May 24, 1977: It’s 10:15 p.m., and the performer at the Augusta Civic Center is long overdue on the stage. The waiting crowd is on edge.

Suddenly, a bus rolls up to a back door and a double line of police officers creates a shielded exit path to the building. Inside, the lights grow dim and a loudspeaker blares the portentous opening strains of Richard Strauss’ “Thus Spoke Zarathustra,” the theme music to the 1968 movie “2001: A Space Odyssey.”

Elvis Presley, the King of Rock ’n’ Roll, bounds into the arena and onto the stage amid high-pitched screams and staccato camera flashes for what later turns out to be the only concert appearance he ever will make in Maine.

Less than three months later, on Aug. 16, he dies at his home, Graceland, in Memphis, Tennessee – one day before he is scheduled to perform in Portland at the Cumberland County Civic Center, now called the Cross Insurance Arena.

In Augusta, sporting a trademark spangled white jumpsuit, he draws the most enthusiastic response with some of his early-career tunes – “Heartbreak Hotel,” “Don’t Be Cruel,” “It’s Now or Never” – but the crowd is so wired up that it doesn’t really matter what he sings. He could have read an L.L. Bean catalog to them.

“All he had to do was stand there and move something – a finger, a leg, a shake of the head,” the Kennebec Journal reports the next day. “Every time he struck a different pose, the flashbulbs and the screaming would start again.”

He tosses a scarf to the crowd. Someone throws roses onto the stage. Someone else throws a fake lobster. There’s another song, another scarf. And another. With each jettisoned piece of fabric, a cluster of women washes toward the footlights and back again, like the tide.

And suddenly it’s over.

Grainy, shaky video of the concert still is available online for those who want to experience the atmosphere of that frantic night.

But in Augusta – and everywhere else, generally speaking – Elvis has left the building.

Presented by:

Joseph Owen is an author, retired newspaper editor and board member of the Kennebec Historical Society. Owen’s book, “This Day in Maine,” can be ordered at Tune in as he’s interviewed by Bill Nemitz in our Maine Voices Live series Tuesday, May 26, at 7 p.m. Joe can be contacted at: [email protected]

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