You’ve Heard of Graceland — But What About Elvis’ Birthplace? (You Can Visit the House in Tupelo, MS)
The King had humble origins.
It doesn’t get more iconic than Elvis Presley. Decades after his death in 1977, he remains a cultural touchstone with a fan base spanning generations. Recently, his name has been everywhere — for both good and less good reasons. Elvis, the glitzy biopic Directed by Baz Luhrmann, is nominated for eight Oscars this year, including Best Actor and Best Picture. The film’s buzz has put the spotlight back on The King. Conversely, there’s been a shadow looming over his legacy and the ownership of his estate since the untimely death of his only child, Lisa Marie Presley, earlier this year.
If you’re an Elvis fan, you may have made a pilgrimage to Graceland, the sprawling Memphis home he purchased in 1957, at age 22, and lived in until his death 20 years later. Before that, though, he lived in a much smaller home that’s also a southern landmark and must-visit for his legions of fans. Read on to learn about Elvis’ birthplace in Tupelo, Mississippi; maybe you’ll want to pay a visit!
Where is Elvis Presley’s birthplace?
In 1935, Elvis was born in a two-room shotgun house in what many referred to at the time as “the roughest town in north Mississippi.” Elvis’ father, Vernon, had taken out a $180 loan to build the tiny home himself. Unfortunately, it was repossessed just three years after Elvis’ birth, when Vernon was unable to pay back the loan. For the next ten years, Elvis and his family would live in several different homes in Tupelo.. When Elvis was 13, the family moved to Memphis. While he only lived there a short while, it remains the city most closely associated with The King.
For Elvis, however, Tupelo was always the place he called home. In 1957, he performed at the Tupelo Fairgrounds and donated the proceeds to fund construction of a neighboring park. That same year, the city of Tupelo purchased the shotgun house that Vernon had built; and fourteen years later, the East Heights Garden Club, a local volunteer organization committed to cleaning up and maintaining Tupelo’s historic sites, restored and decorated the house, using period furnishings donated by local residents to maintain its authenticity. They opened the house to visitors, and it’s remained a tourist attraction ever since.
What can you do while visiting Elvis Presley’s birthplace?
I first heard about the Elvis house when my father told me about visiting it on a road trip through the South in the ’80s. He confessed there wan’t much to do there — but he said that walking through the home and seeing how modest Elvis’ origins were was a powerful experience that gave him a deeper respect for and understanding of the self-made singer. He even left with a souvenir: a piece of striped fabric that was purported to be a remnant from the star’s wardrobe. As it turns out, it was part of a larger collection of fabric swatches that were issued by Elvis’ record company to promote the 1975 release of his greatest hits box set. Unfortunately, these tokens are no longer available for purchase (unless you make a lucky eBay discovery). Still, the mythic rags-to-riches story the house and its souvenirs represent is compelling.
Today, there are two sculptures of Elvis on the property, and a concrete path surrounding the house features plaques designating notable events in each year of his life. You can also visit the nearby Assembly of God Pentecostal Church, where his family attended services, as well as a memorial chapel. There’s even a “Story Wall” featuring stories from Elvis’ childhood friends, a small fountain, and a museum (complete with gift shop) and events center.
While the house is the main draw, the property around it offers further Elvis-related sights to enjoy. This map gives you a sense of the layout — note just how little space the house itself takes up!
What is the legacy of Elvis Presley’s birthplace?
Elvis may have only lived here for the first few years of his life, but the house’s impact on the culture at large cannot be understated. Elvis’ background was one of rural poverty, and he became a star by virtue of his one-of-a-kind talent and charisma — not because he was well-connected. It was in Tupelo that his mother bought him his first guitar when he was only 11, and he was first introduced to gospel and blues music. Tupelo remained important to him long after he became famous, and despite achieving levels of success and fortune his family never anticipated, he stayed true to his southern roots.
The humbleness of the Elvis Presley Birthplace stands in opposition to the extravagance of Graceland, and that’s precisely what makes a visit to the Tupelo house so special. Walking into the simple two-room home has brought a deeper understanding of The King of Rock and Roll to thousands of fans.