💖 What Bridgeliner readers had to say about the Church of Elvis

On Wednesday I asked you to send in your memories of the 24-hour Church of Elvis run by artist Stephanie G. Pierce — and you all did not disappoint. Your stories are so fantastic that I wanted to share them with you. So without further ado, let’s get nostalgic together.

An original glow-in-the-dark t-shirt

“When I moved to Portland in 1990 the Church of Elvis by the Saturday Market quickly became one of my favorite haunts. Here are some fun little tidbits:

  1. I was married there, and my favorite part of the ceremony was walking down the sidewalk, dragging tin cans on a string, and carrying the Just Married sign while Stephanie pelted us (hard) in the face with rice.
  2. I still have my original glow-in-the-dark t-shirt – and there are currently repros being sold on eBay.
  3. Part of the tours in her upstairs Ankeny location were conducted in a cobbled-together wheeled cart you had to power yourself, like the Flintstones.
  4. One of Stephanie’s good friends is John Schroder —the legendary Elvis impersonator from the Saturday Market. During some tours, he would make a guest appearance and serenade you, loudly.
  5. After her Ankeny location closed, Stephanie actually opened a small version on Couch Street, next to Floating World Comics. It was a scaled-down window front, but still had the Miracle of the Spinning Elvises.

Thanks for this blast from the past!” — Melissa P.

A real bang for your buck

“Do youuuuuu believe in Elvis?  Somewhere I still have an Elvis ID and a hand towel but not sure where they might be. We loved to go there and get a great experience for not a lot of money… there was a guy who called himself an Elvis impersonator who hung out by Saturday Market. Looked nothing like Elvis, but I often wonder about him too.”  — Debbie S.

Styrofoam, plastic, and Elvis

And a HUGE thank you to reader Shawn Swagerty for sending in an interview he did with Stephanie Pierce in the ‘90s from a ‘zine he worked on. You can read the full interview here, but we wanted to highlight a couple sections that touched our hearts:

To be married or counseled by computer at the old Church of Elvis was a rite of personal validation. To encounter the Church’s own “Elvis” (a rather large charming personage with the diction of pre-pebbles Demosthenes and the carriage of Sasquatch) either with his cassette-Karaoke set-up and Elvis suit at Saturday Market, or within the Church’s inner sanctum during wee hours (“you all know about the tip jar”) was an experience to which the adjective marvelous best applies.

And to be either berated or declared a saint by Stephanie G. Pierce was and still is an event of special joy and distinction.

When did the Church of Elvis come into the picture?

Stephanie: That was five years ago. At my first store, I had made this booth inside, and I wanted to do a bank machine, and I had this record from the fifties called “Love, God, and Marriage.”

It was this pastor giving amazing sermons with organ music in the background. One of the things he was saying was, “There are six words that have saved many a marriage and these are the words: I was wrong. I am sorry.”

So I thought that that would be such a perfect confessional, you know? To have someone else confess for you. So I wanted to make this confessional booth, but I thought it would be so funny to call it Sex or Money. You’d always get money. But people would go in because it said “Sex.” It never occurred to me that people would not go in because it said “Sex,” right?

So I had this booth. Like a confessional with Venetian blinds, and then I had the fish and glitter wallpaper behind it, and there was this little Barbie doll that spun around. I rigged it up so that when you put a quarter in, there was an altar there with a book in front of it, and when you put a quarter in the Barbie would spin around and it would say, “I was wrong. I am sorry. I was wrong. I am sorry.” And you’d get this little roll of fake money.

Nobody went in that booth ever. It was just like the Biosphere. I just thought it was the coolest thing, and I couldn’t even talk people into going in. You reach this point where you say, “No, I will not beg people to do my art. I will not beg people to stoop that low.”

So at my new store, I still wanted to do it, you know? And I just figured why not a full-service church, you know? Why just confessionals? Why not have it be a whole church that’s like a bank machine. And so I was still kind of thinking about it.

It was going to worship plastics and styrofoam. 

Many of the displays at the Church were set up through old Commodore computers. (📸: Courtesy of Caitlin Arndt, Flickr)

You worship these things and then you’re happy all the time. So if you worship styrofoam and plastic and pollution, then you’re happy all the time, because there’s so much around you. “Oh, it’s a beautiful day.”

It was just too hard to explain, though. I was still trying to figure it out when these two high school girls wrote me my very first fan-letter ever. They wrote me this really big long letter, big writing. They put all these magazine pictures in there, little smiley faces and stuff. And on one side they wrote, “Hey! Why don’t you do an Elvis window?”

I was like, “Oh, God.” I just kind of filed the letter, but they came by a week later, and they were so excited. They had been to my first store and were huge supporters, right? They were like, “Did you get our letter? Are you going to do an Elvis window?”

I was like, “You guys, that’s so boring, that’s so passé.”

“You gotta do an Elvis window. You’ve got to.”

And I was like, gee, they’re so supportive, they wrote me my very first fan letter, I owe these guys something, you know? So I was standing there and I said, “Well, I guess. I guess I could do a Church of Elvis.” That was it.

And it’s so perfect because, that’s the trinity for the Church of Elvis: styrofoam, plastic, and Elvis. No matter how much you step on it; you can burn it and stomp on it, and it will never go away. So you might as well just worship it and be happy.

Thank you to everyone who wrote in with their memories of the Church of Elvis — it warmed our hearts like a hunka burnin’ love.

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