Graceland marks 30th year as tourist attraction
But Presley's ex-wife says it's the spirit of Elvis, and not just music history, which keeps the crowds coming to Graceland.
"Every time I go in there, I feel like Elvis is going to come down the stairs any minute," said Priscilla Presley in an exclusive interview with The Associated Press about the landmark's anniversary. "I have no doubt that he's there, somewhere, his spirit. I think people feel that."
The King of Rock'n'Roll died on August 16, 1977, and by the early 1980s, Graceland had become a burden on his estate, which faced high estate and inheritance taxes. Accountants and bankers wanted to sell the home, but Priscilla Presley thought that opening the house to tourists could solve the financial problems while keeping Elvis' legacy alive. She secured a $500,000 investment and visited other tourist attractions -- Hearst Castle, Will Rogers' home, even Disney World -- for inspiration.
Graceland opened for tours on June 7, 1982. "We had no idea whether 30 people were coming, or 300, or 3,000 that first day, fortunately, it was the latter," said Jack Soden, CEO of Elvis Presley Enterprises, who helped Priscilla Presley with her plan.
They sold out all 3,024 tickets on the first day and never looked back. Graceland's success led to a worldwide merchandising and licensing business that keeps Elvis' legend strong while generating $32 million a year in revenue. And the flow of tourists has remained steady, with an average of 500,000 annual visitors to the mansion and exhibit area across the street, according to Soden.
Visitors come all year, but they peak in August during the annual commemoration of Elvis' death, which includes a candlelight vigil. Graceland expects to welcome its 18 millionth visitor this year.
Graceland's popularity has also helped turn Memphis into a major music destination. "When Graceland opened, city leaders saw the impact it brought from visitors from all over the world," said Regena Bearden, vice president of marketing for the Memphis Convention & Visitors Bureau.
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