TUPELO, Miss. (AP) — The Elvis Presley Birthplace and Museum in Tupelo, Mississippi, has welcomed an increasing number of visitors as fans commemorate the 45th anniversary of Presley's death and a new movie reawakens international interest in the singer.
Roy Turner was named executive director of the Birthplace last fall after longtime leader Dick Guyton retired.
The Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal reported Turner's biggest challenge is getting visitors to return to Tupelo’s top attraction amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The Birthplace has seen more visitors this year than in the past two.
“It really picked up the first of April with steady increases, and then when the film came out it really picked up,” he said.
The Baz Luhrmann-directed “Elvis" movie has been a global hit. With international tourists typically making up 60% of Birthplace visitors, the movie about the king of rock ’n' roll couldn’t have been released at a better time.
Fans make a pilgrimage every year 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-columned Graceland mansion, where he died on Aug. 16, 1977.
During the vigil, devotees carry candles as they walk solemnly through the Meditation Garden, where Presley is buried alongside relatives. This year, thousands of fans attended the vigil that started Monday night and ended Tuesday morning.
The Birthplace in Tupelo is about 94 miles (151 kilometers) southeast of Graceland. Turner said it was only last November that a busload of visitors became the first international tour group at the site since January 2020.
“They’re coming from all over the world,” Turner said.
He said about 20 people from Belgium visited the Birthplace on Aug. 9, spending most of the day there. About 35 bus tours were expected in just over two weeks. Turner said those numbers are approaching pre-COVID levels.
Before the pandemic, the Birthplace saw about 60,000 visitors a year.
Turner said tourism at the Birthplace typically increases “in those five-year increments” of the anniversary of the death.
Turner said he’s happy to see more visitors, including younger ones.
“We’ve seen a lot of young people show an interest in Elvis,” he said. “Another interesting thing is that there are more African American visitors as well, because the movie told more of Elvis’ connection to the African American community.”