Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Geography & Environmental Studies


Faculty of Arts

First Advisor

Herbert Whitney

Advisor Role

Thesis Supervisor


Sites become places when people bestow meaning, such as sanctity, upon them. Throughout human history, sacred places have continually emerged within cultural groups. Sacred places commonly focus on heroic figures. A pilgrimage is the visible expression of the sanctity of a place. This thesis examines the motives, meanings and experiences which are associated with the journey to Elvis Presley’s Graceland mansion and grave in Memphis, Tennessee.

Data came from questioning 209 people visiting Presley’s home in the summer of 1984, from fan clubs around the world, and from personal interviews with key figures in Memphis. In my analysis of the data, I searched for the essence of the Memphis experience. The kinds of answers gave more insight than did the numbers of people giving them.

The field material gathered in Memphis was very rich in detail and laden with emotion. It revealed the similarities and differences between two groups of visitors: pilgrims and tourists. Whereas both groups admired Presley, the meanings they bestowed upon him and the places in his life varied greatly. Tourists tended to be passive observers in a sterile setting; pilgrims found a tremendous vitality in that same environment.

Expectations which travelers have of their destination’s aesthetic qualities are not related to the meanings which they assign to that place. One’s perceptions of the heroic figure influences the meaning of place, and in turn the assigned significance of place affects one’s environmental experiences there. The pilgrimage in popular culture is not likely to be a passing fad, because it fulfills a human need.

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