TUPELO – A poor boy from Mississippi doesn’t become an international icon without help.
On Tuesday, Elvis Presley’s hometown paid tribute to fans from around the world who continue to celebrate the man and his music.
“I know the spirit of the occasion that brings you here, and I share the same spirit. We want your day in Tupelo to stand out as a very special day,” Henry Dodge, chairman of the Elvis Presley Memorial Foundation, told more than 175 people who gathered for Fan Appreciation Day.
The event drew Marjorie Wilkinson, 65, from her home in Boston. She’s been to the Elvis Presley Birthplace and Museum 17 times. On Tuesday, she wore a shirt that read, “Don’t blame me, I voted for Elvis.”
“He was actually on the ballot in 1997 in England,” Wilkinson said. “A friend who lives in England sent it to me.”
Wilkinson planned the trip with her college roommate, who came from Long Beach, Calif. She also ran into other Elvis friends while in Tupelo.
“It’s like a family reunion,” Wilkinson said, moments after wrapping Jerry Engelby, 67, of Jefferson City, Mo., in a big hug.
“I try to come to Tupelo every year,” Engelby said. “I come to Graceland 10 times a year.”
“She does,” Wilkinson said. “She really does.”
Many happy returns
Harry Williams, 66, traveled to Memphis and Tupelo with a tour group from England. This was his 20th visit to Elvis’ hometown, and he’s planning for more.
“I’ve got money saved for the big one, 2012,” he said. “That’s the big one, every five years. That will be 35 years since he died.”
Williams got an extra souvenir on this trip: Homa Bailey, 86, sat up a table on the grounds of St. Mark United Methodist Church and gave out New Testaments from Gideons International. He had brown Bibles for men, and light blue ones for women.
“I’ve seen people from Brazil, England, South Carolina, Oklahoma – all over,” Bailey said.
Tuesday marked 39-year-old Tracy Connell’s eighth visit to Tupelo from her home in England.
“I just love coming here. I can’t stay away,” she said. “I love Memphis and Tupelo. Every time you come, there’s something new. It’s great, a great atmosphere.”
Her admiration for the King of Rock ’n’ Roll goes back longer than her memories.
“Me mum said I was about 5 years old. They were playing a record. Mum said that I said, ‘Who’s that?’” Connell recalled. “Mum said, ‘Elvis Presley.’ I said, ‘I like that.’ I don’t remember it, but they told me about it.”
Kay Bain and the Mornin’ Show Band performed “When Will I Be Loved” and other classic songs in the church’s Family Life Center, and The Landmarks performed gospel in the sanctuary.
Over at the Birthplace, there was a steady stream of songs over speakers from the man himself.
Lauren Bennett, 15, came down with her family from Berlin, Md., and she found it impossible to pick a favorite Elvis song.
“I like ‘Jailhouse Rock.’ That’s my favorite movie,” she said, “but I don’t really have a favorite song. How can you pick one? I just love them all.”
Contact M. Scott Morris at (662) 678-1589 or email@example.com.
M. Scott Morris/NEMS Daily Journal