The Internets lit up with the news on a recent Monday night that Paul McLeod, owner and operator of Graceland Too, had passed away. Folks were speculating about what had happened to him, and a few Oxford residents even drove out to Holly Springs to see for themselves. They discovered 69-year-old McLeod was alive and well.
The following week Nature Humphries, Stacey Pillault, and I decided to take a trip of our own to Holly Springs. Nature had never been, and Stacey was tired of watching the sides collapse on her baby pool and decided to ride with us instead of refilling it once again. We hit Betty Davis BBQ on the way, because I firmly believe Graceland Too is best experienced in a somewhat altered state.
Paul McLeod and his hot, dusty, electric blue tribute to Elvis feel like they came straight out of the Southern Gothic school of writing. When he opened the door to greet us his steel gray hair was slicked back and he was wearing wrinkled slacks, black Velcro orthopedic shoes, and a short-sleeved button-up shirt that was unbuttoned almost to his belly button. He speaks quickly and with a nasally drawl that makes it almost impossible to understand much of what he says, and then there are the times when you understand him and wish you hadn’t. I asked him right before the tour began who started the rumor that he’d died. He said, “I don’t know, but it’s the third time it’s happened. Last time I didn’t get to the front door fast enough and the police cut it down with a chainsaw.”
Every room in the 159-year-old house is stacked to the ceiling with Elvis-related memorabilia and other collections Paul has amassed over the years, including several thousand issues of TV Guide. A broken bust of Elvis with one eye missing peers out from behind a stack of artificial Christmas trees on a stairwell so packed with things it can no longer be used.
He has pictures hanging everywhere of his son, whom he named Elvis Aron Presley McLeod, dressed and posing like Elvis. He was especially proud of a large poster board covered with pictures of himself dressed as David Carradine, Rocky Balboa, James Dean, and Fidel Castro, among others. At one point he screamed “YO!!” at me and snapped his fingers in my face to direct my attention to a picture of himself when he was in his twenties.
“I was hung like a racehorse!” he yelled and then giggled a high pitched giggle for several seconds before moving onto to something else. McLeod is rather Forest Gumpian, claiming to have been present for a wide range of famous historical events, including the assassinations of both Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. He also takes credit for a range of less widely publicized deaths, including “cutting Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer up with an axe” and “killing Smokey and the Bandit with a hammer.”
He also throws out a variety of numbers, some downright unbelievable, most conflicting with a number previously mentioned. At one point he said his biggest tour group was 235 people, and a few minutes later said a group of “230,000 Chinese tourists” had descended on Holly Springs to see Graceland Too a few years ago. Trunks that line one wall hold “31,000 VHS tapes” cataloguing Elvis appearances on television, and even include moments when the host of a show was just wearing an Elvis t-shirt. Right before we left he told us his stereo system was comprised of “20,000 speakers” (but really appeared to be a boom box hooked up to a few old wall speakers) before turning “Jailhouse Rock” on at full blast. He hollered “Stand back! I don’t want to get you pregnant!” and then stuck one leg out and did his best Elvis hip shaking dance moves.
A recent status update posted on McLeod’s Facebook page proclaims, “I ALWAYS SAID I’D DIE FOR ELVIS TO COME BACK….. AIN’T HAPPENED YET.” If you haven’t been out there, and you’re in the mood for something uniquely southern and slightly creepy, go see Graceland Too.