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Birthplace of the King

Photos and Article by Kathleen Walls

 

 

Most of Elvis's fans have made the pilgrimage to Graceland. His most devote followers recognize the importance of that earlier shrine, his birthplace in Tupelo Mississippi. After all without the birthplace there would have been no Graceland.

Elvis's birthplace in Tupelo
Graceland, where he died

Tupelo was the place that shaped the young Elvis and helped make him into the idol he would become. On first glance, Tupelo is just another Mississippi farming community. That is the very thing that made Elvis the person he was until his death, a polite, Southern boy who respected his mother and father and had a firm belief in God. A comment by a good friend of his mother and a cousin by marriage, Anne Presley, sums it up. "Elvis never forgot his raisin'.

The front room/bedroom where Elvis was born

That "raisin'" began in a small sharecropper cabin his father Vernon, with the help of his father and brother, built in 1934. It had no electricity or indoor plumbing. On Jan 8 1935, Elvis was born in the front room. He was one of twins but his brother, named Jesse Garon, was stillborn and buried in the local cemetery. The house was small and built on the land owned by the farmer Vernon worked for as a sharecropper, Mr. Orville Bean.

Today, the house, along with the Elvis Presley Museum, the church Elvis first attended, a meditation chapel, garden and other tributes to the King of Rock and Roll, comprise the Elvis Birthplace Site.

The meditation chapel

As you step inside the tiny home, the feeling of actually being where Elvis was is overwhelming. The home is original and on its original site. The furniture, while not original, is similar and positioned as it was according to Vernon's recollections. The feeling is more of a shrine than a museum.

This was the depths of the depression era and times were tough beyond any we now imagine. Vernon made a poor judgment when he felt cheated by Mr. Bean over a hog he sold him. Vernon forged Bean's $4 check to either $14 or $40. As a result he was sent to prison and Gladys lost the home to Mr. Bean.

The church Elvis attended as a child

At a very young age, Elvis was introduced to a place that would forever impact his musical style, the modest Assembly of God Church. The church has been moved to the Birthplace Site and restored. Inside, you are surrounded by the worshipers, preacher and watch as singers including young Elvis put their heart and soul into the simple gospel music. Gospel music remained an important part of Elvis' life long after he left the environs of this simple country church. He won his first Grammy for How Great Thou Art , a song he sang and heard many times in this little white building.

In light of Elvis's deeply spiritual nature, there is a gracious chapel on the ground where visitors can go to meditate, pray or just remember the singer who left this earth way too soon.

The museum and gift shop have recently been renovate. The displays inside offer a deeper look into Elvis' life particularly here in Tupelo. Much of the material in the museum was donated by Janelle McComb, a family friend, those original artifacts are included in "Remembrances of Things Past." Out front, you will find a 1939 green Plymouth. It's not original but is the same make and model used when Vernon gathered his little family and few belongings and left to find a better life for them all in Memphis.


The stature of Young Elvis

The Garden with a fountain and Walk of Life consisting of 42 granite blocks each representing year of Elvis' life and the most significant happening that year. There is also a Story Wall with quotes regarding Elvis from his boyhood friends of Elvis. There is one other item. The stature that is the most photographed stature in Mississippi. It is of Elvis at thirteen. Done by Michiel Van der Sommen, it depicts the young Elvis carrying his guitar and headed for one of his favorite spots, an overlook where he often went to play and contemplate.

That guitar, a simple instrument, that helped shape his life as much as the home and church has a story of its own. When Elvis was 10 Gladys took him to the Tupelo Hardware store to buy him a present. Today, the Tupelo Hardware Store stands much as it was in 1945.


Howard Hite displaying a photo of a few of the thousands of
foreigh visitors who come to visit the sites of Elvis' childhood

 

Howard Hite was at the store when we arrived and told the story. Gladys came in with Elvis planning to buy him a bicycle. Elvis marched right past the bicycles and stopped at the counter. Hanging right above it was a 22 rifle. He said that was what he wanted but Gladys was having none of that. A longtime employee of the store and a good friend of the Presleys, Forrest Bobo, was behind the counter and saw Elvis beginning to pout. He picked up a guitar and handed it to him, Then Elvis took the guitar and began toying with it. Within a few minutes he decided this was what he wanted for his present. Gladys bought it gladly and his career was launched.

Although it is still a hardware store selling all the usual tools and equipment, about 2,000 people from around the world, from ordinary to famous, stop in to see this milestone on Elvis' journey to stardom. Howard told us of some of the big names who have been there. Prince Albert of Monaco bought a guitar from Howard. Aerosmith's lead guitarist, Joe Perry walked in the front door and announced "I want to buy a guitar where the King of Rock and Roll bought his first one."

Howard informed him, "You can sure do it."

 

That first guitar led to a first official appearance. On October 3, 1945, ten year old Elvis entered the children's talent show at the Mississippi - Alabama Fair. He sang Old Shep and won second prize, $5 and free admission to all the rides. Just one more milestone in his rocky ride to the top.

But the boy who was to become the greatest musical influence of the twentieth�century was still just a ordinary boy and leading an ordinary life. You can trace some of that life here at his school and Johnny's Drive�In. It is still operating as a drive�in. You can order what you like but Elvis's favorite order was a doughburger and RC Cola. In case you never heard of a doughburger, it's a hamburger made the old-fashioned way with ground beef, flour, egg, onions, bell peppers and seasonings to make the meat stretch a lot farther.

One last stop while you are remembering Elvis, the Tupelo Automobile museum have a great collection of Elvis movie posters as well as a Lincoln previously owned by Elvis Presley. In Tupelo, Elvis's family never could afford a fancy car but when Elvis first made it big, he bought his mother a brand new pink Cadillac, a small thank you for the years she worked hard to nurture her son in Tupelo and the gift of that guitar.

Elvis never forgot his hometown either, Just as his star was rising in 1956 and again 1957, he returned to play the local fairgrounds. That is still there, too, and you can retrace his steps one last time before you turn your attention to Memphis and a completely different kind of lifestyle.

His fifth grade teacher, Mrs Oleta Grimes, summed up the boy Elvis and the man he would become. "There I something nice about everybody. There is everything nice about Elvis."

http://www.elvispresleybirthplace.com

 


 

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