ELVIS IN OCALA: Ocala's Helen Helvenston wrote: "Elvis Presley's first appearance in Ocala was May 10, 1955, at the Southeastern Livestock Pavilion.
"In 1953, Jim Kirk arrived here to open WMOP, the second radio station to serve Ocala. Knowing that promotion was the key to bringing country music to Marion County, he contracted with the Hubert Long Booking Agency to bring in country and gospel concerts. By 1955, Elvis had cut his ties with the Louisiana Hayride and was managed by Col. Tom Parker.
"The show was part of a tour to introduce Elvis to the area. Kirk was warned that his performance might be ... ah ... controversial. Several name country music stars were included in the show, so the Southeastern was selected as it was big enough to hold the expected audience of 1,000 that these stars would draw. No one was aware they would be introduced to the then little-known Elvis as the main feature. The pavilion had no roof, but had there been one, Elvis would have brought it down on his stunned, excited and cheering audience.
"Many strange comments have been attributed to this event as the years have distorted memories, but the fact is — Elvis was a sensation! Our then small town of Ocala was given a gift in having this early performance. Elvis came in unknown and left with a firm fan base in Marion County, thanks to forward thinking Jim Kirk."
THE KING!: Ocala's Wanda McCann wrote: "I read in your column recently about Elvis Presley being in Ocala one time before making a movie here later. I had moved to Ocala in 1955 from Fort Lauderdale. I was in 10th grade and went to school in Anthony. At that time, the FFA sponsored a stock show at Southeastern Livestock Pavilion in the spring. And following the stock show was a country music show.
"Having just moved here, I didn't go that year. But that was the year Elvis was here. Next day at school, everyone was talking about this guy that shook all over and was wearing a red sports coat. Guess what? No one could remember his name! I told them when someone does remember, he will be a big hit as that's all everyone is talking about.
"A friend of mine and her younger sister's brothers worked for a radio station, so they were allowed behind the scenes. The younger sister was sorry for Elvis, as no one was asking for his autograph. So, she kept going back and asking him for one. She has a piece of notebook paper today with his autograph written all over it in all directions."