visitors to the Memphis Cooke Convention Center.

The last major event of the week, a memorial service today at Memphis State University, brought together a number of Elvis' old circle, including Sun Records producer Sam Phillips and his son Knox, Presley's personal manager Jerry Schilling and Memphis disc jockey George Klein, as well as such purveyors of Presley arcana as his dentist and his cook.

It was intended to be a series of eulogies, but Klein turned it instead into a revival meeting. Before a crowd that overflowed the 460-seat auditorium into the packed aisles and the lobby outside, where another 200 fans listened over a public address system, he launched an attack on the greatest revisionist tract yet, Lucy de Barbin's story that she had a long-term affair with Presley and bore him a daughter he never knew.

"I'm not going to tell you Elvis Presley was a saint, because he wasn't," Klein said, but de Barbin's story "is a bold-faced lie. It's a complete hoax."

"This lady is sick," he went on to heavy applause. "Please don't buy {her} book."

Elvis Aron Presley, the Boy King of Rock 'n' Roll, died an old man at 42. "His body was just worn out," said a member of the Baptist Memorial Hospital staff after Presley died. "We were treating him for everything from hypertension to an enlarged colon to gastroenteritis to stomach inflammation ... Elvis had the arteries of an 80-year-old man."

Klein, however, always said Elvis "died of a broken heart" because he had no true friends.

In her book "Are You Lonesome Tonight?," de Barbin says Presley was sucked in by greedy friends and powerful drugs, and died sad and insecure. "He said, 'I'm real fat -- do you still love me?' "

But to Presley's true fans, many of whom already have reservations for next August, Elvis is always young, always virile, always teasing, tender, rebellious, reverent and irresistible.

"There's nothing to touch him," swore a woman from Nashville. "They could dig him up tomorrow, and he'd still look good."