More than 30 years after the untimely death of Elvis Presley, devotees worldwide are still paying fervent tribute to the King of Rock’n Roll.
They don’t come more ardent than South Korean Lee Jong-Jin, who sold two apartments to build his own memorial hall – halfway around the world from the world-famed Graceland museum in Memphis.
The “Follow that Dream” hall at Paju north of Seoul, which opened a decade ago and is named after a 1962 Elvis movie, houses a huge collection of memorabilia.
A 200-inch (508 cm) screen plays constant edited footage of Elvis performing in Las Vegas in August 1970. Visitors are strongly recommended to finish their tour by watching the film on comfortable red couches.
Positioned between the screen and the seats are three sets of amplifiers, each reproducing different music styles from the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s.
Every inch of wall space is plastered with pictures and placards of Elvis, album covers and lyrics of his hit songs. Life-size models of the King, strumming a guitar or clutching a microphone, adorn the hall.
“The memorial hall is non-profit so I spend a lot of money trying to maintain it,” said Lee, sporting a black shirt imprinted with Elvis’s face and with his hair moussed back like his idol.
Lee, who runs a Seoul publishing company, said although he has no money, he also has no debt because – believe it or not – “Elvis transfers money to the accounts” whenever the memorial hall needs it.
The hall attracts many Japanese, American and British tourists but Lee said his aim is to pay tribute to Elvis rather than run a theme park-type operation.
He does not sell snacks or drinks except on the days around the January 8 anniversary of the singer’s birth in 1935 and the anniversary of his death on August 16, 1977.
On those special occasions he offers steaks and other favourite Elvis dishes to visitors and members of the Korean fan club of which he is president. Lee spends around 30 to 40 million won (25,000-34,000 dollars) on each event.
He painstakingly put together his 10,000-item collection in a variety of ways. Some of his 72 old (78 rpm) records came from US soldiers based in Korea.
Parked outside the hall is a white Cadillac Eldorado that was part of the escort for Elvis’s coffin. Five other cars similar to those once driven by him were bought at auction by Lee or members of his fan club.
“All my collection is equally important and valuable to me,” he said. “Once, a huge fire burnt everything and another time a flood ruined them. I had to start from ground zero and it was heartbreaking.”
Lee said officials from Graceland, the singer’s former home, once visited his memorial hall to check whether he was violating copyright by offering pirated DVDs or CDs.
“They were surprised to see that I wasn’t selling anything and that this place served a pure purpose.”
Lee described his passion for Elvis’s music as “love at first sight”.
“I heard a melody and I realised that he was the one. It has been more than 40 years since then and I don’t even remember what song it was.”
The music can even cure hangovers, he once told a radio programme.
“Hundreds called me over the next few days and asked which particular song that was. The answer is, all Elvis songs. It’s obvious that Elvis has become a big part of my life.
“Both my wife and my daughter love Elvis and love what I do for him because they also recognise Elvis is an honourable man.”
Asked his own age, Lee said he stopped counting when he turned 42 because “that is the age Elvis died”.
Various local councils, he said, have offered to relocate his exhbition in bigger and better premises elsewhere in the country. A decision will be taken around the end of the year.
“Then more people will be able to enjoy and appreciate Elvis’s music and legacy,” said Lee.
Except for special occasions, the “Follow That Dream” hall is open from 1-7 pm on Saturdays and Sundays. Reservations must be made in advance.