When you're getting ready for a face-to-face meeting with one of the greatest musical artists of the 20th century-the man who created much of what we know as popular culture today-it's not so much what you take with you as what you don't.
You'll need a few articles of clothing, of course. Nothing fancy (although if you prefer something flashy in honor of the King's latter days-well, that's up to you.) Tunes for the road-plenty to choose from there; Elvis recorded more than 70 albums and sold millions. Throw in a few sundries and then just one more to-do: a quick trip upstairs to the old attic to clear out the cobwebs and all the many preconceptions you've built up over the years about the man born Elvis Aaron Presley.
There's Vegas Elvis and Velvet Elvis, Parker's Elvis and Priscilla's Elvis, there's Elvis on screen and Elvis on stage, Elvis the icon and Elvis the idol. But when you travel to Tupelo, Mississippi to the Birthplace, the cradle of rock and roll, what you're going to meet-who you're going to meet-is Pure Elvis, plain and simple. Tupelo gives you the unvarnished, unadorned, unbelievable true story of a genius in the making. And that encounter for many people is completely unforgettable.
Elvis' amazing journey began-as will yours-in a simple, two-room "shotgun" house…
A shrine? Perhaps for some. An experience? Most definitely. This spare two-room house where Elvis was born speaks volumes about the time and place and circumstance that ushered this musical genius into the world on January 8, 1935 to parents Vernon and Gladys Presley. It was a hard birth; Elvis' twin brother Jess Garon died only a few hours later, a loss that would mark Gladys and Elvis forever, yet would draw them together as well.
Every year, 50,000 people from all over the world come to stand in this spot, and every year, 50,000 different experiences result. The Birthplace encounter is as unique as the Birthplace itself. Some people are awed, some are disbelieving, many are inspired.
But almost all leave this house with at least one question: How?
They find their answers, to the degree that answers to cosmic questions can ever be found, as they explore the rest of the 15-acre Birthplace Center. After you leave the Birthplace itself, the next step in your own journey might well be the Birthplace museum, a newly redesigned time machine that opens one more important door to Elvis' extraordinary world.
Part recreation, part interpretation, the museum infuses an extensive collection of personal memorabilia with sight, sound and insight to steep the visitor in 1930s Tupelo, where work was hard, money far from plentiful, and yet where, for a boy genius, riches might be pulled right out of the air….from the gospel songs he sang with all his heart at Gladys' Pentecostal church…from the seductive blues that sank into his soul as he wandered the streets of Shakerag, Tupelo's now legendary African American community….from the foot-tapping rhythms he heard on WELO as he sat by the radio, listening to the Singin' and Pickin' Hillbilly show, starring the man who was his hero and who would become his mentor, Tupelo DJ Mississippi Slim. It was Mississippi Slim who encouraged Elvis to make his first appearance at the Black and White Jamboree, a local amateur hour broadcast every Saturday from Tupelo's Courthouse lawn.
There were other sounds in young Elvis' Tupelo: train whistles piercing dark nights, the drone of garment factories in the daytime, when Gladys ran her sewing machine, and there were echoes, of the apocalyptic tornado that ripped through Tupelo only a year after Elvis' birth. The museum offers a compelling story of a childhood marked by both the common and uncommon and destined for greatness.
Outside the museum, take a walk through the garden where a life-size statue, "Elvis at 13," depicts the boy king at the moment when his circumstances were far from regal, when Vernon loaded the family and all their belongings into their car and headed for Memphis is search of better work. The statue captures the easy grace and natural humility that were the hallmark of all of Elvis' 42 years, and along the 42-block granite walkway, each of those extraordinary years is memorialized. For many visitors, the Story Wall, where 11 of Elvis' childhood friends offer their personal reminiscences, is another special highlight.
Just as the Presleys hit the road, from the Birthplace it's time for you to light out, in search of more Elvis-treasures you'll find first on Tupelo's self-guided driving tour.
Blue Suede Highway.
There are a number of key sites to take in on the driving tour, places that played an important role in Elvis' life-schools, church, library-but there's one stop in particular that is not so much a show-stopper as show starter. The Tupelo Hardware Store, with its wide plank floors and high ceilings and penny nails for sale, is very much as it was the day Elvis and Gladys came in to buy Elvis' birthday present. He wanted a shotgun, but Gladys convinced him to get a guitar instead. Today, the store still has the glass case that once held guitars. At the Tupelo Courthouse, you can see where Elvis made his debut with that guitar, and at former site of the Fairgrounds (now the Fairpark District), you can see where Elvis gave his triumphant performance to throngs of screaming fans at the 1956 Mississippi-Alabama State Fair.
After you've stopped at Johnnie's Drive-in, where Elvis and friend James Ausborne used to while away time drinking RC Colas and eating cheeseburgers, you may be ready for the 100-mile journey takes you to a destination light years away: Memphis, where Graceland, Beale Street and more await you.
In Memphis, Elvis became a man and a superstar. It's a different world to encounter in Memphis. But don't worry. Now that you've experienced Pure Elvis here in Tupelo, you're ready for anything.