The late Elvis Presley was known as “The King of Rock and Roll” and today, nearly 40-years after his death, the much-beloved king still rules, especially in his hometown of Tupelo, Mississippi where there are many Elvis-related sites to see. While Presley is buried in the somewhat ostentatious surroundings of Graceland in Memphis, Tennessee, fans can learn all about the star’s humble beginnings with a visit to the Elvis Presley Birthplace & Museum in Tupelo.
The centerpiece of the Elvis Presley Birthplace & Museum is the actual home where Elvis was born. Smaller than a single-wide trailer, the Presley home is a shotgun-style house with only two rooms; a bedroom and a kitchen. Furnishings inside the home are not original but they are from the era, and a brief guided tour allows time for fans to ask questions about the home and about Elvis in general. Encircling the home is a nice memorial walkway called the “Walk of Life” that commemorates significant dates in Presley’s life.
Inside the museum at the Elvis Presley Birthplace fans can trace Presley’s life through a sizable collection of memorabilia including clothing worn by the star. There are also a couple of vintage Captain Marvel, Jr. comic books in the museum and fans may not realize that Elvis lifted big chunks of his stage look from this character, from the way he styled his dyed black hair (Elvis was a natural blond) to the occasional wearing of a cape to the lightning bolt that adorned his famous TCB (Taking Care of Business) logo. Fans need to keep their cameras put away during a visit to the museum as this is one of only two places at the Elvis Presley Birthplace where photography is prohibited (the other place is the gift shop.)
Two films on Presley can be viewed at the Elvis Presley Birthplace; one is about a half an hour in duration and it is an overview of Presley’s life and career. The other is shown in the tiny on-property (it was relocated there) church that Presley attended as a boy; it recreates what a typical service would have been like in those days, including with a portrayal of a very young “Elvis” singing. A neat feature of the film is that footage is projected in front of and on both sides of the viewer, giving attendees the feeling that they are indeed “really there.”
Should you happen to visit the Elvis Presley Birthplace and Museum on a day when Guy Harris is on the property you’ll be in for a real treat. Harris was one of Presley’s best boyhood friends (and on into adulthood too) and he regales visitors with charming stories of long ago, including fun that he and Elvis had at the local swimming hole and various sorts of typical kid trouble that they got into from time to time. Harris also carries a small selection of photos of himself and Elvis from back in the day. “Mr. Guy,” as the locals call Harris, loves to answer questions and pose for photos, and fans can get a good sense from him of what Presley’s formative years were like.
Since Elvis spent so much time in Tupelo, the city is filled with places connected to him. One of the most famous is Tupelo Hardware Company, the place where Presley’s mom Gladys bought young Elvis his first guitar (for $7.90!) The store remains a functioning hardware store and still sells inexpensive guitars (they’re around $100 now) but they do cater to Elvis fans; ask for Connie and she’ll tell you the story of the guitar and even show you the approximate spot where Elvis stood when it was presented to him. Like many Elvis-related places throughout Tupelo, there’s a placard outside the store commemorating the event.
A few other Elvis-related things not to miss in Tupelo are a statue located on the former grounds of the Tupelo Fairgrounds (now called Fairpark) where Elvis played a show in 1956, and Johnnie’s Drive-In, a favorite eatery of Presley’s in boyhood days. They’ll have a carhop come out and serve you at Johnnie’s if you like but if you go inside the tiny restaurant there’s a special “Elvis booth” that makes for a good photo opportunity. Everybody knows that Elvis loved cars, and among the several hundred classic cars at the Tupelo Automobile Museum is a 1976 Lincoln Mark IV that belonged to Presley. Adjacent to the Lincoln is a wall full of original posters from Presley’s movies and TV shows, arranged in such a manner as to spell out “Elvis.”
For more information on Elvis-related fun in Tupelo go here.
Tupelo is just one of the locations in the Americana Music Triangle, a history-rich and musically-fertile area bounded roughly by Memphis, Nashville, and New Orleans. For more information on the Americana Music Triangle go here.