Review of Elvis Presley Birthplace in Tupelo, MS: A must for fans of Elvis, rock & roll, and Americana!
|Statue of Elvis Presley, Elvis Presley Birthplace, Tupelo, MS|
Leonard Bernstein: “Elvis is the greatest cultural force in the twentieth century. He introduced the beat to everything, music, language, clothes, it’s a whole new social revolution…the 60’s comes from it.”
Growing up, I was always a fan of Elvis Presley. It’s not because I personally got acquainted with his music and fell in love with him when I was real young, but rather, it was my father who had a huge influence in me loving the man, the legend, and a huge part of Americana.
Few times a week, our family would listen to the sweet sound of his sonorous voice, at times singing achingly melancholy love songs, and at other times singing upbeat rock & roll numbers, singing like no one that came before him.
The more I listened to Elvis, to more his music became part of who I am. His music was my comfort, my solace, and at times, it literally felt like going home, to a safe place, a home. His music represents a warm, comfortable place on a cold winter morning, when I’m waking up to aromatic smells of my mom’s loving, home cooking. In a word, it feels right, and it feels like…home.
I owned an old LP (long play vinyl records, time before the dinosaurs were roaming the earth) featuring all of his number 1 hits. It was such an old album that some of his earlier songs like “Heartbreak Hotel” were in mono, and not even stereo. Every time we’d play that album, it felt right though.
Even these days, when I listen to old Elvis songs that still play mono, it brings back memories of that album and of listening to it with my family. It was one of the nicest memories I have growing up, and it was something to share with my family, especially with my father.
As an adult, his influential and famous “Pompadour” hairstyle made its way to my hairstyle! During my first visit to Las Vegas, a drunk guy once commented that I look just like Elvis Presley, thanks to my hairstyle. I got a huge laugh out of that!
Whether it was hairstyle, his indelible music, his Southern charm, or his cultural impact, he is undoubtedly a big part of Americana. He is after all, the “King of Rock and Roll”.
There are hundreds of Elvis impersonators making a living imitating his likeness and music, and there are still millions of adoring fans out there (count me in) to this day. He is an American legend, a cultural tour de force, and one of the most influential singers of the 20th century.
It was because of my love for Elvis that I bought many of his albums throughout my life (until I became a minimalist), and visited places like Graceland in Memphis Tennessee. Elvis Presley’s Birthplace in Tupelo Mississippi was the other place I had always wanted to visit, and lucky for me, the right opportunity came in February 2023 during the penultimate leg of our cross country road trip.
On February 4, 2023, we left our hotel, Gold Strike in Tunica for Elvis Presley Birthplace about a 2 hour drive. The drive would take us via I-69, I-269, then I-22/MS-78. We decided to grab some lunch in town first, so we stopped at Nautical Whimsey Italian Bistro & Wine Bar on Main St.
Main Street was a perfect replica of a small town downtown in America, with several shops, restaurants, and offices. At first glance, we imagined young Elvis strolling the streets, or bicycling down the same streets with his buddies.
|Main Street, Tupelo, MS|
We found a parking spot half a block away from the restaurant, then walked over. We opened the door and found the place jam packed with diners on a Saturday afternoon. Place smelled good: it smelled of fresh bread being baked, hearty tomato sauce being stirred, with the unmistakable, sweet aroma of garlic hitting my nostrils. It was in short, how a proper Italian restaurant should smell like!
We were seated in the back dining room, a rather intimate place that had around 6 tables. We sat, then looked around the place. It felt like one of number of great Italian restaurants in Little Italy in New York City, which we used to love: not big, but has plenty of character.
|Back dining room|
|Nautical Whimsey, Tupelo, MS|
We ordered two items: a meatball parmigiana sandwich and an eggplant parmigiana platter. While we waited, we got dinner rolls which were just about perfect: still warm from the oven, with sweet butter to go along with it. We gulped down the rolls and waited for our entrees to arrive.
Because the place was packed, it took bit longer than at most places for our food to arrive, but we didn’t mind. We had plenty of time to see Elvis Presley Birthplace, just short 5 minutes away.
Just when we were gawking at other diners’ plates arriving, ours also came over. Entrees were huge, and more importantly, delicious. The meatball parmigiana sandwich was just right, with perfect blend of spices. Meat was tender and when combined with right mix of marinara sauce, cheese, and the always important, crispy on the outside, chewy on the inside Italian bread, it was delicious.
Eggplant parmigiana was even better with 3 large patties of eggplant fried, then baked to perfection. We enjoyed them both, and because they were so huge, we asked for 2 boxes to ‘take home’ to our hotel.
Prices were reasonable at under $40 for two entrees with 2 soft drinks, taxes, and tips. We highly recommend this place if you’re planning a trip to Tupelo.
|Eggplant parmigiana entree, Nautical Whimsey, Tupelo|
|Meatball parmigiana sandwich|
After finishing our meal, we headed out to Elvis Presley Birthplace to finally see it in person. The drive was really short from the restaurant, and we arrived at the parking lot in no time.
