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.

1 comment:

Ilene Van Gossen said...

Thank you for biting that bullet for us.