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Notes from a Polite New Yorker: Graceland Too
Everyone who had been described it to me as a very weird experience that words could not do justice, and they were right.
I was the only sober being in a packed Chevy Suburban careening down the dark highway outside of Memphis, Tennessee. I maneuvered the Suburban through numerous highway construction sites to Holly Springs, Mississippi, where we stopped by a 24-hour service station before continuing on.
It was nearly two in the morning when we stopped by the service station for a much-needed restroom break. Several newspaper delivery workers were stuffing newspapers into plastic bags beside their cars, a few cops chatted in the snack area of the service station, and our rag-tag group made our way to the restroom before buying some snacks and leaving. It had rained recently, which had cooled everything off to where it was tolerable to stand outside for more than a few minutes.
Our group consisted of two punk rock bands—Blackout Shoppers (that's mine) and Skum City—that had just played the Hi Tone Café in Memphis. Most of us had flown into Memphis from New York that morning. A sane group of people would have gone straight to bed, but Graceland Too was calling to us.
Graceland Too is an Elvis Presley museum that is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year and is run by owner and Elvis fanatic Paul MacLeod. Everyone who had been described it to me as a very weird experience that words could not do justice, and they were right.
I first learned of a place called Graceland Too two years ago from The Beast, Blackout Shoppers' drummer. He had been there twice and on this, his third visit, he would become a Lifetime Member, meaning he could visit Graceland Too any time without paying the $5 admittance fee. He was very much looking forward to attaining this membership.
With expert, smart-phone based navigation from guitar player Mike Moosehead, we got to Graceland Too at about 2 a.m. It is a two-story house pained blue with a blue fence surrounding the property, except for a higher chain-link fence that guards the driveway. In the driveway is a large pink Cadillac. Two lion statues, pained blue and ringed with barbed wire (also pained blue) stand guard before the stairs to the front door.
We banged on the front door and waited for quite a while. We paced outside the house looking for some signs of life or activity. Through a small window on the front door we could see that the foyer of the house was lighted, but no other activity was going on as far as we could see. We hoped we had not made our journey in vain.
All the windows of the house visible from the sidewalk have been either pained over or shuttered shut. When Skum City singer Marc Sucks jumped the fence along the side of the house, he saw proprietor Paul MacLeod through the one visible window. MacLeod was in his kitchen preparing for the tour he was about to give.
A few minutes later, MacLeod opened his front door and greeted us. He is an elderly man with white, slicked-back hair, loose dentures, and a wild-eyed demeanor. He was wearing a short-sleeve, button-up shirt, dark slacks and black sneakers. Since at least one of our party still held an open beer can in his hand, he reminded the group that no beverages were allowed inside. Our party quickly finished the last of their beers and we were welcomed inside.
The foyer of Graceland Too is a space completely covered in Elvis photos, cardboard cut-outs and press clippings. There are other cardboard cut-outs and photos as well, such as that of Marilyn Monroe, who MacLeod is quick to note had sex with Elvis. The staircase to the upstairs is unusable as all the stairs are covered with boxes of Christmas decorations and the top of the stairs are blocked off with a rack of clothes and more cardboard cut-outs and photos. A sign made from large, mailbox-type letters on the staircase reads "GRACELAND TOO - THIS IS ELVIS LAND."
We all signed the guest book, paid our $5, and the tour began with MacLeod taking multiple key rings out of his pocket and claiming he had 35,000 keys as he searched for a key that would open a locked door there in the foyer. He also rattled off numerous media outlets that had come to visit his museum.
Each and every room is lined completely, floor and ceiling, with Elvis photos and memorabilia. There is no Elvis photo or mention too trivial to merit inclusion in Graceland Too. I learned, for example, that Elvis' karate nickname was "Tiger" and that Elvis died while on the toilet reading about the Shroud of Turin.
While Graceland Too is a monument to Elvis Presley, it is more accurately a monument to Paul MacLeod's obsession with Elvis and his own sacrifice. Various articles mention that his wife left him over his obsession with Elvis, and while MacLeod frequently mentioned his son as someone who helps him run Graceland Too, there seemed to be scant evidence of him around. A Salon article references the younger MacLeod helping give tours as recently as 1997. A USA Today article published last year said he moved to New York in the 1990s.
