By Lydia Hailman
TUPELO – Elvis fans from around the world gathered Saturday to celebrate Fan Appreciation Day at the Elvis Presley Birthplace.
With the anniversary of the singer's death on Aug. 16 fastapproaching, hundreds of fans flocked to the annual Tupelo celebration.
Three tour buses with England's Arena Travel group brought 160 fans, including English, Irish, Belgian, Dutch and Australian tourists. The group will spend three nights in Tupelo and then head to Memphis, said Dick Guyton, executive director of the Elvis Presley Memorial Foundation. Guyton expected an overall turnout of 700 to 800 people on Saturday afternoon.
George Kennedy of Essex, England, has been coming to the King of Rock n' Roll's birthplace for about seven years.
“Elvis could sing any song,” Kennedy said, “and there aren't many artists who could do that.”
Cliff Moore, who owns an Elvis gift shop in Northern Ireland, has been visiting the Birthplace since 1978.
“I first heard Heartbreak Hotel in the summer of 1956,” Moore said, “I've never been the same since.”
Moore said he'll be back in Tupelo for the King's 70th birthday celebration in January.
Elvira Van Poelgeest, arrived in Atlantaon Friday from Holland after a 10-hour flight. She traveled a total of 24 hours to arrive at Elvis' birthplace.
Saturday's event kicked off at 11 a.m. with opening remarks by Henry Dodge, chairman of the board of the Elvis Presley Memorial Foundation.
“This is a very special day,” Dodge said. “We appreciate the fans for traveling to come here today.”
Dodge explained that the foundation's mission is to reflect the innocence of Elvis' childhood.
Tupelo Mayor Larry Otis, several city council members, Tupelo police officers and members of the Presley family were also on hand at the event.
Across the street from the Birthplace, St. Mark's United Methodist Church provided food and drinks. The Dempseys rock-a-billy group and The Landmarks gospel quartet performed in the church's life center.
In the gift shop, Bill Burk signed copies of books he has written about Elvis. Burk was a music writer for the Memphis Press Scimitarfrom 1957 untilthe newspaper went out of business in 1983.
“I also lived near Elvis,” Burk said. “I was with him like gum on a shoe.”
Contact Lydia Hailman at 678-1583 or email@example.com