Southern Scribe
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Elvis and Tupelo

by Joyce Dixon 

 
 

What is the magic of Elvis?  It may be as simple as a southern boy making his way out of poverty, while remembering the traditions of family, faith, and good manners.  Elvis never forgot these things, and this foundation was created during his youth in Tupelo, Mississippi. 

Elvis Presley would have turned 70 on January 8, 2005.  A glitzy celebration will be taking place at Graceland in Memphis.  However, the down home variety takes place at the Elvis Presley Birthplace Park in Tupelo, where visitors see how he remembered old friends through letters, photographs, and mementos.  

The Elvis Presley Birthplace Park features the two-room shotgun Presley home, which has been restored to its original condition. The garden commemorates his Tupelo period with the Walk of Life and Fountain of Life with markers for each year of Elvis’ life. The Story Wall offers memories of his childhood friends. Most impressive is a bronze statue of Elvis at age thirteen.

The Memorial Chapel draws wedding couples from all over the world. The room holds approximately 50 and features vibrant stained glass windows as Elvis singing gospel music plays in the background. 

The Elvis Presley Museum documents the King’s life through photographs, letters, costumes, and other personal items. Since many have been donated from his Tupelo friends, there is an intimacy that is absent in other collections. 

The town of Tupelo has historic markers around town to mark the key influences on Elvis. One is at the Tupelo Hardware, where in 1946 Gladys Presley purchased a guitar for her son after pulling his attention from a .22 caliber rifle. His pastor taught him how to play, then it became a common sight to see Elvis with his guitar. Another historic marker is at Milam Junior High, where in 1948 Elvis played his guitar and sang a farewell tribute to friends before his family moved to Memphis.

In 1956, Elvis Presley returned to Tupelo fairgrounds to perform a benefit concert for the City of Tupelo. The proceeds were used to purchase his birthplace and make a park for the neighborhood children. As the park evolved into a celebration of the life of Elvis, the grounds still prove to be a place for families to relax and enjoy. More than 100,000 visitors from all over the world tour the Elvis Birthplace Park each year.  

Elvis Presley was a beacon of hope for the young people of Tupelo. Local author Peggy Webb remembers his imprint on her life:  

"The impact of his music was universal. During his 1956 concert in Tupelo teenagers screamed, threw scarves, fainted and swooned. His music trampled convention, ripped through inhibitions and gave kids a reason to feel passion.

"But it was Elvis's personal story that resonated most with Tupelo's teens. He grew up dirt poor, and everybody in town knew it. Nobody expected him to amount to a hill of beans, as the old saying goes.

"Not only did he escape the prison of poverty, but he proved all the nay sayers wrong. With his swiveling hips and his honey-dipped voice, he proved that even a country boy from a two-room shanty could become a king.

"I was a teenager during Elvis's ride to fame, and he gave me the inspiration to dream big and let nothing stand in the way of those dreams."

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

        Tupelo author Peggy Webb at the Fountain of Life.

The aura of Elvis Presley continues to grow.  New biographies and revamped CD collections hit the shelves are always in production. This spring, the music of the King is coming to Broadway in the musical “All Shook Up”.

His magic inspires novels, such as The Year the Music Changed: The Letters of Achsa McEachern-Isaacs and Elvis Presley by Diane Coulter Thomas (Toby Press, September 2005).

The boy from Tupelo will continue to touch and inspire for many years to come. 


Elvis Presley Festival in Tupelo
June 3-5, 2005

Travel Resources

Elvis Presley Birthplace Park
www.elvispresleybirthplace.com 
 
Official Elvis Web Site
www.elvis.com
 
Tupelo Convention and Visitors Bureau
http://tupelo.net  

 

50th Anniversaries 

March 3, 1955.  Truck driver Elvis Aron Presley made his first TV appearance on the “Lousiana Hayride”. He followed the appearance with a trip to New York City to audition for Arthur Godfrey’s “Talent Scouts” program, but Godfrey passed. Likewise, the Grand Ole Opry thought Elvis should remain a truck driver. However, the record-buying public would soon be caught up in Elvis-mania. 

November 22, 1955. RCA Victor paid $25,000 to Sun Records and Sam Philips for the rights to Elvis Presley.

 

© 2005, Joyce Dixon, All Rights Reserved