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FINDING ELVIS: BIRTHPLACE TO GRACELAND AND MORE
February 17th,  2018   -   By Suzanne Corbett • Special to the Post-Dispatch   /   Elvis Express Radio
Living the legend means more to an Elvis fan than taking the Graceland mansion tour. Granted, touring the mansion and a pausing at Elvis’ gravesite is a prerequisite for any fan;
however, there are more sites the faithful and Elvis curious can visit. Places where the King of Rock & Roll lived, slept and ate. Places near and far from Graceland’s main gates.

Dreaming the dream in Tupelo
Small towns often spawn big dreams. Such a place is Tupelo, Miss., where Elvis Presley learned to dream big and play the guitar.

Elvis’ Tupelo story began on Jan. 8, 1935. He was born on the wrong side of the tracks in East Tupelo in a two-room clapboard house void of electricity and running water just off Pig
Trot Trail. Presley’s father, Vernon, borrowed $180 to build the house Elvis was born in but lost it three years later after defaulting on the loan. Later, Elvis purchased the house and
15 acres that surrounded it with proceeds from his 1957 Tupelo Fairgrounds homecoming concert, donating the house and property to the City of Tupelo for its preservation and
development of a children’s park.

The Elvis Presley Birthplace and Park is the fulfillment of that request, which features the Presley’s tiny shotgun house — the polar opposite of the Graceland mansion. The park
grounds, which are free to wander, encompass a lake, picnic pavilion, historical markers and a dateline of Elvis’ life. Admission is charged to tour the home ($8), museum chapel and
church. Tour guides, many of which actually knew Elvis, will happily chat and recount how the home is decorated the way the Presleys would have had it — minus the wallpaper,
curtains and the front porch swing. The period furnishings were selected by Vernon Presley in the 1970s, who directed that the bed be placed in the exact spot where it was the day
Elvis was born.

Seventeen bucks buys the Grand Tour ticket allowing admission to the Welcome Center’s Elvis Museum, the home, meditation chapel and the original East Tupelo First Assembly of
God Church, Elvis’ childhood church where he learned to play the guitar. The church originally was located a block away before its relocation to the park in 2008. Once inside, take
a seat and experience a little old-time religion via a multimedia presentation of a 1940 era Assembly of God Pentecostal service.

Before leaving the park explore the Welcome Center’s Elvis Museum. Exhibits feature Tupelo history and Elvis childhood artifacts and memorabilia. If you’re lucky you could meet
Guy Harris, the Elvis Birthplace Museum Historian who was also Elvis’ childhood friend.

“Elvis and I grew up together and were friends all our lives,” said Harris. “I enjoy talking to folks about those times when Elvis and I were kids. Telling them things we use to do like
swimming in the creek or going to the movies. We only went to the movies when we could get the extra 25 cents by picking up and selling scrap iron. Back then it cost a dime to get
in the movies, which left 15 cents for a box of popcorn and a Coke.”

Look for Harris, especially during the museum’s special events such as Elvis’ birthday and the Tupelo Elvis Festival, which celebrates its 20th anniversary the first weekend in June.
To find that swimming hole and movie house take the Elvis Driving Tour. Maps are free at the birthplace and at the Tupelo Welcome Center, which zigzags drivers through town to
view 13 official sites, each designated with 6-foot artist-decorated guitars.

You’ll find one of them at Tupelo Hardware where Gladys Presley took Elvis to buy a bicycle for his 11th birthday. The bike cost too much as did a rifle he took a fancy to, much to
his mother’s displeasure. Fate took a turn when Tupelo Hardware clerk Forest Bobo suggested a guitar instead of a rifle. Elvis liked it, and Gladys bought it for $8.

A flattop box guitar hangs on over the shelves overlooking where the transaction took place. Look for the X on floor. It marks the spot where Presley stood when the guitar was
bought. For those wanting the ultimate souvenir from Tupelo Hardware, forget the T-shirt and buy a guitar. Tupelo Hardware sells them.

Johnnie’s Drive-in hasn’t changed much since the teenage Elvis ordered from the menu. Barbecue, fried ham and pimento cheese sandwiches are still served daily along with the
local specialty, the doughburger. A doughburger mixes ground beef with bread before it’s pattied, grilled and topped with or without cheese. A doughburger dressed with mustard,
pickle and onion costs $1.35. If you want cheese it’s going cost another dime.

