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Mr. Dow bought a replica Elvis driver’s license and a shot glass to take home with him. He said the permanence of Graceland’s popularity is a tribute to the performer’s talent and ability to connect with fans.

“It’s just a phenomenon,” Mr. Dow said. “He had a gift, and he used it in the right way.”

Graceland’s draw has long had a spillover effect on the Memphis economy, with visitors spending money on hotel rooms, dining and other things. In the mid-1980s, travel expenditures in Memphis were estimated at about $1 billion; in 2011, with many more local attractions for tourists to see, travel expenditures exceeded $3 billion, according to the Memphis Convention & Visitors Bureau.

The idea of opening Graceland to the public came to Miss Presley after Elvis‘ father, Vernon, died in 1979 and she was thrust into the role of managing the estate.

“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 said. “I had a decision to make to somehow save Graceland.”

She initially reached out to Morgan Maxfield, a Kansas City-based financier, but after he died in a plane crash, his business partner, Mr. Soden, stepped in.

“The one really clear, passionate voice for ‘Don’t let go of Graceland, don’t let go of the artifacts,’ was Priscilla,” Mr. Soden said.

They met, planned and visited other homes-turned-museums, such as Thomas Jefferson’s house at Monticello and Thomas Edison’s home in West Orange, N.J. By 1982, they were ready to open, with Miss Presley’s idea of keeping everything in the home the same as it was when Elvis was alive still intact.

To augment the $500,000 investment, they presold tickets, generating enough money to buy uniforms for the tour guides. The first month was such a success that they made back the half-million dollars in about 38 days, Mr. Soden said. Future plans include $50 million in improvements to Elvis Presley Boulevard and other infrastructure near Graceland.