Just a few blocks from the Mansion is the birthplace of Elvis Presley. It really is quite a local tourist attraction as fans literally come from all over the world to visit the museum and park. In fact, I read in the Daily Journal this morning that 60,000 people visit the site each year. Quite amazing, isn’t it? In addition to the birthplace, bus tours typically include the hardware store where Elvis bought his first guitar and Johnny’s Drive-in where he used to hang out as teenager.
I must admit that I had never even gotten out of the car, much less actually walked around the grounds and done the official tour thing…until this past Monday – Labor Day. We’ve lived in Tupelo now for over seven years and have done the drive-by with friends that were in town, but never really taken the place all that seriously. As you can tell, I’m not much an Elvis fan.
Mike and Barbara Sanders, our son-in-law’s folks, were visiting with us for the big 55th celebration this past weekend. After breakfast at Cracker Barrel, we decided to do a tour of the Tupelo Automobile Museum. Well…it was closed. What to do now? Believe it or not, to the surprise of Erma and the others, I suggested that we go to the “birthplace.” I don’t know what came over me. I must be losing my mind. Naturally, everyone enthusiastically agreed that it would be a fun thing to do.
Upon arrival, we entered the visitors center, purchased our $12 tickets and began the 3-part tour that includes the museum, the original Assembly of God church that Elvis attended when he was a boy, and the two-room shotgun-style house that he was born in – all on the same property.
I was amazed at the quality of the museum. The audio and video presentation was excellent and the artifacts were displayed in a beautiful way. I was somewhat surprised to see how much focus was given to Elvis’ Pentecostal roots. There was a lot of history about Tupelo that was incorporated into his life’s story, and it was very interesting.
Our next stop on the tour was the little Assembly of God church. It has just recently been moved to the property from its original location. The structure has been restored and the pulpit is the original one from the time of Elvis. Once inside the church, we sat down on the pews and the 3-dimensional video presentation began. Immediately, we were surrounded by the sights and sounds of a Pentecostal church service. The video screens consisted of the entire front wall and side walls of the church. The reenactment of “having church” was well done. At one point, Elvis was led by his parents to the front where he was called upon to sing “Jesus Loves Me” in front of the congregation and then the pastor prayed a special prayer over him.
The capstone of our tour was the house where Elvis was born. We greeted the host at the door and handed her our tickets as we stepped into the first of two rooms comprising the house. Once inside, the host gave us a warm welcome and began to tell us the story about Elvis being born in the house. We acted interested and she continued to share us more information about his life and how that he loved the city of Tupelo and wanted to give back to the community in some way after he became a star.
And then came the big surprise as she began to tell us about an orphanage up the street that Elvis was very fond of and how he gave generous donations in support of this wonderful place for children in need. One Christmas, she said, he even gave a beautiful nativity scene to the Mansion. He was always wanting to do something special for the kids. She stated that he wanted to serve on the Board of Directors, “but they wouldn’t let him because he was into rock and roll music.” We laughed. Of course, she didn’t know that we were from the Mansion, and we just let her talk. She told us that the Mansion has been a tremendous blessing to hundreds of children since those early days and now has one of the finest private schools in the country.
When she was finished with her presentation, I complimented her and then introduced myself as the President of the Mansion. Needless to say, she was surprised to meet us and said, “Well, you just never know who you’re talking to, do you?” Nina has never taken a tour of the Mansion and so we are arranging for that to take place as soon as possible.
There is no telling the thousands of people that she has spoken to favorably about TCMM. Who knows what will come of this and who may be sponsoring this ministry today because of Nina’s testimony, and Elvis’ love for this special place in Tupelo.
By the way, did you know that T. C. Montgomery, our founder, baptized Elvis’ parents in the name of the Lord Jesus? This is just a morsel of Mansion trivia…that I didn’t learn while visiting Elvis’ birthplace. We’ll need to share that little-known fact with Nina so she can add it to her presentation.