More than 300 voices joined together to sing “Happy Birthday” to Elvis Presley on Friday.
City officials, fans and well-wishers met in a tent on the grounds of the Elvis Presley Birthplace and Museum to celebrate what would have been the King of Rock ’n’ Roll’s 75th birthday.
As with most birthdays, there was cake, including one shaped like the two-room house where Elvis was born on a January day in 1935.
No one lit candles, but there were a fair amount of presents.
Mary Beth Wilkerson, director of tourism for the Mississippi Development Authority, offered the first gift: The cover of the 2010 Mississippi Tourism Guide will feature an image of Elvis’ 1956 homecoming performance in Tupelo.
“We’ll be sharing these beautiful booklets with 300,000 visitors who will be coming to Mississippi,” Wilkerson said.
The next present came from the Elvis Presley Memorial Foundation, which has approved a five-year plan of upgrades at the birthplace grounds.
“We want to keep making improvements,” said Tom Robinson, vice chairman of the foundation, “so every time an Elvis fan returns, they’ll have a new experience.”
Next to a poster of Elvis’ cover shot for the Tourism Guide, there were three sets of drawings depicting the changes:
- a 100-seat theater to be connected to the gift shop and museum.
- an outdoor stage and amphitheater.
- a nature walk area that features recorded stories from Elvis’ childhood friends.
- expanded parking.
“We also want to remember that this is a public park,” Robinson said. “We want open spaces so people can have picnics and kids can fly kites and play.”
The budget was projected to be about $5 million. No timetable has been set for the work to begin.
Henry Dodge, chairman of the foundation, said he plans to travel to Jackson next week to seek funding.
“We want to get the Legislature to support it,” he said. “We’re hoping to get a grant, a line item in the budget.”
Dodge said that some 50,000 people from around the country and the world visit the birthplace each year. The goal of the improvements is to double that number.
“We want to give people a reason to extend their stay to two meals and an overnight stay,” Dodge said. “That’s what we’re doing.”
For the fans
On Friday, about 250 fans from Great Britain took tour buses from Memphis to celebrate Elvis’ big day. The plan was to return to Memphis for the night.
Irene Loucas, 32, and her mother, Kay Loucas, 51, both of London, were making their fourth trip to the U.S. to honor the man they both adore.
“I just like every single song,” Kay Loucas said.
“I don’t understand the people who don’t love Elvis,” Irene Loucas said. “I don’t get it.”
After four visits since 2002, they are thinking about waiting for another decade before taking the next trip to their idol’s hometown.
If and when they return, maybe they’ll get to enjoy some of the presents from Elvis’ 75th birthday.
Contact M. Scott Morris at (662) 678-1589 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
M. Scott Morris/NEMS Daily Journal