Tupelo, MS – Where did Elvis go to the bathroom? Was Elvis actually born in this little house? Those are two of the most common questions asked from visitors touring Elvis’ birthplace according to Nina Holcomb, tour guide of Elvis Presley’s first home in Tupelo, Mississippi.
In her nine-year employment there, Mrs. Holcomb has seen anywhere from a hundred to a thousand people a day open the black screen door to enter into the narrow shotgun house where Elvis was born over seventy-four years ago. The answers to both of those popular queries above: a midwife delivered Elvis Aaron Presley and his stillborn twin brother, Jesse Garon, in the two-room shanty on a cold January morning in 1935 and indoor plumbing was not available so an outhouse was utilized.
The two-room dwelling was built in 1934 by Elvis’ father Vernon, Vernon’s brother, Vester, and Elvis’ grandfather, Jesse Presley. When asked if the furniture belonged to the Presleys, Mrs. Holcomb answered that the furniture displayed is not the original furniture, but is accurate to the time period when the family lived there.
“As a matter of fact, Mrs. Holcombe added, Vernon helped to choose the pieces and he put all of the pieces in the correct positions in the room.” Mrs. Holcomb continued by saying that this is the original lot that the home was built on. “The home sat unattended from 1957 until 1971 and repairs to the roof and to the linoleum had to be made,” she said.
The “Walk of Life” surrounds the house and is a scored concrete circle with dated granite blocks denoting each year of Elvis’ life from 1935 to 1977. The 1948 block marks the date in which Elvis and his family left Tupelo for Memphis, and it leads to the “Elvis at 13” bronze statue. The sculpture was unveiled in Tupelo in 2002 and is 5’ 5” tall, the height of Elvis at age thirteen. In August of 2003, a story wall was unveiled offering a collection of original, unedited stories from people who knew Elvis during his Tupelo days. The wall leads to a beautiful water feature named “The Fountain of Life.”
The gift shop on the property offers over 2,000 Elvis souvenir items and the museum that houses some of Elvis’ clothes, audiovisual presentations, and Tupelo artifacts, was completely renovated in 2006. Judy Schumpert who works at the front desk of the gift shop/museum said that the largest crowds come during the special celebrations (Elvis’ birthday in January every year and the anniversary of Elvis’ death in August).
“During the 30th anniversary of his death (in 2007) there were several thousand here to visit during that week and several fan clubs, too,” Mrs. Schumpert said. “The largest fan club we had was from Great Britain, but we also had fan groups from Germany and Japan, as well as people from all over the U. S. Of course, the largest celebrations are held in Memphis during January and August.”
A recent addition to the property (August, 2008) is the modest First Assembly of God church that Elvis attended as a small boy and is where he sang regularly and learned to play chords on the guitar. The church is located just south of the Elvis Presley Memorial Chapel (which was dedicated to the memory of Elvis in 1979 and draws wedding couples from all over the world). Visitors can experience an Assembly of God Pentecostal service of the 1940s through a multi-media presentation held at different times during the day.
Mrs. Schumpert also related that the church had been turned into a family dwelling in 1967. “When the family decided to sell the building, it was completely restored (by the Elvis Presley Memorial Foundation) to the time period of the 1930s. People who had gone to that church back then were consulted on the way it looked and everything,” she said.
In summary, the complex offers visitors a chance to get up close and personal with the King of Rock ‘n Roll’s humble beginnings; from walking through the house when he was born and examining some of his personal items in the museum, to experiencing a church service in the same place where Elvis discovered God. This is definitely the place to be for Elvis fans, music fans, or history buffs of all ages.
The Elvis Presley Birthplace is designated as a historical landmark in the State of Mississippi and is open Monday through Saturday 9:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. (May through September) and Monday through Saturday from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. (October through April). On Sunday, the birthplace is open from 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. year round and it is closed for Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Article by Melissa Parker
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