By Sheena Barnett/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – In the hometown of his favorite singer, Chilean miner Edison Pena walked in the footsteps of Elvis Presley on Sunday.
He also sang a few of his favorite Elvis songs and did his best imitations of Elvis’ famous swinging hips.
Pena, 34, was among the 33 miners trapped almost a half-mile underground for 69 days.
After his rescue in October, the self-described “Elvis fanatic” accepted Elvis Presley Enterprises’ invitation to Memphis, where he spent Elvis’ birthday Saturday touring Graceland and cutting a birthday cake.
On Sunday, he came to Tupelo for a private tour of the Elvis Presley birthplace and a visit to Tupelo Hardware Store.
“The feeling was unbelievable,” Pena said, via an interpreter, after his Tupelo tour. “Elvis is everywhere in this town.”
Once he arrived at the birthplace, the miner and his interpreter were given a tour of the two-room home by birthplace assistant director Blair Hill.
After the tour through the home, Elvis Presley Memorial Foundation Chairman Henry Dodge asked Pena what he thought about it.
“Very emotional,” he said. “I could feel him.”
Pena then spent time at the statue of “Elvis at 13.”
He touched the statue’s shoulder and had his picture made with the statue.
Pena was given a tour of Elvis’ childhood church, and after viewing a re-enactment of church service, he sang a few lines of gospel songs from the church’s pulpit and held his arm out like he was a preacher.
He stopped in at the chapel and finished his tour with a walk through the birthplace’s museum.
Inside the museum’s office, Pena was presented with a host of Elvis-related gifts.
Tupelo Mayor Jack Reed Jr. called Pena a “man who is one of our heroes” and presented him with a key to the city.
“We hope this will help you unlock many more visits to Tupelo,” Reed said.
Pena waved the key in the air for all to see.
Neal McCoy, executive director of the Tupelo Convention and Visitors Bureau, gave Pena an Elvis bag full of gifts from the CVB, Tupelo Elvis Presley Festival and Tupelo Elvis Presley Fan Club, of which Pena is now an honorary lifetime member.
“We hope to see you back here in June” for the festival, McCoy said.
Dodge presented the miner with a miniature of the “Elvis at 13” statue, and Pena teared up when it was handed to him.
Guy Harris, a childhood friend of Elvis, presented Pena with a few pictures of himself and Elvis, as well as pictures from Elvis’ 1956 visit.
After lunch at Vanelli’s, Pena was welcomed to Tupelo Hardware by sales manager Howard Hite. He recounted for the miner the story of Elvis’ first guitar, telling him that if he stood where a young Elvis stood, his hips may start swiveling.
Pena stood still for a few moments before launching into his best Elvis moves.
Hite then presented a guitar to Pena and asked him to sing a few Elvis songs. Though Pena speaks no English, he began singing a nearly perfect version of “That’s All Right.”
Hite then gave the guitar to Pena as a gift, as well as a Tupelo Hardware T-shirt.
Hill, who accompanied Pena throughout all of his Tupelo tours, said he was honored to see the miner through the city.
“It’s truly been a blessing,” Hill said. “He’s so appreciative. It’s a special day for us, and days like this really bring it home.”
Pena returned to Memphis and is scheduled to fly to Las Vegas, where he will see the new Cirque du Soleil Elvis show, “Viva Elvis.”
When asked if he will return to Tupelo, Pena replied, “If you invite me, I will be here.”
Contact Sheena Barnett at (662) 678-1580 or firstname.lastname@example.org.