Sunday, January 8th is Elvis’ birthday, and in honor of the event I would like to share the story of our visit to Elvis’ birthplace, Tupelo, MS. We stopped there on our way home from visiting my sister for the holidays. It was a nice break in our 2-day drive.
We arrived around 10am and it took about 2 & ½ hours to view the premises. In addition to the restored two room house that Elvis was born in in 1935, there was also a small museum, the Assembly of God church where the Presleys attended services while they lived in Tupelo, the Elvis Presley Memorial Chapel, a life-sized statue of “Elvis at 13”, and a replica of the car the Presley’s owned when they moved to Memphis.
The house was built by Elvis’ father Vernon with help from his brother and father. Vernon borrowed the $180 to build the house from his employer. It was exactly what you would expect, one bedroom and a kitchen. I found it interesting that the front door opened into the bedroom. My girls were amazed that a whole family could live in such a small space. They asked the docent where Elvis slept as there was only one double bed. She replied that he shared the bed with his parents. The girls were stunned, especially knowing that the family lived in this home until Elvis was thirteen. They realized what a huge deal it was that Elvis got his own bedroom when the family moved into Lauderdale Courts in Memphis, TN and how lucky they were to have their own bedrooms.
The museum was small but did include some items and information that we had never seen before, such as the personal collection of Janelle McComb, a Tupelo resident and long time friend of the Presley’s. It is said that she met Elvis as a young boy outside of the local beauty school while he was waiting for his mother to have her hair done. I consider myself to be pretty knowledgeable about Elvis history and this facet was all new to me. Janelle owned some interesting Elvis mementos.
The crowning glory of the Elvis birthplace, however, was the Assembly of God church. It was purchased by the Elvis Presley Birthplace Park in 2008 and moved to the property where it then underwent extensive restoration to return it to its appearance in the 1930’s-1940’s when the Presley’s attended. We were excited to see where Elvis gave what may have been his very first “public” performance, singing, “Jesus Loves Me” (even before he sang “Old Shep” at the state fair). When we walked in, we were met by about 8 rows of wooden pews with a small raised pulpit at the front. The floors were wooden as was the beautifully restored bead board ceiling. There were four windows along each side with closed window blinds. The docent welcomed us and then told us that we were about to experience a church service like the Presley’s attended including a performance by young Elvis himself. I’m sure every other member of the audience met him with the same puzzled look on my face. Were they going to bring in live actors to perform for us? No way. What was going on? I’m sure that my mouth (as well as everyone else’s) dropped open when three giant movie screens descended out of the ceiling along with three projectors and speakers. Soon we were surrounded by the congregation and carried back in time to participate in the church service. It was an experience to rival any of today’s giant amusement parks.
We finished our visit to Tupelo with a stop at Johnny’s Drive-In for burgers and fries. Elvis is reported to have favored this establishment as a young boy, when he had the money. We didn’t try the “dough burgers” (a depression era staple where the hamburger is “stretched” by adding flour) but our meal was delicious. Maybe next time I’ll work up the courage to try a burger as it was prepared when Elvis himself ate there.
In all, it was a fun, enlightening visit and a great way to immerse our family even deeper into Elvis Presley’s life. I highly recommend that you make time for a stop if you ever find yourself south of Memphis.