The anniversary of Elvis' death on August 16th has become Elvis Week where tens of thousands of people from all over the world make a near-religious pilgrimage to Graceland, Elvis' home in Memphis. Around midnight, a line of thousands of Elvis fans carrying candles walk up to Meditation Gardens where Elvis is buried and there is a midnight ceremony.
I was at the candlelight vigil years ago and always wanted to go back. It is a great photo op and I enjoy talking to people and finding out why so many traveled so far to be there. For me, it was just a 200 mile trip down I-40. I left on the morning of August 16th and, when I got there, I never saw so few people at Graceland. Then, I found out the candlelight vigil was on August 15th, the day before the 36th anniversary of Elvis' death and the candlelight march ended on midnight of the 16th. The pessimist would say I was a day late; the optimist would say I was 364 days early. Next year...
I was disappointed that I missed a great photo op but I decided I'd make a first-time trip the next day to the birthplace of Elvis in Tupelo, MS, 100 miles southeast of Memphis. I was surprised to find a micro-Graceland in Tupelo.
There is the two room shotgun house Elvis was born, lit by a single bare bulb hanging from the ceiling. When Elvis was born, I don't think the house had electricity and, even now, there is no indoor plumbing. A multi-thousand ton air conditioner sits in the back of the building - an addition for Elvis fans who don't really want to see how Elvis lived in the sweltering heat of an August day.
Vernon Presley, Elvis' father, borrowed $180 from his employer in 1934 to build the house with the help of his father and brother. Elvis was born in the house a year later on January 8, 1935. Elvis' identical twin brother, Jesse Garon Presley, was stillborn. Vernon Presley later defaulted on the $180 loan and lost his house. The house sits in the same place it was built. In 1935, the location would have been the poverty stricken outskirts of Tupelo.
The first church Elvis attended was originally at another location but has been moved just up the hill from the Presley home. It was an Assembly of God Pentecostal church with one room. It had wooden floors, walls, and ceiling and uncomfortable, unpadded wooden pews, and was lit by bare bulbs hanging from the ceiling. Like the Presley home, in the 30s and 40s, there was no air conditioning. It was in this church that Elvis acquired his life-long love of Gospel music and Gospel quartets.
Between the Presley home and the church on the hill, there is a garden with benches. The centerpiece of the garden is a lifesize bronze statue of 13 year old Elvis in overalls, carrying a guitar. The statue stands at ground level as if you were just encountering the young Elvis.
When the Presleys, Vernon, Gladys, and Elvis, left Tupelo to move to Memphis, Vernon had a 1938 Plymouth sedan. The Birthplace doesn't have the original car but has a car of the same make and model.
And you can't go anywhere without exiting through the gift shop. The Birthplace gift shop is the largest building on the property. It has a theater where a movie runs throughout the day, a museum, Elvis t-shirts, photos, keychains, license plates, cup holders, a miniature likeness of the Presley home, etc. - everything the Elvis fan needs to remember their visit.
As I was standing in line to buy a t-shirt with a photo of the birthplace home on the back, I saw an Elvis looking man ahead of me carring the Epiphone version of the Gibson J-200 that Elvis was often photographed with. I asked if I could take his picture and he was happy to pose. He had a humble-as-Elvis personality and, like many Elvis lookalikes I've talked to, had no illusions about what he was doing. He said he wasn't an impersonator but did a young Elvis tribute show. He was proud that his guitar player and bass player played vintage instruments from the Scotty Moore and Bill Black era and he sang into a vintage mic - the Shure 55 "Elvis Mic".
The young Elvis was Harold "Elvis" Schulz. Check him out at his website at:
When I left Elvis' birthplace, I headed to downtown Tupelo and the Tupelo Hardware store. In 1946, Gladys took 11 year-old Elvis to the hardware store to buy him a bicycle. Elvis saw a 22-calibre rifle he wanted. Gladys wouldn't buy Elvis the gun but instead bought him his first guitar for $7.90. I'd say that investment paid off.
The last few images were shot around Tupelo and include The Lyric Theater and the old courthouse.
There is a photo of Elvis' birthplace in this blog. For more images, go to: