Vernon Chadwick of Oxford, Miss., gives visitors a tour of the ephemera-filled front rooms of Graceland Too. (Photos by Rogelio V. Solis / AP)
Holly Springs, Miss.
The Elvis Presley-congested rooms of a north Mississippi roadside museum are missing their kinetic buzz since owner Paul MacLeod left the building.
Dozens of people toured Graceland Too last Tuesday, hours after a private funeral for MacLeod. A sign in the museum still bills him, without regard to apostrophes, as “The universes, galaxys, planets, worlds ultimate Elvis fan.”
MacLeod died July 17, two days after police said he shot and killed another local man who tried to force his way into the attraction.
Since 1990, the perpetually caffeinated MacLeod had guided intoxicated college students, international tourists and other adventure seekers through his floor-to-ceiling collection of Elvis ephemera in the ramshackle antebellum home. His daughters say the collection — of dubious financial value — could be sold piecemeal to satisfy their father’s debts.
There are posters. Lamps. Life-sized cardboard cutouts. Figurines. Curtains. Vinyl LP and 45 rpm records. Stacks of TV Guides with paperclips to show listings of movies, talk shows or sitcoms with even the most tangential mention of the King of Rock ’n’ Roll.
“Paul was attempting to document all references to Elvis Presley in all forms of media,” said Jeffrey Jenson, a filmmaker from Kingston, Jamaica, who spent years working on a documentary about the super fan.
Even with an eye-popping assortment of memorabilia, tours of Graceland Too were never really about the stuff. They were about the frenetic energy and nonstop storytelling of MacLeod, who took care of business with an intensity that many believed translated into art.
“Paul called it a ‘magnificent obsession,’ ” said Vernon Chadwick, a former English instructor who organized an international Elvis Presley conference at the University of Mississippi in 1995.
Graceland Too is not affiliated with Presley’s final home, the Graceland mansion, about an hour away in Memphis, Tennessee. Holly Springs is about halfway between Memphis and Presley’s birth city of Tupelo, Mississippi. That makes the town a convenient stop for pilgrims traveling the area this week to commemorate Presley’s death at Graceland on Aug. 16, 1977.
MacLeod’s adult daughters, Brenda Young and Shari MacLeod of Madison Heights, mingled with Graceland Too tourists last week, but said they hardly had a relationship with their father. The former auto assembly worker left them and their mother when Brenda was 6 years old and Shari was 4.
Shari MacLeod said it was intriguing to chat with people who had made their way to Holly Springs — many of them repeatedly, and many of them from long distances — to tour Graceland Too and visit with her father.
“They got to experience what me and my sister didn’t,” Shari MacLeod said.
People who took the $5 tour at least three times received lifetime membership cards from MacLeod, and that entitled them to free tours. Mike Butcher of Columbus, Ohio, said he first visited Graceland Too shortly after he and his wife, Dawn, were married by an Elvis impersonator in Las Vegas 14 years ago.
“I found out quickly that 3 or 4 in the morning was the best time to come here,” Butcher said.
In his final years, MacLeod worked on a “Jailhouse Rock” theme for the backyard, including a homemade electric chair. The sturdy wooden structure is painted gray and studded with yellow clips strung with strands of electric wire connected to nothing. Tourists can sit in the chair and pose for fake execution photos, complete with an overturned metal colander for a hat. Shari MacLeod laughed as she did that, while Butcher pretended to throw a switch.
It was, Butcher said, one of Paul MacLeod’s favorite gags — he would point at the upside-down horseshoe on the front of the chair and tell visitors: “’You see that horseshoe? You’re out of luck, man. You’re out of luck.’ ”