Graceland, a place which many consider to be the ultimate rock and roll experience, opened its doors to the general public 30 years ago this month. Since that time, nearly 18 million Elvis Presley fans have made the pilgrimage to the late musician’s expansive home. Of course, none of this would have been possible without the help his ex-wife, Priscilla Presley. When the estate was struggling and the pressure was on to sell the property and all of Presley’s belongings, she saw an opportunity to retain his cherished possessions and allow his legion of fans to connect with the late singer in a very unique way.
“I realized as it was going on that there really wasn’t any money that could support Graceland or any of the people that worked for Elvis that were still there,” she explained to the Associated Press. “I had a decision to make to somehow save Graceland.”
After securing a $500,000 investment and visiting other major tourist attractions for inspiration, Priscilla began the task of transforming Elvis’ home into a place people would want to visit. Much to everyone’s surprise — and delight — Graceland sold all of its tickets on opening day as fans from across the country poured in to pay homage to the legendary musician. In fact, so popular was the destination that they made back their initial investment in just 38 days.
“We had no idea whether 30 people were coming, or 300, or 3,000 that first day, Fortunately, it was the latter,” said Elvis Presley Enterprises CEO Jack Soden.
Before long, additions to the attraction were made, including a visitors center which showcased a number of Presley’s favorite cars, his private jet, and other odds and ends. Shortly thereafter, the gift shop and cafe opened its doors, selling Elvis trinkets and memorabilia to Graceland’s seemingly endless supply of visitors. In order to keep people coming back for more, $50 million in improvements are currently scheduled for the future.
Of course, Presley’s estate wasn’t alone in reaping the rewards. The city of Memphis prospered as a result of Graceland’s opening. According to the Memphis Convention & Visitors Bureau, travel expenditures trickled into the city’s bank account to the tune of $1 billion. In 2011, thanks to other local attractions, including Sun Studios and Stax Records, the city enjoyed a $3 billion windfall thanks to the endless devotion of the musician’s fans.
“Every time I go in there, I feel like Elvis is going to come down the stairs any minute,” Priscilla Presley said. “I have no doubt that he’s there, somewhere, his spirit. I think people feel that.”