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Elvis Presley landmark Graceland in Tennessee hit with 'Defund the Police' graffiti

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 9/2/2020 John Beifuss, Memphis Commercial Appeal

Graceland, the Elvis Presley estate that is Memphis, Tennessee's signature landmark and most popular tourist draw, was hit overnight with "Defund the Police" and "BLM" (Black Lives Matter) graffiti.

Vandals also struck the Levitt Shell in Overton Park, reports the Memphis Commercial Appeal, which is a part of the USA TODAY Network.

The Graceland vandalism was elaborate, with "DEFUND MPD" and "BLM" painted in thick black letters on the sidewalk along Elvis Presley Boulevard, alongside "#DEFUND THE POLICE," "ABOLISH ICE" (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) and other slogans sprayed in black and orange letters on the stone wall around the mansion where Elvis lived for 20 years, until his death on Aug. 16, 1977.

a man standing next to a stone wall: A worker power washes spray paint off the walls outside Graceland on Tuesday, Sept. 1, 2020. © Brandon Dahlberg / For CommercialAppeal.com A worker power washes spray paint off the walls outside Graceland on Tuesday, Sept. 1, 2020.

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The Graceland wall and sidewalk are in plain view of the north-south traffic on the adjacent street. The extent of the graffiti suggests the vandals were on the scene for a relatively long period of time and that multiple people were involved.

"Graceland has no comment," Graceland spokesperson David Beckwith wrote in an email when asked about the vandalism. 

At Graceland, the spray-painted slogans covered up many of the hundreds of handwritten messages already on the wall: Words of love and devotion to Elvis, penned in ink, felt-tip marker and paint by fans of the singer, often while standing in line to visit the Elvis grave during the annual "Candlelight Vigil."

By mid-morning, workers with power-wash equipment were removing the Graceland graffiti.

Also "tagged" overnight by vandals was the large "I (Heart) Memphis" mural on Cooper Avenue at York, near the Memphis Made Brewing brewery, a popular location for selfies and Instagram photos. The graffitists repeated the themes of the other sites ("Eat the Rich," "BLM"), with a few variations ("F--- the DA," meaning "District Attorney"). Created by artist Brandon Marshall, the mural was commissioned by the UrbanArt Commission and Memphis Tourism as part of a series of Memphis-boosting public artworks.

The instances of vandalism were discovered on "901 Day," an unofficial celebration of Memphis culture that takes place on Sept. 1, the date that can be rendered numerically as "9/01."

a group of people that are standing in the snow: Maurice Goode, left, Dennis Douglas, center, and Mike Gateley clean BLM and other tags off the Levitt Shell after it was discovered Tuesday morning, Sept. 1, 2020, in Memphis, Tenn. Both the Levitt Shell in Overton Park and the walls surrounding Graceland were tagged overnight. © Max Gersh / The Commercial Appeal Maurice Goode, left, Dennis Douglas, center, and Mike Gateley clean BLM and other tags off the Levitt Shell after it was discovered Tuesday morning, Sept. 1, 2020, in Memphis, Tenn. Both the Levitt Shell in Overton Park and the walls surrounding Graceland were tagged overnight.

“We wake up, excited to celebrate our city on 901 Day, and we see our beautiful historic landmark defaced with messages of pain,” said Natalie Wilson, executive director of the nonprofit Levitt Shell. “And that breaks our heart. We’re brokenhearted and devastated by this.

“We want to be part of the conversation that helps heal our city,” she said. “We want to see change happen. But how do we talk together, how do we ensure that the messages we provide are productive? This isn’t productive. People are trying to speak, and I get that, but we've got to come up with a better way."

Built in 1936 as a project of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Work Progress Administration, an agency of the “New Deal” intended to lift America out of economic depression, the Shell — where Elvis performed his first public concert in 1954 — is owned by the city and operated as a nonprofit venue.

However, due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Shell has not hosted an event since the end of its 2019 season in October, so “we will have a major deficit this year,” Wilson said.

Memphis police are investigating the vandalism.

Reporters Samuel Hardiman and Micaela Watts contributed to this report.

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This article originally appeared on Memphis Commercial Appeal: Elvis Presley landmark Graceland in Tennessee hit with 'Defund the Police' graffiti

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