We got out, surveying the landscape. We saw an old car probably from the 1950’s displayed under a large gazebo near the entrance. The place was much bigger than I thought, with wide open spaces behind the visitor center/museum/gift shop.
We walked towards the visitor center entrance when we were greeted by a very friendly gentleman. We chatted briefly about our visit. We found out he was one of the supervisors of the place, and had a great anecdote about his experience attending an Elvis Presley concert in town.
He showed us a photo of that concert with Elvis performing, and a young man circled in red. He proudly showed that photo and said that that young man was him. He must’ve been no older than 10 or 11 at the time. It was so cool to meet someone who actually saw Elvis live, in person!
We thanked him for his time, then made our way inside to pay $20 per person to see the birthplace house, the museum, and the church he used to attend. While we were paying at the admission booth inside the visitor center, we heard very familiar Elvis tunes playing on the speakers. It almost felt like home…
|Near the visitor center, Elvis Presley Birthplace, Tupelo, MS|
We were led to the museum, where there was a short film playing. After watching it, we continued on towards the interconnected, smallish museum housing memorabilia from Elvis’ life and a bit of Americana from the 40’s and beyond. It was fascinating to see these and it certainly brought back memories of old items we used to own, like a radio, old tube television, record player, etc.
We came out to the obligatory gift shop which seems to be how all museums are configured these days, to take advantage of every visitor’s pocketbook. We perused the Elvis related stuff, and just moved on. In my bad old days, we would’ve bought few items as keepsakes, but no more. It’s good to be a minimalist! No need to buy stuff to reminisce, or just because…
We walked outside to the back of the visitor center to check out the Elvis Statue and Overlook Pavilion. Day was warming up and it was perfect for a stroll.
|Back of the visitor center|
|Elvis at 13 statue|
|“Becoming”, statue of young Elvis and Elvis the entertainer|
We read the placards, learning about his early childhood, living near Tupelo. We learned his family moved around the Tupelo area several times during his childhood due to financial hardships. It was a hard scrabble life for young Elvis, but I got the feeling that that childhood had something to do with his musical influences that would shape his interpretation of music.
He was acquainted with his first love, gospel music, as played at his church every Sundays. After his family moved to Memphis area, he sought out rhythm & blues joints, as well as different musical styles (honky tonk, country/western, bluegrass, etc.), really opening up his young and impressionable ears.
When asked by a record producer who he sounded like, he once famously said, “I don’t sound like nobody.” This is true, as he sounded like a white, blues musician singing a new style of music, rock & roll, which itself is based on blues, but played uptempo.
Rock & roll is such an important and fascinating part of being an American, and I’m always amazed by Elvis’ voice, his songs, and his legend. It was great to be able to learn and relearn a bit about Elvis, at the place of his birth…Very cool indeed!
Afterwards, we walked towards a small pond called “Reflections”, just a short walk down, next to the Picnic Pavilion. A very peaceful place for a stroll…
We headed towards the showpiece of the place, on the other side of the visitor center: Elvis Presley Birthplace/House. From the outside, it looked small, but inside was even smaller. It was literally a two room house, built for $180(!), with a bedroom and a kitchen/dining room. We noted the humble abode and realized just how difficult life must’ve been coming out of the Great Depression.
We saw how humble his beginnings were and were fascinated by various period furnishings inside the house. The whole house was more like a small New York City style studio, with square footage of not more than 300 square feet.
|House where Elvis was born|
Coming out of the house, we headed towards Elvis’ Childhood Church, which was Elvis’ church growing up, and it was actually moved over from its former location to Elvis Presley Birthplace. We watched a reenactment of a typical Sunday, Southern Pentecostal church service, which Elvis would’ve experienced in the 1940’s.
Church is where he picked up his love for music, especially gospel music. Church was where he also learned to play the guitar, which would become his favorite instrument as a performer.
After a short reenactment (15 minutes or so), we walked outside to the sweet sound of Elvis’ gospel music. On our way over, we couldn’t help but notice a replica of an outhouse, which was the de facto bathroom back in the day. We amused ourselves with a photo.
We went inside the Elvis Presley Memorial Chapel, and spent few minutes listening to the great sound of Elvis singing his first love, gospel music. The chapel’s impressive stereo system worked wonders as the sweet sound filled the entire chapel. *Interesting fact: did you know Elvis’ only Grammy award was in gospel music and not rock & roll? It was a song called “How Great Thou Art”.
It was great finally getting to visit Elvis Presley Birthplace. Tupelo area was a place I’ve heard about from annual Elvis Presley festivals that take place there with hundreds of Elvis impersonators vying to win the title as the best Elvis impersonator!
I always got a kick out of people imitating someone who’s long gone, and making a living out of it (well, at least some of them do). It goes to show how popular Elvis still is almost 50 years after his untimely death in 1977.
His influence will forever live on. He is a true American original: a pioneer, a creative and a gifted tour de force of an artist. Us visiting this place is a testament to his lasting legacy…
If you’re a fan of Elvis or of American history, then we highly recommend visiting this place. Thank you for reading and happy trails!
Wandering Money Pig
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