Birthplace of a King
Shake, rattle and roadtrip your way to Tupelo for Elvis’ birthday Jan. 8, or any time of year
Photos Courtesy: elvis presely birthplace and park; Markuskun at English Wikipedia; Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Inc.
For die-hard rock and roll fans, January marks the birthday of the musical genre’s “King.” One of the best places to celebrate Elvis Presley’s emergence into the world — Jan. 8 — is in his birthplace of Tupelo, Mississippi.
Elvis Aaron Presley was born in this Northeastern Mississippi town in 1935 and lived in a modest two-room house built by his father Vernon and Elvis’ grandfather and uncle. His twin brother, Jesse Garon Presley, was stillborn so the young Elvis grew up in Tupelo without siblings.
The Presleys moved around while living in Mississippi, and headed to Memphis for better opportunities when Elvis was a teenager, but that small shotgun house has been restored and is available for touring at the Elvis Presley Birthplace in Tupelo. The site also includes the church that Elvis attended and where he was first exposed to Southern gospel music, statues of the King and a reenactment film of Elvis performing in church as a young child.
It’s one of the many Elvis sites in Tupelo, including Priceville Memorial Gardens where Jesse Presley is buried. Visitors may peruse Tupelo Hardware where Elvis visited to purchase a rifle and his mother talked him into a guitar instead. Or Johnnie’s Drive-In where Elvis was a regular, enjoying Johnnie’s burgers with an RC Cola back in the day. The dining room at Johnnie’s is currently closed, so tourists won’t be able to sit in the same booth the King once graced, but the restaurant still serves up those burgers as a drive-in.
There are so many places to experience where Elvis spent his youth, the Tupelo Convention and Visitor’s Bureau offers a self-guided driving tour and an Elvis bike tour. For instance, visitors can view Elvis’ library card at the Lee County Library (Elvis loved reading comic books), pause at Milam Junior High, where Elvis gave a farewell performance when his family moved to Memphis or view the historic Lyric Theatre where Elvis watched Western films.
“It’s rumored that Elvis got his first kiss at the Lyric,” said Jennie Bradford Curlee, public relations director for the Tupelo Convention and Visitor’s Bureau.
For those who visit Tupelo on Elvis’ birthday on Jan. 8, the Birthplace throws a party with cake and special programming, said Curlee.
“People from all over the world are here,” she said. “It’s a really fun birthday party.”
Tupelo also celebrates the King with its annual Elvis Festival, with this year’s event June 8-12. There are special programs with Elvis experts and friends, an Elvis dog contest and live music at Fairpark in the heart of downtown Tupelo, where Elvis performed his homecoming concert in 1956. The festival culminates with the Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Competition, which leads to the world grand finals at Graceland in Memphis. Graceland’s “ultimate” winner takes the coveted title and goes on tour.
“It’s all things Elvis, all week long,” Curlee said of the Tupelo festivities.
Regardless of when you visit — or if you’re an Elvis fan or not — Tupelo offers boutique shopping and great restaurants in its quaint downtown. Park Heights Restaurant, for instance, serves up hand-cut steaks and craft cocktails on its rooftop overlooking Fairpark. Queen’s Reward creates sweet meads in Tupelo, the state’s first meadery and many times utilizing 100 percent Mississippi honey. The tasting room sells its mead by the glass or bottle and is open Tuesday through Saturday.
There are 2,000 hotel rooms in Tupelo, Curlee said, but the city will get its first boutique hotel in February. Hotel Tupelo will offer 80 rooms and a locally-owned restaurant and bar and be within walking distance to downtown.
“It’s going to have so many local touches, from the coffee in your room to the scents you’ll smell when you walk in the door,” she said.
Getting to Tupelo from Louisiana is a straight shot up U.S. Hwy. 55 through Mississippi, then east on Hwy. 278 through Oxford. For a leisurely drive that’s historic as it’s beautiful, take the Natchez Trace, a 444-mile national park highway that skirts Tupelo and includes the Parkway headquarters just north of town.
For more information visit tupelo.net.