On August 16, the world will again mourn the death of Elvis Presley, the King of rock ‘n’ roll. He died in 1977 at the age of 42. If he were still alive today, he would be 80 years old.
Elvis made one of his first concert appearances at the Long Beach Municipal Auditorium on June 7, 1956. The promotional radio spots of the day played excerpts from his hit record “Heartbreak Hotel” and begged listeners to come see “the atomic wonder of the universe.” Everything was atomic in 1956. Oh, how I wanted to go!
I was used to taking the bus to downtown Long Beach to see the latest pop concerts on Saturday nights but this time my folks said no. It was a Thursday night and I had school the next day.
In spite of this “heartbreaking” beginning, I have remained a lifelong fan of the King.
Several years ago, I went to Memphis, Tenn., and, of course, I went to his home and burial site at Graceland. Every true Elvis fan has to make this pilgrimage.
Graceland was named a National Historical Landmark in 2006. The estate complex covers about 14 acres comprising the mansion, family cemetery, racquetball court, museum, gardens and collections of his cars and other prized possessions.
Thanks to a recently announced deal, and despite rumors to the contrary, his two jet planes, the Lisa Marie and Hound Dog II, will remain on the property as tourist attractions. Graceland is definitely worth a visit.
But wait! There’s a prequel to this walk down memory lane. Memphis can claim Elvis as their Patron Saint if they want to, but he was actually born in Tupelo, Miss.
I recently went to Tupelo — and this little town is making a huge effort to capitalize on his fame.
I took the self-guided driving tour around town and saw such notable sights as the hardware store where he bought his first guitar, the schools he attended and the drive-In restaurant where he reportedly got his milkshakes. Everyone in town wants to share in his celebrity.
Admittedly, the tour sounds, and is, a little hokey — but there is a bright side to your visit to Tupelo. It’s on Elvis Presley Drive.
The Elvis Presley Birthplace Museum is a whole campus of related memorials and structures including a museum, gift shop, chapel and a movie theater in the main building for a basic admission. All of the exhibits and memorabilia are related to his first 13 years in Tupelo.
The centerpiece of the site is the original two-room house where Elvis was born. As you walk through, a docent tells you about his early life. The home had no electricity and no plumbing. It was in a poor neighborhood and literally on the wrong side of the tracks.
Another building is the church attended by the young Elvis, where he first became interested in music. The church actually was moved from its original location and a video shows the truck moving the little structure across town.
The home and church require additional admissions, but for a “true fan” it’s worth it.
Except for memorabilia related to his returns to Tupelo for personal appearances and concerts, there is no overlap with exhibits at Graceland.
A large bronze statue of Elvis across the street from City Hall emphasizes just how much of an investment Tupelo is making in the Elvis persona.
After spending a few days in Tupelo, all I can say is: “They don’t know Elvis has left the building.”