Books | April 2015
Part shrine, part museum and part fire trap, Graceland Too was the home of Paul MacLeod, “The Universes, Galaxys, Planets, Worlds, Ultimate #1 Elvis Fan,”as a sign hung in the kitchen proclaimed.
Graceland Too Revisited, a new book of photographs by Memphis professors and business partners Darrin Devault and Tom Graves, celebrates and commemorates MacLeod’s infamously uncurated collection of Elvis memorabilia and folk art. For 24 years it was open to the public 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. In the introduction, Devault described touring Graceland Too as “a BOGO deal, because the $5 price of admission certainly had a buy one, get one feel to it.” MacLeod himself was a bit of a roadside attraction in his own right.
Devault and Graves didn’t sally forth that day with the purpose of capturing and preserving a slice of fading Southern folk history—but that’s exactly what they did when they published the photographs they took during the summer of 2011. A few short years after the photographs were taken, Paul MacLeod would be dead, and his collection auctioned off.
The authors’ initial trip to Graceland Too took place on Graves’ birthday, and he was in the mood to get out of town for the day. So he and Devault headed the 50 or so miles down the road to visit an off-the-beaten-path attraction that Graves had visited years before—the epitome of weird Mississippi, Graceland Too. Budding amateur photographers, they thought Graceland Too would be the perfect subject. “It seemed like a natural, a place where you could practice your craft and out of all this massive amount of Elvis kitsch, if you could swipe off parts of it and make it look artistic, that was the challenge,” Graves said.
In the introduction, Devault describes the tour that resulted in the photographs published here. A “raconteur of the highest order” whose enthusiasm for giving tours and speaking of the King never seemed to flag, MacLeod’s intense, livewire style could be as off-putting as it was entertaining, dependingon his audience. Devault also notes the special place MacLeod had in his heart for the Ole Miss coeds who visited over the years, a post-party, pre-dawn trip to Graceland Too being a rite of passage for college students from Oxford. Once someone had visited three times, they were lifetime members and could pose for their Hall of Fans photo in a black leather jacket MacLeod supplied for the photo-op.
In an unexpected and tragic twist to his already strange life, Paul MacLeod shot and killed a local man—Dwight Taylor—who was said to have been known to MacLeod and who had reportedly tried to force his way into Graceland Too the night he was killed. Though MacLeod wasn’t charged in Taylor’s death, he was severely rattled by the episode and died of natural causes on his porch two days later.
MacLeod’s Elvis collection was auctioned off on January 31, 2015, and Graves and Devault were in attendance for what turned out to be a non-auction auction. The day was cold and dreary, but a good crowd gathered anyway. “A lot of people came from long distances in the hope of buying a piece of, not so much Elvis, but a piece of Graceland Too. They wanted a piece of Paul MacLeod’s vision,” Graves said. But after a Cadillac and a pink limousine were sold, an internet bid came in on the other 600 lots set to be auctioned that day. MacLeod’s family approved the bid, and the auction was over. The crowd was visibly, and understandably, unhappy.
The photographs in Graceland Too Revisited capture a sense of the bizarre fruits of MacLeod’s lifelong devotion to the King, and Devault’s introduction gives a candid impression of the Graceland Too experience for those who will never have the chance to visit. “Graceland Too is shuttered, all those artifacts are now gone, more than likely the place is going to be torn down and of all the people that came through there and took phone shots of everything, I think Darrin and I may have been the only two guys to approach it from a photo-art point of view.”
Graceland Too Revisited is available for purchase at The Booksellers at Laurelwood in Memphis and Square Books in Oxford, as well as online.
From Holly Springs with Love
A lifelong Elvis disciple’s treasure trove is gone but not forgotten, thanks to the new photography collection Graceland Too Revisited
Story by Kathryn Justice Leache