Monday, June 02, 2008

My Mississippi Manifest Destiny: Where Elvis bought his first guitar

Elvis Presley the star emerged from Memphis. But Elvis the musician came from Tupelo, and his musical career started at Tupelo Hardware.

It was a quiet Wednesday morning two weeks ago when I approached the store, and I didn't think it was open for business yet--it was a few minutes shy of 9:00am.

But a kind gentleman, Howard Hite, enthusiastically waved me in, and he told me the story about the day in 1946 when the future King of Rock and Roll came into Tupelo Hardware with the intention of buying a .22 caliber rifle.

Elvis' mother "thought a rifle was too dangerous" for the 11 year-old, and Hite explained to me "that Elvis pouted a little until a store salesman, to cheer him up, showed Elvis a guitar."

Hite handed to me a copy of a 1979 letter written by that saleman, Forrest L. Bobo, a twenty-year employee of Tupelo Hardware.

An excerpt:

I put a wood box behind the showcase and let him play the guitar for some time. Then he said he did not have that much money, which was only $7.75 plus 2% sales tax. His mother told him that if he would buy the guitar instead of the rifle, she would pay the difference for him. The papers have said that the guitar cost $12.50, but at that time you could have bought a real nice one for that amount. The small amount he had to spend had been earned from running errands and doing small jobs for people.

I am proud to have a little part in Elvis' life. I had supper with Elvis the night he left for his first audition. We all wished him a great success, and he made a great life for himself and the rest of the world.

For the rest of the letter, you have to go to Tupelo Hardware pick up your own copy.

It was Hite who suggested that I step behind the "Elvis Counter" and pose for a picture. Elvis made the purchase at that counter. Hite told me that "people from all over the world come to visit the store and buy guitars." Yes, guitars are still for sale at Tupelo Hardware. Considering Little Marathon Pundit already has a snare drum and a set of bells, in addition to a piano, I decided a harmonica would be a more practical gift for her. When I got back to Morton Grove, she figured out how to play Beethoven's "Ode to Joy" on that harmonica.

Hite is pictured on the right, your humble blogger is below.

Tupelo Hardware is not a museum, the place buzzes with activity and it was filled with contractors and construction workers purchasing tools, nails, screws, locks and other items you find in traditional hardware stores. While taking the time to explain the store's important role in Elvis' life, he worked the other counters, servicing the hardware needs of the people of Tupelo.

I'm going to end this one with a little joke...Howard Hite told me that Elvis' mother asked her son if she was disappointed he didn't get a rifle, Hite quipped Elvis' response was "That's alright, mama."

A big thanks Marlo Carter Fitzpatrick's Mississippi Off The Beaten Path for pointing out the significance of Tupelo Hardware to me.

Next: One more Tupelo post

Previous My Mississippi Manifest Destiny posts:

My Mississippi Manifest Destiny: Elvis Presley's birthplace
The Battle of Tupelo
Shiloh Part Four
Shiloh Part Three
Shiloh Part Two
Shiloh Part One
Carl Perkins
The Varsity Theatre in Martin, Tennessee
Lincoln and Kentucky

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