Love me legal tender: Elvis fans complain about grave visit costs

Forty years after king of R ’n R death, charge at Graceland prompts price-gouging claims

A street memorial is lit during a candlelight vigil for Elvis Presley in front of Graceland, Presley’s Memphis home. Photograph: Brandon Dill/AP

A street memorial is lit during a candlelight vigil for Elvis Presley in front of Graceland, Presley’s Memphis home. Photograph: Brandon Dill/AP

 

Elvis Presley fans are angry they are having to pay to show their respects to their hero at his Graceland mansion on the 40th anniversary of his death.

For nearly 40 years they have been able to make a solemn procession past his grave at Graceland during the annual candlelight vigil commemorating his death, without paying a cent.

This year, it is costing them $28.75 dollars and many fans are not happy.

Visitors attending the vigil that began on Tuesday night and ran into Wednesday had to have an Elvis Week Property Pass wristband to walk up the long driveway and past the graves where Presley and relatives are buried.

The $28.75 dollar wristband also provided access to a new $45 million entertainment complex at the Memphis, Tennessee, tourist attraction.

Graceland, operated by Elvis Presley Enterprises, said it anticipated large crowds and it updated its security measures for Elvis Week, the annual celebration of Presley’s life and career in music and movies.

Presley died on August 16th, 1977, in Memphis.

“In order to keep everyone safe and ensure an enjoyable and meaningful event for all, we have worked closely with local, state and federal security authorities to establish new procedures that have been widely used across the US,” Graceland said.

Elvis Presley: died on August 16th, 1977. Photograph: PA
Elvis Presley: died on August 16th, 1977. Photograph: PA

Mourning fans

Thousands of mourning fans holding white candles burning a yellow-orange flame made a slow, silent walk through the graves on Tuesday night.

Before the procession began, Priscilla Presley, the performer’s former wife, and Lisa Marie Presley, their daughter, thanked the crowd for their love and dedication.

Officials had prepared for 30,000-50,000 people.

Graceland says it averages 500,000 visitors per year from around the world.

The attendance-fee announcement surprised fans who did not know about the charge when they made plans to come to Elvis Week. Some reacted with angry messages on social media, saying they will not attend another vigil.

News of the vigil charge upset Anthony Stuchbury, of Bolton, England, who has been to Graceland more than two dozen times but did not come this year.

“I understand they are a business, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with them making money,” he said. “But the current price-gouging situation has created so much friction, it’s even dividing fans.”

Longtime fan Fred Schwarz of Springfield, Illinois, said he and his wife have been to several vigils and have enjoyed them, but not this year, and fans should be insulted at the new charge.

“I looked forward to going down there this year, and they come up with all this,” he said. “I don’t want to even go to Memphis anymore. The people running that are not Elvis fans. They are in business. Corporations, they want the bottom line.”

Elvis Presley Enterprises was created by the Elvis Presley Trust to manage its assets, according to Graceland’s website. It was wholly owned by the Elvis Presley Trust and Lisa Marie Presley until 2005.

It is now majority-owned by Graceland Holdings, led by managing partner Joel Weinshanker. Lisa Marie Presley retains 15 per cent ownership in the company.

Entertainment complex

The new entertainment complex is part of a $140 million expansion, which also includes a $90 million, 450-room hotel that opened last year.

The complex, featuring exhibits of Presley’s cars, clothing and other personal items, replaces the ageing buildings that housed the exhibits for years.

Getting into restaurants, gift shops and an entertainment tent where people gathered before the vigil used to be free, but now access to them is included in the fee to enter the complex.

Some fans did not have a problem with the charge.

Joe Makowski, who saw Presley more than 80 times in concert and came to Graceland after Presley died in 1977, said it is a good idea because of the cost of security. “It goes along with the territory of the popularity of Elvis,” said Makowski, of St Petersburg, Florida. “There’s a price for that as well, to accommodate all the people.” – (AP)