Before hitting the road to Memphis take a detour to the Tupelo Automobile Museum, which sports more than 100 antique, classic, rare and collectible cars. The earliest car on
display is a rare 1886 Mercedes Benz, the latest, a 2017 Toyota Corolla. The museum was the collection of Frank Spain, Tupelo’s other favorite son, a pioneer broadcast engineer
who helped develop color TV. Displays include an Elvis tribute poster wall along with a vintage Cadillac, one of many Elvis gifted to friends. The museum holds a bit of trivia Elvis
fans will appreciate: Spain’s mother was Elvis’ fourth-grade teacher.

Outside the mansion’s gates
Resisting Graceland’s magnetic pull is impossible. Whether you have taken the mansion tour or not, Elvis Presley Enterprises continues to up their game to keep the fans returning.
The latest additions are Elvis Presley’s Memphis, which opened last spring across the street from Graceland, and the Guest House at Graceland that opened in 2016.
Elvis Presley’s Memphis combines an entertainment venue and exhibit tallying 200,000 square-foot. At its core is the archive collection.

“We have well over 1.5 million artifacts in the Graceland collection of which only 20 percent is on display,” said Graceland Director of Archives Angie Marchese. “The new space
better allows us to interpret Elvis’ career from its beginning at Sun Records to 1977. The collection has allowed us to add the white glove experience.”

The white glove experience is part of the VIP tour package that lets visitors hang out in the VIP private lounge, which includes the archival cabinets that hold an ever-changing
collection of Elvis’ artifacts. Once the white cotton gloves are on, the cabinets are unlocked and you’re invited to hold a piece of Elvis history. My visit yielded a touchy-feely
experience with one of Elvis’ combs, the TV remote control found in his nightstand and a stage belt from a jumpsuit. The white glove VIP lounge is the only place on Graceland
property where visitors are allowed to take photos. A great perk enabling opportunities for great selfies.

The VIP Tour rings in at $169 and provides a guided tour of the mansion and grounds, full access to Elvis Presley’s Memphis, a meal voucher and the white glove experience. Oh,
yes, you also get to keep to gloves.

The Guest House at Graceland, whose façade mimics the mansion next door, is where you can spend the night with the king, so to speak. Elvis is everywhere, from the artwork and
the music that’s piped throughout the building to tribute artists found lounging in the lobby. Walk about the Guest House’s public spaces to find such Graceland architectural
elements as the replica white staircase and crystal chandelier found in Graceland’s foyer. Live large and sleep in style and book one of the 20 specialty suites, such as the red and
gold decorated King Suite with a TV mounted on the ceiling over the bed.

Elvis’ Memphis
To explore the Memphis Elvis loved, venture out into the streets and retrace his steps to Sun Studios, site of his first recording. Afterward shop and browse the racks at Lansky
Brothers. Dubbed the Clothier to the King, Lansky’s is where Elvis bought his first and last suit at the original Beale Street location. Lansky’s also operates a branch off the Peabody
Hotel, the renowned Mid-South hotel famous for its ducks and Elvis history.

Elvis enjoyed the Peabody’s Continental Ballroom as a high school senior at the Humes High School prom. A few years later one of the Peabody’s six-floor guest rooms was used by
photographer Lloyd Shearer who staged Elvis’ first pin-up photo shoot.

“Another piece of Elvis history we discovered about 10 years ago was the Peabody lobby was where he signed his contract with RCA records along with a signing bonus,” said
Peabody marketing director Kelly Earnest. “The signing bonus was typed on Peabody letterhead. We have a copy of it on display in our Memorabilia Room.”

During your Memphis visit you will want to eat like the King. Try the banana and peanut butter sandwich toasted in bacon grease at Gladys’s Diner or a barbecue bologna sandwich,
sliced thick and topped with slaw at Central BBQ. For breakfast try the sweet potato pancakes, a customer favorite at the Arcade, a classic diner where Elvis was known to slip in the
back door and grab his favorite booth.

Flipping the tables from home-style to gourmet foodies enjoy the eclectic, edgy fare from Memphis’ James Beard nominated chefs Andy Ticer and Michael Hudman at Catherine &
Mary’s, located on the first floor of what was the lobby of the old Chisca Hotel. The Chisca’s Elvis connection was on the second floor, home to WHBQ radio. (WHBQ was the first
station to play Elvis. The record spun? “That’s Alright").

IF YOU GO
elvispresleybirthplace.com
tupelo.net
tupeloelvisfestival.com
graceland.com
memphistravel.com

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