Visit the birthplace of Elvis in Tupelo, Mississippi, and tour 12 additional sites around town, including his boyhood church, schools, swimming hole, and the hardware store where he bought his first guitar.
I was a guest of Tupelo CVB, but all thoughts and opinions are my own.
Table of Contents
- 1 Elvis in Tupelo
- 2 Elvis Presley Birthplace
- 3 More of Elvis in Tupelo
- 4 Mississippi’s Final Stands
- 5 We Would Love to Hear From You
- 6 Pin this Post!
Elvis in Tupelo
Most Baby Boomers can tell you exactly where they were and what they were doing on August 16, 1977, when they heard the shocking news of Elvis Presley’s death. I was 18 years old, and spending the end of summer before my sophomore year of college in Sydney, Florida, at the home of my surrogate parents, Uncle Olan and Aunt Mary Lou Hill.
As prominent as the death of Elvis is in our memories, far fewer people are acquainted with his birth on January 8, 1935, in Tupelo, Mississippi, and his formative childhood years through age 13 before his family relocated to Memphis, Tennessee.
Tupelo was a waypoint when Jerry and I drove a northern segment of the Natchez Trace Parkway from Franklin, Tennessee, to Jackson, Mississippi. We stopped over to tour Civil War battlefields, and while in town we had the opportunity to visit the tiny house where Elvis was born and tour the park that honors his legacy.
Elvis Presley Birthplace
On September 26, 1956, Elvis returned to Tupelo to play a concert at the fairgrounds, eight years after leaving his childhood home. In 1957, he made a repeat appearance. This time, proceeds from the benefit concert purchased his birthplace home and created a park for neighborhood children.
In the years since, Tupelo has taken even greater strides to preserve the memory of its favorite son. The 15-acre park has expanded by adding a museum, chapel, event center, amphitheater, reflection pond, overlook pavilion, and many more features.
Each year more than 100,000 fans from around the world travel to the Elvis Presley Birthplace to witness firsthand the place where it all began.
A Mississippi Historical Site
In 1977, the Elvis Presley birthplace was recognized as an official historical site by the Mississippi Department of Archives and History.
Two additional markers recognizing Elvis Presley’s influence and contributions to music were added in recent years when the state agency introduced the Mississippi Blues Trail and Mississippi Country Music Trail.
The 2-room wood frame shotgun house where Elvis Presley was born is still situated at its original location.
Expecting the arrival of his first child, Vernon Presley had built the home, assisted by his father and brother, one year earlier with a $180 loan from his employer.
The humble dwelling has been restored to its 1930s condition and furnished with period pieces to make it ready for public tours.
The house’s front room served as the family living and sleeping space. This is the room where Gladys Presley gave birth to identical twin brothers, Jesse Garon stillborn first, and 35 minutes later Elvis Aaron.
The second room was a kitchen and dining area, with one rear door opening to a 3 X 3 foot toilet, and the other opening to the back yard.
The Presley family lived in the house for almost three years. When Vernon was unable to repay his loan, the house was repossessed. Vernon and Gladys worked several jobs and lived at various locations in Tupelo until Elvis reached age 13.
Assembly of God Church
The Presley family attended the local Assembly of God church, and it was there that Elvis was first exposed to gospel music. Pastor Frank Still taught young Elvis three guitar chords so he could play and sing the song “Old Shep.”
In 2008, the church building was moved one block from its original site to its current location on the park property.
Fully restored, the church offers visitors a 15-minute immersive multimedia production that includes a reenactment of a lively traditional Pentecostal worship service. I felt right at home during the presentation, because I too, was born and raised in the Assembly of God denomination.
Elvis was influenced not only by southern gospel music, but also black gospel, rhythm and blues, and country, all styles of music common to Tupelo in the 1930s and 40s. Each contributed to a unique fusion of musical genres that would become rock and roll.
A replica outhouse, patterned after the community privy used by Saltillo Road row house families and nearby church members, is a vivid reminder of life in days gone by.
Elvis at Age 13
In 2002, a statue of Elvis at age 13 was unveiled in the park. Sculptor Michiel Van der Sommen used vintage photographs to portray the young singer as he would have appeared just prior to leaving Tupelo.
The Road to Memphis
A green 1939 Plymouth sedan similar to the one the Presley family drove when leaving Tupelo for Memphis is on display in a covered pavilion outside the museum.
On loan from the Tupelo Automobile Museum, the vintage vehicle is pointed northwest toward Memphis. An Elvis exhibit at the automobile museum features a 1976 Lincoln Mark IV Elvis gave away, as well as a complete collection of Elvis movie posters.
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Elvis Presley Museum
The Elvis Presley Museum opened to the public in 1992, featuring the personal collection of Tupelo resident and longtime Presley family friend Janelle McComb. The museum received a state of the art renovation in 2006 and primarily interprets Elvis’ boyhood years.
Elvis Presley Memorial Chapel
Elvis envisioned a place of meditation at the park. Dedicated in 1979, the Elvis Presley Memorial Chapel was a collaborative effort by friends and fans. Elvis’ Bible rests on the original Assembly of God church pulpit that was donated to the chapel.
Visitors can walk or drive up to the overlook for a panoramic view of the park.
The overlook pavilion features two Van der Sommen statues entitled “Becoming,” that depict the transformation of Elvis from an 11-year old boy to a world class entertainer.
The Elvis Presley Birthplace is open daily at varying hours. Admission for tours of the house, church, and museum are all $18 or less.
The park grounds are open 24/7. All outdoor exhibits and building exteriors are accessible for visitors who may arrive after hours.
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More of Elvis in Tupelo
The birthplace is only the beginning of the Tupelo Elvis Experience. Fans can also visit other sites around town that played significant roles during his formative years.
Elvis Driving Tour
The downloadable Tupelo Visitors Guide contains a driving tour map identifying 12 additional places the boy Elvis frequented around town. These sites are marked with bronze plaques
Route highlights include Tupelo Hardware where Elvis got his first guitar in 1946, Lawhon Elementary School where Elvis sang “Old Shep” for his class, and Johnnie’s Drive-In where he loved to grab a hamburger.
Elvis’ Tupelo Self-Guided Bicycle Tour
May 2018, marked the launch of Elvis’ Tupelo Self-Guided Bicycle Tour. The route and locations mirror the driving tour, but also include a feature where riders can snap selfies, post them to social media using the #MyTupelo hashtag, and then stop by the Visitor Center to receive a special gift.
Blue Suede Cruise
The Blue Suede Cruise is a weekend classic car show and rock music festival held annually in Tupelo the first weekend in May.
Tupelo Elvis Festival
Section Photo and Image Credits: Tupelo CVB
Each June, the 5-day Tupelo Elvis Festival honors its native son with concerts, contests, parades, and other activities. A highlight of the extended weekend is the Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist (UETA) pre-qualifier competition, one of 17 worldwide pre-qualifiers for the Ultimate Competition at Graceland in Memphis, Tennessee.
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Mississippi’s Final Stands
If you are a Civil War history buff, you will want to read about our tour of Brices Crossroads and Tupelo National Battlefield. The story of Mississippi’s Final Stands makes these sites worthy additions to your Tupelo itinerary.
We Would Love to Hear From You
We enjoy dialogue with our readers, especially when they share off-the-beaten-path destinations and useful travel tips. Have you ever visited Tupelo, Mississippi? If so, we would love to hear about your experience. We invite you to leave your comments and questions below, and we always respond!
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