| 8.3°C Belfast

Don't be cruel - charge to visit Elvis' grave during vigil upsets fans


Visitors participate in a candlelight vigil for Elvis Presley at Graceland, for the 40th anniversary of his death (AP Photo/Brandon Dill)

Visitors participate in a candlelight vigil for Elvis Presley at Graceland, for the 40th anniversary of his death (AP Photo/Brandon Dill)

Visitors participate in a candlelight vigil for Elvis Presley at Graceland, for the 40th anniversary of his death (AP Photo/Brandon Dill)

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 penny.

This year, it is costing them 28.75 dollars (£22.51) and ma ny fans are not happy.

Visitors attending the vigil that began on Tuesday night and runs 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 dollar (£35.2 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 16 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.

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.

A crowd estimate was not immediately available. Officials had prepared for about 30,000 to 50,000 people.

A few Presley fans made a pilgrimage to Graceland the year he died, and they have continued coming ever since. Graceland says it averages 500,000 visitors per year from around the world.

The 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% ownership in the company.

The new entertainment complex is part of a 140 million dollar (£110 million) expansion, which also includes a 90 million dollar (£70.4 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 Mr Makowski, of St Petersburg, Florida. "There's a price for that as well, to accommodate all the people."