Anniversary of Elvis’ death boosts tourism in his hometown

TUPELO, Mississippi (AP) — The birthplace and museum of Elvis Presley in Tupelo, Mississippi, has seen growing numbers of visitors as fans commemorate the 45th anniversary of Presley’s death and a new movie awakens the international interest in the singer.

Roy Turner was named executive director of Birthplace last fall following the retirement of longtime executive Dick Guyton.

The Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal reported that Turner’s biggest challenge was getting visitors back to Tupelo’s top attraction amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The birthplace has had more visitors this year than the past two years.

“It really picked up on April Fool’s Day with steady increases, and then when the movie came out, it really picked up again,” he said.

The film “Elvis” directed by Baz Luhrmann was a worldwide success. With international tourists typically accounting for 60% of Birthplace visitors, the film about the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll couldn’t have come at a better time.

Fans make an annual pilgrimage to Memphis, Tennessee, to attend events during “Elvis Week,” the annual celebration of his life and career in the days surrounding his death anniversary. The highlight is a candlelight vigil at Presley’s white-pillared Graceland mansion, where he died on August 16, 1977.

During the vigil, worshipers carry candles as they solemnly walk through the meditation garden, where Presley is buried alongside relatives. This year, thousands of fans attended the vigil which began Monday evening and ended Tuesday morning.

Tupelo’s birthplace is about 151 kilometers southeast of Graceland. Turner said it was only last November that a busload of visitors became the first group of international tourists to the site since January 2020.

“They come from all over the world,” Turner said.

He said around 20 people from Belgium visited the birthplace on August 9, spending most of the day there. Around 35 bus tours were expected in just over two weeks. Turner said those numbers are approaching pre-COVID levels.

Before the pandemic, the Berceau welcomed around 60,000 visitors a year.

Turner said birthplace tourism typically increases “in five-year increments” beginning on the anniversary of death.

Turner said he was happy to see more visitors, including younger ones.

“We’ve seen a lot of young people take an interest in Elvis,” he said. “Another interesting thing is that there are also more African-American visitors, because the movie says more about Elvis’ connection to the African-American community.”

About Bobby F. Lopez

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