At one point he asked one of our group to pick up a three-ringed binder that sat nearby. Each laminated page in the binder documented a TV program's mention of Elvis Presley, including the exact time and channel. He said he had several large storage containers filled with these binders that documented every mention of the King of Rock and Roll on television for more than a decade.
MacLeod's mannerisms are bizarre and it often seems like his mouth can't catch up with his mind. "Keep up with me now; I'll drive you nuts," he often said. He will frequently accentuate what he is about to say by pounding his fist on a nearby piece of furniture, tapping someone on the arm or shoulder three times or grabbing your arm in his strong grip. He made lots of claims involving large numbers. He claimed to have thousands of Elvis' firearms and other items belonging to Elvis. He will go off on tangents with certain items, claiming to have received very large offers of money for them.
"I drink a lot of Coca-Cola, it makes me horny three times a day…"
"We were so poor growing up, we spelled ‘poor' with 10 Os," he said, showing the word ‘POOOOOOOOOOR' spelled out on a large board that held other photos.
"You ask me how fast I was when I was younger," he said, although I don't think anyone had asked about how fast he was when he was younger. "I was faster than a black mamba snake, a rattle snake, a Colt .45 and Bruce Lee…"
We stopped by a large stereo and he sang some Elvis songs. He told us several times that he once found $10,000 in cash in a bag in the trunk of one of the cars in his driveway. He's met with two U.S. presidents (or was it three?) and three presidential daughters. He had photos of himself impersonating other celebrities. If he told you the story behind every photo and item in his place, you would never leave. He's had tours that have lasted hours and hours.
He showed me a plastic zip-lock bag that contained tabs from at least two dozen soda cans. "This is what I drank just today before you got here," he told me. It was nice to meet someone else who enjoyed drinking copious amounts of soft drinks. I thought about asking him his opinion of Andy Kaufman or eXtreme Elvis, but thought the better of it.
When The Beast was made a lifetime member, MacLeod photographed him in a black leather jacket, white belt and pink guitar that he had there. A hallway was lined with multiple photos not only of lifetime members but of groups that had visited. We posed for photos both on our own and with MacLeod, and were happy to know that at some point our photo would be on display for others to see.
"I shouldn't tell you about all the crazy stuff they do out here. You better cover her ears," he said, referring to the one female member of our group, Skum City bass player Xtene Moosehead. Since she's written songs such as ‘Eat My Fuck' and ‘Supercunt,' no one covered her ears. "They've got cocksuckers, clit lickers and professional shit eaters, but that's just Mickey Mouse shit!" exclaimed MacLeod, who went on to describe even more bizarre things that included someone drinking the contents of a sanitary napkin.
When we got to the final room of the tour, MacLeod unlocked the door he had tried to open at the start to reveal a room covered in records, mostly 45s, mostly Elvis. He asked me to lift a concrete statue of a frog using only my thumb; it was difficult. The frog is a reference to the Elvis song ‘Mississippi Bullfrog.' He mentioned his collection of firearms again and pulled a two-shot Derringer out of his pocket. His finger wasn't on the trigger but the business end of it was pointing at our friend Jon K, and it was quite unsettling. But the gun was quickly back in his pocket and we can't blame him for carrying some protection, since he welcomes anyone who knocks on his door into his home at all hours of the day and night.
And no matter how strange or off color he was, MacLeod was genuinely grateful that people were there to visit and appreciate his work. You will not likely ever visit a museum or attraction that documents and celebrates your attendance as much as Graceland Too. MacLeod is sincerely happy to have you there and makes you feel welcome, even if it is in his own odd way. He thanked The Beast several times for bringing people to Graceland Too, and was very happy to receive a Blackout Shoppers t-shirt and CD from us.
We wished MacLeod all the best, vowed to return and went on our way back to Memphis and the rest of our tour, knowing that not much would be able to leave as big an impression on us as Graceland Too.