Well, since my baby left me, I found a new place to dwell. It’s down at the end of lonely street at Heartbreak Hotel… “Heartbreak Hotel,” recorded by Elvis Presley, 1956
In the mid-19th century Tupelo Mississippi was a sleepy little pioneer village. That changed in 1886 with the building of the Kansas City, Memphis and Birmingham Railroad that brought in industry—factories and textile mills. Tupelo rode the crest of the boom era until after World War II.
Today the city’s infrastructure is based on tourism. It’s still small as cities go; there are historic sites and museums along with cultural and outdoor activities. But one thing sets it apart that draws thousands of visitors from around the world each year: Tupelo is the birthplace of Elvis Aaron Presley.
Even if you are not an Elvis fan you can’t help but enjoy seeing how Tupelo pays homage to the King.
The Elvis Presley Birthplace has been designated a Mississippi Historic Landmark. Elvis was born in this two-room shotgun style shack on January 8, 1935, to Vernon and Gladys Presley. The family was poor and in 1948 work was scarce in the area due to a post-World War II depression. Vernon, needing work, packed the family’s meager possessions into their ’39 Packard and they set out for Memphis with the hope of better days ahead of them.
The birthplace complex is a major stop on the Elvis Driving Tour. Another is Tupelo Hardware where Gladys bought Elvis his first guitar for his 11th birthday. She paid a whopping $7.25 for it. Elvis had begged for a .22 rifle but Gladys thought that was too dangerous so he tearfully settled for the guitar.
Several of downtown Tupelo’s 19th-century buildings are on the National Register of Historic Places. Many house upscale shops, galleries and eateries. The Farmhouse on Main carries a complete line of Annie Sloan Chalk and Milk Paints, fabrics and books. The Caron Gallery features textile art, pottery and jewelry by local artisans.
Outdoors, culture and history
Two prime choices for getting out and enjoying nature are Trace State Park and the Natchez Trace Parkway, where amenities include camping sites, golf courses, lakes for swimming and fishing, and trails for hiking, biking, walking and horseback riding.
The Gumtree Museum of Art, located in a stellar Beaux Art building dating to 1906, hosts exhibits of visual arts, lectures and workshops.
Tour the Battlefields
Two of the Civil War’s bloodiest Mississippi battles happened here: Brice’s Cross Roads and the Battle of Tupelo/Harrisburg. It was important that the Union Army hold Tupelo and the surrounding area in aiding Gen. William T. Sherman’s March to the Sea campaign through Georgia.
The Mississippi Final Stands Interpretive Center has maps and exhibits detailing the battles. Reenactments commemorating the 150th anniversary of the battles will be held June 13-15.
Staying and Dining
At Johnnie’s Drive-In Bar-B-Que you can sit in Elvis’s booth and down a cheeseburger and RC Cola like he did when he came here after school.
A specialty at Café 212 is the Blue Suede Grill sandwich – one of Elvis’s favorites – slices of bananas drizzled with honey, topped with peanut butter on grilled wheat berry bread.
Gladys and Vernon Presley had no way of knowing that their move to Memphis would propel their shy, introverted son to stardom, or that he would become known as the King of Rock and Roll.
Elvis will always be Tupelo’s favorite son.
Images courtesy of the Tupelo Convention & Visitors Center