Sunday, July 17, 2016

We Visit Elvis’ Birthplace So You Don’t Have To



Elvis grew up very poor and very religious. Pretty much the story right there.

We were close to Tupelo, where The King was born, so decided to take the tour of his birthplace. A senior ticket costing $14 gets you into the house, Elvis' first church, and the museum (although you can walk around the outside of the house for free).  We bite.

We were directed to go the Assembly of God church first, because the video would start in 5 minutes. So we scurry over to the church, which is not, of course, the REAL church, but a recreation.   
 
Recreation of the Assembly of God church

Pulpit and Choir Seating


We sit down on very hard wooden pews and look around.  We glance at the only other two people in the “audience,” and conclude that the hoards are not descending on Elvis’ birthplace today. The “church” is plain, with pews running the width of the room, a pulpit front center, a piano stage left, and a few hard, wooden pews stage right, ostensibly for the choir.  A guitar rests against the wall. Behind the pulpit is a sign that says,

Attendance today: 66
Attendance last Sunday: 42
Sunday School: 35
Record Attendance: 100
Offering Today: 531
Offering Last Sunday: 358

Now this whole church is supposed to be a recreation of the church the Presleys attended when Elvis was about 7 years old, which would have been 1942.  The entire neighborhood was dirt poor, as you will see when we get to the house.  I did some quick math and discovered that the average donation was about $8 a head.  Eight dollars!  That would have been a fortune for anyone in this area then.  Probably a dime would have been a sacrifice.  But I digress….

Finally, a woman comes up to the pulpit and tells us how little Elvis loved to sing and play music in church.  Then we get to the video.   Boom! Bang! Three projectors descend from the ceiling, one in the front and one on each side wall!  Three enormous screens roll down!  The quiet little olde-tyme churchlette has transformed into a multi-media center!  How authentic!

The video was shot in this church from what appeared to be the front-most pew, directly in front of the pulpit. It was shot simultaneously with three cameras, one facing forward, one to the right, and one to the left.  Each film was projected on its appropriate screen so it created a sort of “surround video” as if you were seated in the center of the first pew. Unfortunately, sitting near the front as all four of us were, meant that the side screens were mostly to our rear. As soon as the video started, we all stood up simultaneously and moved back so we could see. We should have known never to sit near the front in a church.

Then, we actually went to church.  We heard the singing. We heard the preaching. We saw a little Elvis in front with mother Gladys and father Vernon proudly standing behind, sing “Jesus Loves Me This I Know."  We saw the same attendance/offering sign with the same numbers as the one on our actual wall. We watched hands waving in the air, the “preacher” playing guitar as hymns were sung, and women fanning themselves because, you know, Tupelo in the summer.   It was much longer than snippets, and much longer than it would take to tell the Elvis story. It was going to church. When it was finally over, we were instructed to leave by the side door,  which we did as quickly as we could.

That was when we came upon the Elvis outhouse, which is not, of course, the REAL outhouse, but a recreation.  To underscore the severe poverty of this time and place, you should know that the REAL outhouse was shared by the Presley family and the Assembly of God Church.  
Recreation of Outhouse

After admiring the outhouse, we followed the path to the birthplace, a two-room shotgun house with a swing on the porch. This is the actual house, but the furnishings are not the REAL furnishings, but a recreation. Of course.

Elvis' Birthplace and Unknown Woman


Room 1:  Bedroom/Living Room. Elvis Aaron Presley was born in this room, on that bed (not the REAL bed, but a recreation).  He had a twin brother, Jessie Garon Presley, who was stillborn (we were told the custom was to give twins rhyming middle names).

Recreation of the Bedroom/Living Room


Room 2: Kitchen/Dining Room. Not much to say here.


Recreation of the Kitchen/Dining Room



After looking at the two rooms, it was out the back door, and we are done with the house.

The museum is all that is left on our ticket, and we are not allowed to take photos there.  The museum seems to house things that were not good enough to make it to Graceland.  There are no jewel-studded costumes worn by Elvis, gold records, or animal print furniture, but there is a pair of his pajamas, two corduroy suits, and an orange parka.  There is a toy guitar that was “similar” to his first guitar, at least as far as anyone knows.  There are marbles like the ones he probably played with. There are photos of Elvis and his family, and then you are dumped into the gift shop where you can buy any amount of crass memorabilia.

We mourned our $28.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Life on the Mississippi - Memphis Style

              

   

It's almost like going home again!  Having grown up along the banks of the Great River in Muscatine, Iowa, I feel the memories flying back.  The River is an integral and sometimes intrusive part of all who live along its banks.  (See photo of one of its intrusions.)
BIG Intrusion

My original plan was to stay a few days at the Graceland RV Park in Memphis, but after hanging out a couple of nights in North Little Rock along the Arkansas River (see previous blog) and watching Zoe enjoy the barges, I remembered her telling me about a really cool park along the Mississippi that she stayed at a few months before we met.  So here we are in West Memphis, AR at the Tom Sawyer Mississippi River RV Park watching more barges.  I highly recommend this park, just 2.5 miles off I-40 and I-55, and about 10 miles from downtown Memphis.

