The Elvis Birthplace is a far cry from the opulence and excess of his later life.
His parents were sharecroppers, and the small two-room wooden shack was built by his father, uncle, and grandfather. The house is a mix of original family furnishings and period-accurate items, including old 33 rpm records by musicians who influenced him, including Tennessee Ernie Ford.
The family moved 100 miles away to Memphis when Elvis was 13, and the ’39 Plymouth they drove is at the birthplace complex, too. It also includes a small, modern memorial chapel that’s a popular spot for weddings, and a larger Elvis Presley Museum.
There are no sequined and beaded Las Vegas jumpsuits here, just a young man’s flowered shirts, corduroy and denim jackets with impossibly wide ’60s lapels and shoulder pads, and early awards for gold and platinum record and cassette tape sales. Remember cassette tapes?
The center of town is dominated by a larger-than-life size Elvis statue, based on a popular photo of him, microphone in one hand and reaching out to fans with the other. It also commemorates his “coming home” concert in 1957 at what was then the town fairgrounds.
Elvis bought his first guitar, in 1946, for $7.90, at Tupelo Hardware. An “X” on the old wooden floor marks the spot where he stood to pick it out with his mother. He originally had wanted a .22 caliber rifle, and his mother had wanted to buy him a bicycle.
Lucky for us all, Elvis chose a guitar instead. Ten years later, he made his first gold record.
Elvis fans, from music’s Prince to royalty’s Prince Albert of Monaco, have made the pilgrimage to Tupelo Hardware to soak up the vibes. The store has been family-owned since 1926, and the staff, several of whom have worked there for decades, are happy to chat about their legendary customer.
There’s a bucket of guitar picks at the store entrance, imprinted with Tupelo Hardware, that make a great, inexpensive souvenir. Yes, I bought one.
Walk a few blocks from the hardware store to Johnny’s Drive-In, where there’s a small marker on the wooden booth where Elvis liked to sit. Not surprisingly, the walls of this vintage restaurant are decorated with vintage posters and newspaper clippings, mostly about Elvis. His favorite burger is still on the menu — a doughburger: ground meat stretched with flour that helped stretch lean post-war budgets.
Surprisingly, there’s just one Elvis car in the Tupelo Auto Museum, and it’s a Lincoln, not the Cadillacs he is usually identified with. This is an outstanding collection of restored vintage vehicles, including one of only 48 Tucker models ever produced, an equally rare Hispano Suiza, Studebakers from both the 1910s and the 1950s, and a replica of the 1886 three-wheel contraption made by Gottlieb Daimler that is generally regarded as the world’s first motor car.
The center of town is dominated by a larger-than-life size Elvis statue, based on a popular photo of him, microphone in one hand and reaching out to fans with the other. It also commemorates his 1956 Homecoming Concert at the Tupelo Fairgrounds.
Tupelo is in the middle of the 444-mile Natchez Trace Parkway, the National Scenic Trail that links Natchez to Nashville that began as a Native American trail. It’s a great, scenic road trip by car or motorcycle – as I did, with a group of friends. It’s also a designated bicycle route.
Along the way there are nature trails, swamp bogs, remains of pioneer homesteads and graveyards, and Native American mounds to explore. The trail’s headquarters are in Tupelo, and the Parkway Visitor Center is just about the only thing in town that is not Elvis-related.
Or, take one of the itineraries suggested by the Tupelo CVB, including a visit to Graceland, 100 miles away.
This article by ecoXporer Evelyn Kanter is adapted from one published in 2014 by Shermans Travel.
photo of Tupelo Auto Museum by (C) ecoXplorer Evelyn Kanter is All Rights Reserved and may not be copied or shared without permission. Contact [email protected]
Other photos courtesy Tupelo CVB and the Official Elvis Website.