Graceland Too attracts tourism

Mississippi - Paul MacLeod is a perpetually caffeinated Elvis fanatic who's taking care of business 24 hours a day at the home he calls "Graceland Too".

Pound on the door at any hour - seriously, it's OK to arrive at 04:00 in the morning - and the 67-year-old former auto worker will escort you through his discombobulating, floor-to-ceiling collection of photos, records, figurines, cardboard cut-outs, candy wrappers, clocks and other random kitsch featuring the King of Rock 'n' Roll.

"I'd give my life right now if I could bring this guy back," MacLeod says in his auctioneer's staccato, his gray hair slicked back in a '50s style.

MacLeod says he rarely leaves Graceland Too, sleeps only sporadically and is fuelled by 24 cans of Coca-Cola a day - a claim at least partially verified by the aluminium pull-top tabs he collects in sandwich bags and the stacks of flattened red cardboard boxes on the back porch.

Graceland Too is in Holly Springs, a northern Mississippi town of 8 000. It's a convenient stop for fans on an Elvis pilgrimage, sitting about halfway between Elvis Presley's birthplace in Tupelo, Mississippi, and the King's final home and resting place, the unaffiliated Graceland mansion in Memphis, Tennessee.

Until Graceland Too became a magnet for offbeat tourism, Holly Springs was best known for its traditional - and tastefully kept - white-columned pre-Civil War era homes.

"He's our number one attraction," says Suzann Williams, assistant director of the local tourism bureau.

She says that people call daily wanting information about Graceland Too, and that the Japanese and the British are the largest groups of overseas visitors. MacLeod doesn't have a telephone, but the tourism folks take him notes to let him know visitors are coming.

MacLeod is so obsessed that 36 years ago, he named his only son after the man he considers the world's greatest entertainer and humanitarian.

"My son was born Elvis Aron Presley, with one A for Aron," he says, noting the spelling Presley used for years. "I didn't put the other A to his name until Vernon Presley put it on his son's grave."

Floors creak beneath visitors' feet as they walk through the 157-year-old home warmed by space heaters that sit perilously close to raggedy shag carpet and stacks of papers and magazines.

For $5, visitors get to experience sensory overload, harshly lit by unshaded bulbs.

Doorways are decorated with several Elvis-patterned curtains in '70s-era hues of turquoise and lime. There are photocopies of a newspaper with MacLeod's all-time favourite headline: "Elvis Presley Excites Girls, Scares Critics."

A poster-sized display in the entryway declares - sans punctuation - "The Universes Galaxys Planets Worlds Ultimate Elvis Fans".

"My ex-wife told me, 'Make up your mind. Either me or the Elvis collection'. So that put an end to that," MacLeod says with a chuckle.

MacLeod says he has owned his home since the mid-1970s, and that he's had 368 000 visitors since he started opening it to strangers since the late 1980s or early 1990s.

Heaven help the fact-checker who'd have to verify the statistics he tosses out during his tours, which typically last an hour and a half.

Fans say the random, nonstop flow of information is part of the campy appeal.

Garreth Blackwell, a 27-year-old journalism teacher at the nearby University of Mississippi, said he has been to Graceland Too a half-dozen times and recently took his wife and three friends for a nighttime tour.

"It's kind of hard to talk about this guy, because you come enough you hear the same things over and over again," Blackwell says. "It kind of puts that in your mind, 'Well, maybe this is all true.' You don't ever know. But it doesn't matter because it's a good time."

MacLeod says that he became an Elvis fan when he was 13, and that he attended 120 Elvis concerts.

In Graceland Too, MacLeod claims to have 35 000 records and 25 000 CDs. He says he has 185 000 square inches of carpet that once was in Graceland. He constantly monitors radio and TV broadcasts and records any mention of his idol, claiming to have 31 000 videotapes and 43 000 audio recordings.

Then there's the scrapbook filled with teensy slivers of paper - one million mentions, he says, of the name Elvis Presley.

"There's my burial suit up here to come back and haunt my ex-wife," MacLeod says, pointing to a gold number in one of the front rooms.

Robert Lopez of Los Angeles, who has performed 21 years as El Vez, the Mexican Elvis, says he has toured Graceland Too at least a dozen times and is attracted to its folk-art oddness. He once donated one of his stage outfits to MacLeod's collection - a maroon crushed-velvet jumpsuit with a cape featuring a sequined Virgin of Guadalupe.

He says Elvis MacLeod is a walking encyclopaedia about Elvis Presley who helped his father give tours for several years, but was a calmer presence: "The son would translate in a slower monotone: 'What my father said was ...,"' Lopez recalls.

The younger MacLeod moved to New York in the 1990s, and a phone listing for him could not be found.

Lopez also cautions that Graceland Too "might be a slight warning about what too much love can do".

The ceiling of the TV room is covered with baseball card-size Elvis pictures and visitor comments printed on fluorescent pink, blue and yellow paper. Wrote one man from Pensacola, Florida: "This Elvis shrine is as close to Heaven as an Elvis fan can get. This is the ULTIMATE."

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