The Elvis Presley Birthplace welcomed Elvis fans for the King's 77th birthday on Sunday afternoon, and it was as much a family reunion as it was a party. Fans toured the birthplace for free, but mostly they caught up with fellow Elvis fans.
Blair Hill, assistant director of the birthplace, welcomed the fans before everyone sang "Happy Birthday."
"This is a great time for us to gather as friends, and as family," he said. "Y'all are family to us."
That's true for Joann Passalacqua of New York and Sue McCasland of Las Vegas, who've met at Elvis events for years and both happened to be at the birthplace on Sunday.
"Elvis fans just become friends," McCasland said.
"They become your family," Passalacqua added.
Bonnie Avent, 56, of Eupora, said she's missed only a handful of birthdays, death remembrances and other Elvis-related holidays at the birthplace. Decked out with her Elvis T-shirt, watch, earrings, necklace purse and wallet, she smiled and waved at her fellow fans as she made her way through the gift shop.
"I don't know names, but we see each other here every time," she said of her fellow Elvis fans and friends. "It's the atmosphere."
License plates from Tennessee, West Virginia, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Florida and Alabama filled the parking lot, as well as one large bus with 22 tourists from the United Kingdom.
David Wade of Strictly Elvis UK brought the visitors from across the pond.
"What the British fans really value about Tupelo is that Tupelo has protected Elvis' heritage," he said. "We like to stay here so (tourists) can sample real Southern hospitality. I write the brochure and I say Tupelo is the friendliest place in the USA, and it's true. I love this place."
Fans of all ages roamed around the birthplace grounds throughout the afternoon, and McCasland said she was excited to see children at the birthday party.
"We need to have younger fans," she said. "We need them to keep it going. They won't have our same experiences and our memories, but they'll make their own."