HOLLY SPRINGS, Miss. -- Everyone knows that Elvis lived at Graceland. But where will you find -- as the homemade sign proclaims -- "Universes Galaxys Planets Worlds Ultimate #1 Elvis Fans"?
Photo Credit: David Ryback
Graceland Too, of course.
If you're making an Elvis pilgrimage, Graceland Too is an easy stopover. It's in Holly Springs, Miss., 61 miles northwest of Presley's birthplace in Tupelo, Miss., and 51 miles southeast of Memphis, where Presley died in 1977.
Paul McLeod, a stout 62-year-old with gray, slicked-back hair, moved into the two-story house in 1976. He used to work for Cadillac. His wife of 22 years walked out four or five years ago. "She said, 'Me or the Elvis collection?' so I gave her a million dollars and she left," he claims. Their 31-year-old son, Elvis, lives with Paul, but he's in Memphis on the day of our visit.
To celebrate the 70th anniversary of Presley's birth on Saturday (Jan. 8), the elder McLeod will place an Elvis Frisbee in the manger of a plastic, illuminated nativity scene in his home's music room -- his favorite room -- but otherwise it will be business as usual at Graceland Too.
Usual, that is, for a man who opens his home to tourists 24 hours a day, seven days a week, even on Christmas. The house is now painted the pinkest pink possible, a nod to the 50th anniversary of rock 'n' roll, McLeod says.
The entrance is guarded by 350-pound concrete lions with necklaces of white Christmas lights. Their eyes are painted green, he says, because the word "PRESLEY" on Presley's first album is green, and the word "ELVIS" is pink. McLeod, a fast talker in a region famous for its drawl, adds that one of Presley's favorite actors was Peter Sellers, famous for his role in The Pink Panther. But these are lions, not panthers, and they are pink, too.
"You won't believe the things I've seen," he'll tell you immediately, perhaps the understatement of the year. But if you linger long enough, he'll pop off some stories involving midgets, hot tubs and Xena the Warrior Princess. He says he never knows what he'll see when he opens his front door, which isn't easy because someone stole the doorknob.
There is a constant expectation of comings and goings at Graceland Too. McLeod is standing in the doorway when we arrive. He knows we're coming, because I called the town's tourism office first. (The McLeods don't have a phone that receives calls, so the office takes messages to his house. The memo is already in a plastic sleeve when we get there.) Later that day, he expects the printing company to drop off several thousand questionnaires for visitors. He anticipates that two stacks of photos will be picked up any day, with thousands more arriving, and maybe the actor Dan Aykroyd.
"Do what makes you happy," he says, "because you only live once anyway."
Statistics definitely make him happy.
For example, he says he has 96 full guest registries, and they cost $90 each. He claims to have 35,000 Elvis albums on vinyl, 25,000 Elvis CDs, 31,000 videos that mention Elvis somehow, 165,000 newspaper clippings that are already sorted, with thousands more to go through. "I collect newspapers," he says in a rare moment of modesty. He says he has three semis full of more stuff, one each in Arizona, California and Detroit and that his collection is insured by Lloyd's of London.
After taking your $5 for admission, he'll show you the music room first, with records pasted to the walls and posters on the ceiling. After that, it's on to the TV rooms where he constantly records network television for mentions of Elvis. Hundreds of binders in huge plastic tubs document those references. With Judge Judy pounding her gavel in the background, McLeod is asked how he catches Elvis references when he's giving tours.
"We run back everything by 6 o'clock," he says.
He taps me on the shoulder and says, "Check this out," so we follow him to a room with numerous cassettes lining the wall. He picks up a toy-like microphone, hits the play button on a stereo and amuses himself by crooning "Big Boss Man" with the King. He shakes his leg to show how Elvis used to dance. He knows because he saw 120 concerts.
Outside, he has sliced open basketballs and slid them on the top of posts, strung Christmas lights between the posts and painted everything gunmetal gray, except a porch swing, which is red and yellow. It's supposed to look like a set from Jailhouse Rock.
"I bet when you came on the front porch, you didn't expect me to have an electric chair, did you?"
Indeed, no, but there it is, locked in a storage shed. A spaghetti strainer is nailed to the top, with wires poking out of it. That's how you'd fry the brain. Using a dresser that his neighbors threw out, he's renovating his back porch to be a records room for Presley's CIA, FBI and KGB files. Next to the garage, two lawn chairs sit on a platform, waiting for guards that he intends to hire. A tall Tynenol retail fixture, which looks kind of like R2D2, awaits in the middle of the yard. It's completely gray. What's it for?
"Satellite dish," McLeod replies. His answers often get right to the point.
Where do you live?
"Two more rooms and an attic full of Elvis stuff."
Do you have a kitchen?
What do you eat?
"Pizza. Barbecue. Shrimp dinners."
Where is your bed?
"Don't have one. Too many people coming and going, you can't really sleep."
Do people actually come to your door at 4 in the morning?
"All the time. One day, we were up for two and a-half days."
Are there any Elvis items that you'd like to have?
"Yeah," he says simply, "I'd like to bring him back."
But until that happens, McLeod (or his son Elvis) will be answering the door at Graceland Too. He claims the Walt Disney Company offered him $10.5 million for the collection, but he refused it. He would never sell any of it. He makes his money from film crews who want to put Graceland Too on tape. That money goes back into buying more stuff, with hopes of building a replica of Elvis' birthplace in the front yard.
"This ain't never gonna end for Elvis fans," he says. "It's been going on for 27 years, and Elvis fans like me ain't never gonna quit."