Birthplace of Elvis
Elvis Presley was born in Tupelo on January 8, 1935 -- yet the go-to destination for Presley fans has been Elvis's death-spot at Graceland. For years there was nothing to see in Tupelo except the tiny home in which he was born, and you could take in most of it by just looking through the screen door.
That has gradually changed. The house is now surrounded by 15 acres of trees, lawns, and ancillary attractions, including a small museum, the church where Elvis learned to love gospel music, and a statue of Elvis at age 13, the year his family packed up and left for Memphis, which proved to be an exceptionally smart move.
(Wandering the birthplace grounds is free, but there's a fee to go inside the house, or the church, or the museum. And the Elvis estate, always hyper-protective, forbids photography anywhere indoors.)
Touring the tiny two-room house can be brief or lengthy, depending on how long you care to talk to the employee who sits inside. We met Nina Holcomb, on the job since 1998, and a veteran of several actual Elvis encounters. "There was never anything really sinful about whatever he did," she said, reassuring a skeptical older tourist. "He was the nicest person you'd ever want to meet."
None of the furniture in the house is original, but the bed occupies the exact spot as the one on which Elvis was born. According to Nina, Elvis's dad hand-picked the furniture in the early 1970s to match what he had in 1935. The wallpaper, curtains, and porch swing were added much later, never enjoyed by Elvis. The well-used porch swing has proved so popular with footsore tourists, said Nina, that it's been replaced several times.
The First Assembly of God Pentecostal Church, where Elvis first became interested in music, was moved to the birthplace grounds in 2008. Aside from its rock 'n' roll pedigree, the church is notable for its multimedia interior, which surrounds visitors with a 15-minute recreation of a Pentecostal service (lots of gospel music) every half-hour.
The museum was upgraded with new displays in 2007, and remains a showcase for the collection of Janelle McComb, a Tupelo resident, Elvis family friend, and lifelong fan. Highlights include examples of Elvis's gaudy everyday attire -- corduroy suits, an orange-striped parka, fishnet and paisley shirts with puffed sleeves -- and the gifts that Elvis gave to Janelle, such as a giant flashlight and a copy of The Great Running Backs of The NFL. "Enjoy reading this book," suggests the accompanying note from Elvis. "I did."
The museum also showcases a detailed diorama of the neighborhood as it appeared during Elvis's boyhood. The Presley home, just off Pig Trot Trail, was in a ragtag, poor-side-of-town district with more outhouses than trees. For the Presley family it was far less charming then than it is now.
Back at the birth house, Nina said that she'd been asked every Elvis question imaginable, so we asked her for an example of one she couldn't answer. "One day this lady just came out of he blue and asked, 'Ma'am, what size underwear did Elvis wear?'" Nina recalled. "I said, 'Lady, I don't know; I was never in 'em.'"