Between semesters, my wife and I went to Tupelo, Mississippi to visit some friends who are about to move abroad for a few years. I didn’t know anything about Tupelo before planning the trip. I had to look the place up on a map just to figure out where it is. Tupelo isn’t a large or bustling city. According to the town’s Wikipedia entry, it has “a population of 37,559, with the surrounding counties of Lee, Pontotoc and Itawamba supporting a population of 146,131.” It’s a one traffic-light kind of place. It did have a mall and a Barnes & Noble, which was nice. What surprised me most, though, was when I saw a sign directing people to the birthplace of Elvis Presley. I was thinking, ‘Wow! Elvis was born here?‘ I’d just always assumed he was from Memphis, probably because that’s where he became famous.
Anyhow, we didn’t go to Tupelo to see Elvis; we were there to spend time with our friends, so when I saw the sign for the location, I didn’t mention it. But, when they suggested we stop by Elvis’ birthplace one evening, my wife and I were happy to agree. I mean, why not? It’ll probably be the one and only time we’ll ever see the place. I can’t imagine ever having a reason to be back in Tupelo. Not that it’s a bad place to be, but travel is expensive and there are plenty of places to visit in the world.
The first thing we saw when we pulled up at the Elvis birthplace site was an old car sitting out front. On closer inspection, it turned out to be a replica of the 1939 Plymouth sedan that the Presley family drove when they left Tupelo for Memphis, which is where Elvis became famous.
Also close to the parking lot is the actual house where Elvis was born. It was in good shape. The only odd thing about it was the large air conditioning unit hooked up to the back of it. I’m pretty sure they didn’t have one of those when Elvis was growing up!
The house is surrounded by a “Walk of Life” which is a rounded set of paving stones with important years and events noted. Since it circles the house, I was humming the Lion King tune, “Circle of Life” to myself while looking at it. It’s pretty informative. I was surprised to find out that Elvis had a twin brother who was stillborn and that his father had spent some time in jail.
The grounds are fairly nice. They’re certainly well-maintained, which is understandable. I imagine a lot of revenue enters Tupelo because of its connection to Elvis Presley.
This fountain had plaques inset into the walls showing key dates in Elvis’ life, including his birth, move to Memphis and death.
In a grove of trees a bronze statue was set up of Elvis when he was 13 years old.
The Assembly of God church that Elvis attended as a child was moved to the location, so visitors could see the where Elvis received some of his inspiration. Other plaques set up around the area mentioned that Elvis was inspired by African-American music and rhythms. He was born poor, so he spent most of his time on the “wrong” side of the tracks where the poor African-Americans lived. The area was referred to as Shake Rag.
When we visited the site, the museum was already closed, so we didn’t get to look around inside. The Elvis Presley memorial chapel was also closed. I thought that was interesting, that a chapel was included at a museum. You don’t see religion mixed with much of anything these days. It was probably justified by the large influence that gospel music played in producing Elvis’ style.
We did get to look in the outhouse, but inside the door there was a plexiglass shield, probably to keep people from actually sitting down and relieving themselves.
Elvis is a pretty big deal in Tupelo, so he isn’t just represented at his birthplace; he also has a bronze statue in front of City Hall. The statue replicates a photo taken by Roger Marshutz (shown below) during Elvis’ 1956 homecoming concert.
I’m not the biggest Elvis fan. I don’t have a favorite Elvis song and I can’t remember the last time I looked up Elvis music online. Still, he’s an American classic and his music is still good. I don’t think I’ll suddenly become a die-hard Elvis fan, but I think I’ll spend some more time listening to his music and I’ll maybe even understand it better, now that I have an idea of where he came from.