This house couldn’t be further from glamor if it tried.
There’s no denying that, even if you were never personally a fan of his music, Elvis Presley changed the world of music forever. The Southerner had a certain suaveness that women went wild for and men craved to possess, all while remaining humble to his audiences. His straightforward demeanor might seem in contrast to his lux lifestyle and a shiny customized Cadillac limousine so lavish it had a gold-plated TV and a refreshment bar. But, his fascination with wealth and gold was largely influenced by the poverty he grew up in.
Elvis was born the only survivor of twin boys in Tupelo, Tennessee, in January of 1935. His parents, Vernon and Gladys, were living in a 2-room shotgun house at the time. Shotgun houses were a common type of architecture in the South for many years between the Civil War and the Great Depression.
The name stems from the fact that you can see straight through the house from the front door to the back door like the barrel of a shotgun.
These small, rectangular houses were usually only one story and were erected quickly as affordable housing for those without the means to build stately homes in brick with many rooms.
While there are many configurations of shotgun houses out there, the birthplace of Elvis only had 2 rooms: a kitchen/main room and a bedroom. The house was built by Elvis’ family members and features a modest front porch and a minimal number of windows. As is true of many shotgun houses there is no hallway and one room simply flows into the next.
The belongings inside the home are not the original ones that belonged to Elvis’ family, as those have been lost to time and were most likely sold when the family moved. However, the pieces inside the house are representative of what families in the area would have used at the time.
Pieces like the zinc-lined pie safe, wooden ironing board, and mismatched table and chairs were the type of furnishings that were common in the era before every home had the modern conveniences we know today. However humble the house is you have to love the 1930s fruit wallpaper in the kitchen and the lace curtains in the bedroom.
Like many families at the time, the Presleys used a communal outhouse and had no bathroom in their home. A neighbor who grew up alongside Elvis, Guy Harris, recalled that locals used a Sears catalog as toilet paper since “there was no such thing as Charmin” in their neighborhood. The outhouse was not only used by local residents, but also by attendees of the Assembly of God church, the latter of which was moved to be closer to the shotgun house. This is the same church where Elvis got his start in music.
Elvis Presley only lived in the house for a few years before his parents had to move due to lack of funds. The impoverished family stayed in Tupelo until the future star was 13-years-old, having moved many times during that period due to poverty. The family went on to settle in Memphis, where Elvis’ musical tastes were deeply influenced by the country music and blues scenes there.
Today the shotgun house where he was born is the Elvis Presley Birthplace museum where visitors can leisurely explore the house and grounds. You can also see a car just like the one that belonged to Vernon Presley, a 1930s Plymouth sedan in teal-green.
Considering all the places he toured, the stars he rubbed shoulders with, and the glitz and glamor of his bejeweled jumpsuits, the birthplace of Elvis Presley is a stark reminder of how most poverty-stricken people were living at the time.