Memphians have a weird relationship with Graceland. Those who have never passed through the gates hold it as a point of native pride; and those who have been there try to justify it with excuses about visiting relatives.
But there's another Graceland, located an hour south of Memphis in Holly Springs, Mississippi. It's Graceland, Too, one man's six-decades-running residential homage to all things Elvis.
For the uninitiated, Graceland, Too isn't meant to be a re-creation of the real thing. Instead, it's a smallish house stuffed to the gills with Paul McLeod's massive collection of Elvis memorabilia (among other things). McLeod will welcome you into his house anytime, day or night, for the low, low price of $5. After you've been to Graceland, Too three times, you're eligible for a lifetime membership, which entitles you to free admission.
Once inside, McLeod presents his collection, room by overstuffed room. There are records and photos and binders full of notes cataloging each time Elvis has been mentioned on TV in the past 20 years. There are three TVs that run constantly, each on a different channel. There are records and books and Elvis-themed tchotchkes of every imaginable kind. Nearly every surface is wallpapered with newspaper clippings and neon sheets of paper printed with quotes from visitors.
Though the house is devoted to Elvis, very little of the tour is. The tour is more about McLeod's monument: its creation, its visitors, its upkeep, and its constant changes (like building a replica of the "Jailhouse Rock" set in the backyard, largely out of kitchenware).
Visits to Graceland, Too are a rite of passage for curious Memphians, tipsy college students, and Elvis fans looking for something a little different. But in the past few years, this already-strange attraction seems to have gotten weirder. Now, with its owner in poor health, a few Memphians are trying to ensure the collection's preservation.
"When our group traveled down to Graceland, Too for the first time, we had no intention of doing anything but drinking some beers and getting some laughs from Paul and his eccentric collection," University of Memphis graduate student Amy Gregory told me via email. "However, we stuck around after the tour and started talking to Paul and got a feeling that he was trying to reach out to us for some kind of help."
Gregory and her friends Joe Sills, Matthew Nolen, Meredith Nolen, and Brandon Allen followed McLeod to Annie's, a Holly Springs diner, where he told them that he was concerned about people stealing from him and that it was getting harder to run Graceland, Too in his old age.
"It's rare to come across a college kid from Memphis, Ole Miss, or Mississippi State who hasn't heard of Graceland, Too. But a lot of those kids go and they do what kids do — they steal things from him, make fun of him and all of that," Sills told me via email. "Paul has a lot of crap inside that place; but he also has some very real treasures, and, at one point, he had many more that have since been stolen."
Moved by McLeod's story, the group put together the Blue Suede Benefit, scheduled for December 14th, to raise money for McLeod's medical bills and other expenses. The benefit will be held at Annie's in Holly Springs, with entertainment from (what else?) an Elvis tribute band and a silent auction featuring items from Graceland, Too.
While the benefit will help McLeod in the short term, Gregory and Sills are hoping to find a way to make sure that the Elvis collection finds a lasting home. They admit that not everything in the collection is worth saving but want to make sure the most valuable items are kept.
"Our group has tried to tap all of the resources we have to help preserve some of it," Sills said. "We've reached out to the Library of Congress, the University of Memphis, and Ole Miss, but we haven't gotten very far with any of them yet. Cataloging that place would be a monumental task, but I do think it's a real piece of Americana that should be preserved somehow."
Tickets for the Blue Suede Benefit are $20 in advance and $25 at the door and can be purchased at gracelandtoo.org.