Holly Springs, Mississippi: A Little Less Conversation

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Elvis Presley: I Was the One
Holly Springs, Mississippi: A Little Less Conversation

Holly Springs in north Mississippi has some interesting historic attractions. Probably. I wouldn't know. I didn't bother looking for them.

Holly Springs is a bit out of the way even if you happen to be in the state, but this picturesque town -- which apparently changed hands 62 times during the Civil War -- is a useful midpoint on the Elvis Trail between his birthplace in Tupelo about 100 kilometres southeast and his home Graceland in Memphis where he died.

It was an interest in Elvis which took me to Holly Springs, or more correctly an interest in his somewhat strange father Paul.

Now, if you're an Elvis fan you'll know Elvis' father was Vernon, so it’s not that Elvis.

I'm talking about Elvis Aaron Presley McLeod and his dad Paul who have converted their large two-storey home on the corner of Randolph and Gholson into one of America's oddest attractions, a shrine to Elvis (the real one) called Graceland Too.

We find the place without too much trouble -- the woman at the visitors' centre points us to the house about 200 metres away down the charming tree-lined avenue -- and with some hesitation we approach the front door of the pillared villa.

2004_0523Image0074It is framed by large cement lions painted lolly pink and chained down, and cheap Christmas tree tinsel decoration.

We know we've come to the right place, there is the whiff of Elvis and insanity about it.

Graceland Too bills itself as open 24 hours every day of the year so we are disappointed but oddly relieved when, after knocking cautiously and then with some fervour, we get no reply.

We're happy enough to take some photos and laugh about the tawdry red, white and blue decorations, and are just about to leave when a sweaty, energetic and enthusiastic man emerges from a side gate which leads to a back yard hidden behind a high wooden fence.

It is Paul and he is apologetic.

He was working in the garden and hadn't heard our knocks.

Working on what, I ask.

"Well, you know Jailhouse Rock, the movie, I'm building that whole prison cell set out back, the one with the jail doors where the guys dance and Elvis slides down the pole. Lemme wash up and I'll meet you at the front door. I guess you want to see round the house."

Ahh, I guess. And so for 90 very strange minutes we are taken on a conducted tour of the entrance hall, four claustrophobic rooms and a corridor, all the time with rapid-fire narration from Paul.

To be honest, Paul wasn't entirely comprehensible.

His top plate was loose and kept falling out. Overweight and with his thick grey hair slicked back with visible comb marks through the grease, Paul McLeod is a man with an admirable if singular focus. If it's anything to do with Elvis he's either got it, or wants it.

2004_0523Image0081Graceland Too may be a museum of Elvis trivia but it is also a monument to a kind of ill-inspired lunacy and obsession.

Every wall -- the ceilings too, and up the stairs -- is covered in photos of Elvis, album covers and vinyl records, posters, memorabilia, stickers and banners, flags and flyers.

And in a respectful touch, just as at the real Graceland, the upper floor is not open to the public.

Unfortunately Paul mishears where we are from so we are increasingly baffled by his repeated references to Brazil, and that we should be telling people there that if they had a million dollars they should invest it with him because his collection was worth "a billion dollars, not a million but a BILLION dollars".

Or something like that.

With frequent jabs to my chest or arm he emphasises his barely coherent points, and tells us how he and his son -- who is away buying even more Elvis junk -- tape television shows to catch any reference to the King.

Which would explain the boxes of video tapes piled up everywhere.

His son Elvis, he insists as he pushes a crumpled photo at us, bore a strong resemblance to Elvis when he was baby although I couldn't see it. All babies look like Winston Churchill to me. And no, his Elvis wasn't an Elvis impersonator, and nor had he been.

They were just slightly nuts, I guess.

But Paul is a genial, if difficult to decipher, host as he shows us the bottles of Elvis Presley wine which manager Colonel Tom Parker launched after the singer's death in 77. ("No, Elvis didn't drink, but if he did ..." was the Colonel's deathless line).

He pulls out old 78s and 45s he has collected, Elvis dolls -- a few life-size if I remember rightly -- and much other stuff besides.

2004_0523Image0085My head swims with Presleyana but Paul is inescapable as he keeps producing yet one more piece of Elvis ephemera more extraordinary or banal than the last.

It is an overload of Elvis in enclosed rooms with barricaded windows. They probably haven't seen daylight in years. If not decades.

Graceland Too has been Paul's life and it has taken its toll.

Nope, he ain't married anymore, she long ago gave him the choice of Elvis or her and so . . .

He shows a photo of his former wife taken back in the day.

She is about 17, a pretty brunette and looks like a groomed hippie. At her side is a handsome, Presley-like Paul, a very different man to the guy repeatedly stabbing a stumpy finger at me and bellowing something about "a billion dollars, not a million, but a BILLION dollars" (Jab, jab.)

He tells us -- twice that I remember, my wife says at least three times -- that some top guy at Wal-Mart, or maybe it was Microsoft, has given him, or is maybe giving him, enough red, white and blue lights to line the highway from Tupelo to Memphis. They are working on getting that project going, but he's been kinda busy.

He spins around to show us some other piece of Presley junk.

"See that up there, that's a real piece of the carpet from Graceland's Jungle Room."

I don't doubt it.

Oddly enough the really interesting stuff -- like Elvis' school report which he points out in a crammed sideboard -- is buried beneath mountains of cheap kitsch. And utterly worthless crap.

It's as if he knows the value of nothing, despite the repeated refrain of "a billion dollars, not a million, but a BILLION dollars".

Then we enter The Twilight Zone.

We have taken as many photos as we want and Paul has happily posed beside one of his cardboard Elvis cut-outs.

Then he produces a camera to take a photo of us at the shrine in what must once have been the lounge of his home. We are then shepherded into the corridor back to the front door, on the way passing a dozen large pieces of cardboard stacked against the wall. I stop to look.

They are covered in photos of previous visitors wrapped in protective plastic. I feel woozy, like his photographs have sucked the souls out of us all. Time to go.

2004_0523Image0078We shuffle sideways toward the door, past piled up copies of TV Guide with Elvis staring moodily out of their faded covers, past the mountains of clippings about the King and Graceland Too, past videotapes and the bobbing-head Presley doll and costumes . . .

But Paul is on a roll: Tell all those people in Brazil to come on here, it's better than Graceland, everyone says so . . .

He can't sell us anything of course, Elvis' image it is strictly controlled by Elvis Presley Enterprises, but he can charge for the tour. It costs us $5 each.

Out on the front porch we blink into the afternoon light as he rattles on about how all kinds of people come at the oddest hours, like the stripper in the bath on top of a car one night, I think he mentions the two Bush daughters turning up a little tipsy. He gets occasional visits from Graceland's lawyers.

"They love this place, it's better than Graceland they always say."

There are Japanese all the time, film crews and doco-makers, Elvis impersonators, school kids . . .

We edge down the steps past the pink lions as he's telling us how he's going to do renovations to make the exterior even more like the other Graceland.

Some other visitors arrive, two girls and a guy in their 20s.

"Is it interesting?" he asks me, his tone suggesting some suspicion. He's seen teen-slasher movies about strange houses in small towns and their oddball owners.

"Oh yeah," I say enthusiastically. "You really should see it".

And, as he's walking inside with Paul, I add, "You'll be okay."

He has just time to shoot me a fearful glance before the thick front door of Graceland Too closes between us. 

For more on the other Elvis at Elsewhere, the real one, start here

This story appeared in the travel collection Postcards From Elsewhere 

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