A morning's drive on the Natchez Trace brought us to Tupelo, so we decided to stop and get an urban fix before we head further north into the wilderness. We'd read great things about Trace State Park here and every word was true. Nearly every site here is on the water and I can see Trace Lake out of every window. Many folks come here to fish. If it warms up a bit, we'll be taking advantage of the fire ring to cook some s'mores. We also are entitled to free golf at a nearby country club with a receipt from the park. A great stop!
One of Tupelo's claims to fame is that it is the birth place of Elvis Presley. We've been to Graceland, but are not big Presley fans. I can't recall ever buying one of his records. In the tourist literature we read that Elvis bought his first guitar here in a hardware store. When we drove right by and there was a parking spot out front, we thought - why not stop? Inside we were met by an enthusiastic Howard Hite, married to the granddaughter of the original owner of Booth Hardware. While he might sell a shovel or light bulb now and then, his primary role is to welcome the tourists who throng to this charming, old fashioned hardware store to see where Elvis got his musical start. The story is that in 1946 Gladys Presley brought her ten year old son here to get a bicycle, but when he got inside, a .22 caliber rifle caught his eye. She didn't want to buy him a gun and they got into a tiff. A store employee Mr. Bobo saved the moment by suggesting the guitar in a nearby display case. Elvis agreed that he'd take the guitar, his relieved mother paid $7.50 + 2% tax and his pastor taught him how to play it.
Buying a guitar in a hardware store is an interesting story by itself, but then Howard went on to show us photographs of the busloads of tourists that come to the hardware store for the tour that the two of us had just gotten. Next week he is expecting two groups of nine buses each from the United Kingdom, and he also had photos of groups from Japan, Italy, Germany, and all over the US. One of the Chilean miners who was trapped under ground for so many days put visiting this hardware store on his must see list when he came to the US. Although this is a fully functioning hardware store, economically priced guitars are still for sale as they were in Elvis' day. Howard said they sell about 200 a year. Even some top musicians have bought guitars here to hang on the wall and say that they bought an instrument where Elvis bought his. They also sell a special cheap case so that Europeans flying home can carry the guitar on board the plane.
And tomorrow we can take the historic Elvis driving tour that includes the home where he was born, restored to its original condition. It's hard to believe that a performer that has been gone for 35 years can still engender such excitement. Howard could hardly believe it himself. He insisted that we step behind the counter and stand beneath the memorabilia displayed there. And so we did.