Through church, guitars and cars Tupelo talks about its ties to Elvis.
Tupelo, Miss., proudly sings the praises of Elvis Presley, its most famous son. But you don’t have to be an Elvis fan to appreciate this small northern Mississippi town. The stories Tupelo shares are universal: tales of humble beginnings, faith, music and small decisions that change lives in big ways.
Elvis Birthplace: Start where it all began
Many visits begin where it all began, the Elvis Presley Birthplace. The two-room clapboard home where Elvis was born and spent his early years and modest church where his family worshipped remind that the Presleys were of modest means.
Through the magic of video screens, modern visitors feel as if they are sitting elbow to elbow with the Presleys’ fellow parishioners. Often, tour planners don’t tell their group about this surprise. “The hidden screens come down and you feel like you are in the 1950s Church of God worship service,” said Jan Pannell, sales manager for the Tupelo Convention and Visitor Bureau.
In a movie theater at the site’s Elvis Presley Events Center, groups can watch a short film about Elvis’ early days. The center is also perfect for
receptions or dinners featuring grilled peanut butter and banana sandwiches, an Elvis favorite, or Southern specialties like fried catfish or pot roast. Dinner entertainment can include a visit from the King. “We have many Elvis Tribute artists in the area,” Pannell said. ”We can do 50’s Elvis, 1968 Comeback Special or Vegas era Elvis. We have them all and they are all professionals.” Another possibility? Gospel music by a local choir.
Tupelo Hardware changed music forever
Though the birthplace is where Elvis’ life began, Tupelo Hardware Company is where his musical career was born. The downtown store is happy to share the story of its role in Elvis’ incredible career. “It’s where his mom, Gladys, bought his first guitar,” said Pannell. The story goes that Elvis wanted a gun, but his mom talked him into a guitar. “It changed the world,” said Pannell. Tupelo Hardware Company, by the way, still sells guitars. “Lots of them,” Pannell added.
The hardware store and every other downtown business are locally owned, which makes dining and shopping a treat. Smells of barbecue, fried chicken, cinnamon rolls and blue-plate specials scent the air.
Reed’s department store is as welcoming as it was when it opened in 1905; men’s clothier, MLM, keeps in mind its slogan “dress better than you have to” as it outfits gentlemen.
An amazing collection of autos
Even the Tupelo Automobile Museum–one local’s collection of 150 automobiles– has ties to Elvis. It displays the 1976 Lincoln Mark IV that Elvis gave a Colorado lawman who provided security for the singer, as well as movie posters from all 33 Elvis movies.
Unlike other auto museums, this one doesn’t focus on a particular brand, instead showing how autos have changed since 1886 through vehicles rare and common.
“People will say, ‘my mamma had that car.’” There will always be a car that speaks to you,” said Pannell. “But there are also some outrageous cars, some unbelievable cars.” The museum also has one of the best gift shops around, Pannell said.
Tupelo’s story stands on its own
Ninety miles south of Graceland, Tupelo is a logical stop on a trip to Memphis. But its story is strong enough to stand on its own.
“When people think Elvis, they think about Graceland, but you don’t
know the whole story unless you see Tupelo,” Pannell said. “This is where it all started.”
For more information on a trip to Tupelo, contact the Tupelo Convention and Visitors Bureau at 662-841-6521 or go to www.tupelo.net. Or email Jan Pannell, sales manager for the Tupelo CVB at firstname.lastname@example.org.