Tom Sawyer RV Park

Notes on the Mississippi:  The Great River drains 2/3 of the contiguous (thank you, spellchecker) 48 states, from western New York and the west side of the Appalachians to the Continental Divide in the Rockies.  One of the 3 sources of the Missouri River starts in Yellowstone and the Yellowstone River confluences with the Missouri at the Montana/North Dakota border just south of the Canadian border.  The Missouri River would flow into Canada before it heads south to the Mississippi, but Donald Trump built a gigantic wall there to keep foreigners out.

There are 28 locks and dams on the Upper Mississippi from Minneapolis to St. Louis, slow going for the barge trains (3 abreast and 5 long).  It takes over 2 hours to get through each lock.  Below St. Louis it's open river all the way to the Gulf of Mexico.  It's a cheap way to transport everything from petroleum to coal to grain, but don't expect Amazon Prime to be a big customer.

Back in the present:  Yesterday we did our day trip to downtown Memphis.  Our first goal was a restaurant named "Flight", recommended by 2 beautiful young ladies the night before at the RV park.  We found it easily with our GPS only to find that they open at 4 pm.  We wandered a few minutes and stumbled into the famous Peabody Hotel a block away.  I tried to explain to Zoe that they had a "duck parade" everyday in the lobby.  She replied that I had been out in the sun too long, so we walked into the lobby.  There were 5 Mallards in the fountain in the middle of the lobby, and the sign said they marched outside at 11 am and 5 pm.  Nuff said.
The Peabody (Danny Thomas Has A Duck Print Here)


The Peabody Fountain

Ducks in the Fountain!




















After lunch at the Peabody we headed a mile east on Union Bvd. to Ground Zero of Rock & Roll - Sun Studios.  This laid-back little recording studio was where Elvis, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison, Johnny Cash, B.B. King, and many others first recorded their music.  It's open for tours during the day and a recording studio at night.  Talk about "hallowed ground".

The Big Four: Jerry, Carl, Johnny, and Elvis
Hound Dog Johnny

Sun Studio - Where It All Happened


Tomorrow a 100-mile drive to Savannah, TN to visit Shiloh National Military Park and other NPS stamp collecting sites.

Life is good,
John






Sunday, July 10, 2016

A Tale of Two Rivers



… and neither are named Joan.

The Mississippi River, and one of its major tributaries, the Arkansas, are two of this nation’s grand old rivers. The Arkansas’ source is high in the Colorado mountains, and it flows generally south-eastward until it meets up with the Mississippi in eastern Arkansas.  The source of the Mississippi is Lake Itasca in Minnesota, where it is possible to walk across, as we did several years ago.

The Arkansas

Arkansas River at Dusk From Campground
For the past couple of days, we have been camped on the Arkansas River, directly across from the Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock. An old railway bridge (on left in photo) has been repurposed as a “rails to trails” bridge, with added night-time bling. This bridge, now named the Clinton Bridge, is now a walkway connecting this side of the river with the library.

We visited the Clinton library, but because the temperature was 90 degrees, the humidity 95%, and the forecast said there might be thunderstorms, we opted to drive rather than walk.  After living so long in "dry heat," we don't do well in high humidity any more!
Clinton Bridge Decked Out in Lights


The library was interesting, and contained a very nice restaurant called Forty Two where we grabbed a bite before venturing into the Clinton-abilia. 

There was a replica of the Oval Office as it existed during the Clinton presidency (including a replica of the Resolute Desk, originally a gift from Queen Victoria to President Rutherford B. Hayes in 1880,  and built from the timbers of the British Arctic exploration ship Resolute), a display of the gifts given during state events (all such gifts are accepted in the name of the people of the United States, and archived), various Clinton photos and objets d'art, and a replica of the office in which the Cabinet members met.

Saxophones and Gift
Gift





Replica of the Resolute Desk
Place Setting For State Dinner






 














In addition to Presidential documents, a section showed letters sent and received to/by various celebrities. My favorite was a correspondence between Bill Clinton and Paul Newman.  Clinton sent a letter in March 1996, after Newman’s racing accident, saying he was sorry to hear about the accident, and stating, “I’m glad your hand fared better than your Volvo.” Newman replied, “It was a humiliating experience. I’m the only race car driver in modern history to crash off the circuit at 25 mph.  Don’t spread this around.” 









The rest of our day in Little Rock was spent at the Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site, a pivotal point in the Civil Rights movement of the 50s.  In 1957, after a mandatory integration decision by the Supreme Court, the “Little Rock Nine,” entered the previously all-white school.  Per Wikipedia:


On the morning of September 23, 1957, the nine Black high school students faced an angry mob of over 1,000 Whites in front of Central High School who were protesting the integration project. As the students were escorted inside by the Little Rock police, violence escalated, and they were removed from the school. The next day, President Dwight D. Eisenhower ordered the 1,200-man 327th Airborne Battle Group of the U.S. Army's 101st Airborne Division from Fort Campbell, Kentucky, to escort the nine students into the school. By the same order, he federalized the entire 10,000-man Arkansas National Guard, in order to remove them from the control of Governor Faubus.


The courage and determination of the Little Rock Nine is nothing short of heroic.  When you look at the fa├žade of this enormous high school, it would be intimidating enough as a first-day experience for any student beginning school there. Add in a thousand people screaming hatred at you, cursing you as you walk up that long staircase, and the ability to find the courage to keep walking forward is something I can’t even imagine. 

Little Rock High Schoool



The Mississippi

We are now parked in West Memphis, Arkansas, directly on the Mississippi. This is the view from our front window.  That is a barge.  Life is good.
The View From Our Front Windshield