Hungary gives Elvis Presley a piece of budapest

By 100m
March 8, 2011
Reading Time: 2 minutes
Filed under Naming, Renaming

Elvis Presley is the new king of Hungary, and I’m not talking about his royal appetite for peanut butter-banana-bacon sandwiches.

Elvis is set to be honored in the Central European country, which will make the rocker with the blue suede shoes an honorary citizen and rename one of 12 super-special locations after him. Residents of Budapest, the country’s capital and largest city, get to pick from street crossings, a public square and a spot on Margaret Bridge, which arches over the Danube River.

So what did Elvis do to warrant such an honor? On January 6, 1957, during an appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show in which he dedicated the gospel song “Peace in the Valley,” Elvis managed to get Sullivan to ask viewers to send the country donations. Hungary had recently been thrown in disarray after a revolt against the Soviets was pulverized by Communist tanks. In all, the singer managed to bring in what amounted to 26 million Swiss francs, says Budapest mayor Istvan Tarlos.

Of course, no one should mistake this gesture as a sign of weakness in Hungary’s steely national spirit. “The reasons for honoring Elvis are not sentimental but political,” said Tarlos, who has never owned an Elvis record and was just nine years old in 1957.┬áThis single act of charity more than 50 years ago still has the country loving Elvis tender. It seems good will never dies in Hungary.

But why did it take so long? Usually the impetus for naming city structures (even after foreigners) comes from a person or event that occurred a bit more recently, i.e. not before most of the people who live there were even old enough to know what was happening.

In other words, it took over half a century to get Elvis a lamp post. That doesn’t say much for Hungary’s die-hard fans. Not even the mayor pretends to like him. And while it’s actually the second Budapest spot named after him, the unpaved “Elvis Presley Boulevard” seems to be more of an homage to the home of Laszlo Komar, Hungary’s most famous Elvis impersonator, than it is to the king himself.

So am I the only one who gets the feeling Hungary totally does not want to do this? Are city leaders just begrudgingly trying to build up tourism interest, or is there some Cold War-era favor that hasn’t been repaid?

Either way, one thing’s for sure: now folks will have quite the road trip ahead of them — Tupelo to Sun Studios to Graceland to … Hungary — if they want to call themselves true Elvis fans.