Holly Springs, Mississippi
Graceland Too is the real deal. We had misgivings about visiting, given that Elvis has become so safe and antiseptic -- part of the I Love Lucy, James Dean, Rt. 66, Marilyn Monroe pabulum cool -- assembly line reproduction salt and pepper shakers can be found in the kitchenettes of assisted living apartments across the country.
Any image commemorated on US postage stamps has no danger left: icons as provocative as native birds or Rio Grande blankets.
But try telling that to Paul McLeod. He is the curator and creator of Graceland Too. It's a manic floor-to-ceiling (including the ceiling) tribute to The King, all hand done, with none of the burrs sanded off. Paul drinks lots of Coca-Cola and only sleeps four hours a night. The museum is open 24 hours a day -- he says to just knock louder at night.
It is noon when we knock. McLeod greets us and ushers us into the foyer. He's a big, pleasant person with a slight glisten of sweat. The windows are covered, and the air-conditioning and fan are no match for Mississippi July.
He reminds us of other true protectors like John Whitman of The Titanic Museum (now closed) and Max Nordeen of the Wheels Museum (also now closed). Like Whitman, McLeod remembers exactly when the bomb in his head went off.
"October 17th, 1954. On my birthday. I saw Elvis playing here with Lash LaRue. He got two dollars a day, and another fifty cents at night. A woman in the audience died at that show." After that, he saw Elvis perform another 119 times.
The obsession has lasted 50 years and two generations: Paul's son, Elvis Aron Presley McLeod, helps manage the collection. It long ago cost Paul his job at Cadillac Motor Division and "four paid-for homes, 35 beautiful mint condition cars. My wife said to choose, I said 'So long.' "
Graceland Too is curated in a residential home, just blocks from a quaint town square. It is painted pink, with blue and white fake Christmas trees and pink lion statues on the front porch. Many of the neighboring non-pink homes just seem sedate and well kept. But McLeod knows that they all have Elvis connections. A guy down the street buried Elvis' identical twin. Later, well into the tour, he pulls out a three-ring binder with photos of each house showing the links, "every last house, man."
The front stairway is filled with Elvis memorabilia and stuffed animals -- the second floor will not be part of the tour, just like Graceland One. But stuff beckons from rooms left and right. Where to start? Fortunately (at first), McLeod is in charge and leads you from one room to the other.
The record room has several hundred 45s tacked to the walls. But they represent only a fraction of this collection of 35,000 records and 25,000 CD's, four of every one Elvis ever made. Mentioned but not shown here is "the most valuable record in the history of the world." That comes later. The room also has a table made by Charles Bronson during the filming of Kid Galahad, and the gold lame suit Paul will be buried in.
As McLeod talks, the narration quickly departs from the actual items we are standing next to. It becomes clear over the next couple hours that there are three things that have been on McLeod's mind for a long time. One is his life's remarkable parallel to Elvis. One is the museum's place in the world of fame and celebrity. And one is monetizing the stash he's sitting on.
"People come from all over ... Sweden, Switzerland, Paris, France. Matthew Broderick, one of the Bush daughters, drunk as a skunk. Batman's Chris O'Donnell." The Batman connection is meaningful - as a twelve year old boy, McLeod designed a bat cycle that got him some local notoriety. He shows us the photos of his bat cycle compared with the one from the movie. Things connect. Things resonate.
Sam Walton's grandson visits regularly. McLeod buys his large storage bins from Wal-Mart. In some of the bins are carpet remnants from Graceland. McLeod shares his calculations quickly -- he's done them many times before. We don't keep up, but it ends with 185,000 squares making him $200 million. Graceland carpet can make him rich like Sam Walton.
Paul's false teeth are loose, and his upper plate slips a little as he talks, especially when he is on a roll. It's only the second room, and it is already clear that we will not be given time to study the displays. When you take your eyes off McLeod, you are interrupting him. At first, when you try and sneak a look at any of the clippings and photos all over everywhere, he quickly gets your attention back with a "Now hold on!" When that stops working, he taps you on the shoulder should you glance away.
The physical and historical resemblances between Elvis and him are discussed. Photos of Elvis as man and boy are glued to world globes, with the heads of Paul and his son stuck on them. "Elvis did a song called Nothingsville. My Mom was born in a town called Hudsonville... My sister is a dead ringer..." There is a pause. "I have to get my mind back to where I was going... I'm not an impersonator. I don't sing and neither does my son, but he sneaks up behind and sings to women taking the tour and they faint and pee."
The third room contains a home entertainment area, with a work table set up in front of the TV. McLeod was watching a war movie before we knocked - he restarts the scene showing paratroopers jumping. We know Elvis's only war flick was GI Blues, so is it possible McLeod has other interests? He tells us to listen to the background music. It's an Elvis song.