How Elvis Presley birthplace became a historical landmark

If there is one person most responsible, other than Elvis, creating the Elvis Presley Birthplace Park in Tupelo, it is Oleta Grimes who was the daughter of Orville Bean who helped Vernon build the home Elvis was born in.

Previously Elvis donated money to the City of Tupelo to create a children’s playground around his birth home. Over a period of time the city park evolved into the centerpiece of Tupelo’s tourism.  The house is now one of the most visited attractions in the state of Mississippi.

Without the help, and dedication of, Mrs. Grimes this park may not have been created. Here are the facts.
All of this land once belonged to Mrs. Grimes’s father, Orville Bean.

The Presley family were among the sharecroppers on Bean’s dairy and cotton farm. After marrying Gladys Smith, Vernon Presley borrowed money from Mr. Bean to build this dwelling, next to his parents’ house.

On January 8, 1935 Gladys Presley gave birth to twin boys at home; Jesse Garon who was still born, and Elvis Aron.  Young Elvis lived in this house only three years.
Mr. Bean had, and remains to have, the reputation of being; a harsh man (i.e. the story concerning Vernon and his brothers and a true case of redemption), ruthless at business, shrewd, but also had the ability (on certain matters) to be able to forgive and to help members of the community (as he did to the Presley family concerning Elvis birthplace).

His daughter Oleta Grimes was known to have a good heart, be a good neighbor, and a loving and caring member of the community, In fact she became the fifth grade teacher at the community school, East Tupelo Consolidated.

In 1945 Elvis and Shirley Gillentine were chosen to represent their school in the Mississippi-Alabama talent show a fact that Gladys Presley did not know until after Elvis returned home that same day.

Shirley won first prize, Elvis placed fifth and the photograph of Elvis standing on stage, blonde hair and glasses, is essential to Elvis’ story and gives us some insight into the Presley family (please see the photograph contained in this website). Three years later, Elvis moved to Memphis with his mother and father.
In 1956, the Presley family returned during the annual fair to a parade and a sold out concert featuring the now “worldwide talent”…Elvis Presley.

To rise from severe poverty to worldwide fame in these 11 years is truly an original American Story. .

This day was deemed “Welcome Home Elvis Day” where Elvis performed at the same fairground in front of 14,000 people (a crowd larger than the population of the town) wearing a velvet shirt customized for Elvis and given to him by Natalie Wood.

When Orville Bean died and Oleta Grimes inherited his property. And here is where the story of the Birthplace Park begins.

At the Birthplace Park today the story is usually told that Elvis happened to drive past the land of his birth, during his drive to his hometown for the “Welcome Home Elvis Day” and noticed a ‘for sale’ sign.

Elvis was visibly moved and we walked the grounds, peeked into the windows, and then sat upon the step while wiping tears away recalling all his family had gone through and the fact that his twin brother had died during delivery (i.e. stillborn).

As Elvis was being reminded that “we have to go” Elvis decided to buy it and create the park. But the 1957 Fair show was billed as a benefit show for the “Elvis Presley Youth Center” to be built on the land.

Elvis donated his performance fee to buy the land. Elvis did like to visit the old neighborhood. Oleta recalled with fondness that Elvis would visit her husband’s store and their home. At any rate, she sold the land to the city of Tupelo with the intent to create the park.

 

The first step was to clear the land of the assorted outbuildings and homes on the park property, except for the one that Elvis was born in.

Some people have said that the city “got in wrong” and tore down Elvis’ birthplace. For whatever reason(s) they want you to believe that tourists now visit a replacement house.

The facts are that Gladys Presley was present during the 1957 events along with many of Gladys’ friends and female relatives along with Oleta Grimes. Hence, they did not mistake which house Gladys gave birth to her twin sons.
Eventually the city government did build something close to what Elvis wanted; an indoor recreation hall, a baseball diamond, a swimming pool and a playground. The little house sat unused from 1957 until 1971.

That year the East Tupelo Garden Club, including Oleta Grimes, took it upon themselves to restore the house. Interestingly if you look at the oldest known photo of Elvis birthplace, compared with the “restored photos”, you will notice several things. Among them are; the house itself was physically relocated, there was no swing, and there were handrails to the three steps.

Kindly, Vernon helped them and even gave them a felt hat to place upon the mantle. Elvis knew of these efforts but took no role in part because his beloved mother, Gladys Love (Smith) Presley, had died approximately one year after the initial dedication and his heart was forever broken.

Yet, on several occasions he would come down at night to look around carrying his infamous black police flashlight. Often he was speechless and his emotions varied and his bond was evident.
By now thousands toured the Birthplace Park.  Fan Appreciation Day had become a media event for Tupelo. Oleta was not the leader of this event for Janelle McComb was (note: Janelle would become a close friend of Elvis’ and even wrote a poem, for a gift from Elvis to Lisa Marie, that; Elvis loved, made tears come to his eyes, and he proudly gave to Lisa Marie (and remains a cherished possession of Lisa Marie – as it should be).

She had the assertiveness and political skills to turn the Birthplace Park from a part time effort into a tourism destination.

Someone like Janelle was needed to do that, but at the same time she did not share attention easily Oleta Grimes was near the end of her life when that photo was taken, she lived to be one hundred.

She did very few interviews, never asked for the spotlight. That’s too bad, she was too quiet. She had a lot of stories to tell.

 
 

 

 

Part of the money raised from the banquet and shows (Elvis would do two shows at Ellis Auditorium) was given to the Elvis Presley Foundation. The Foundation had the responsibility to create a park on the land adjacent to his birthplace.
The Elvis Presley Birthplace Foundation and the city of Tupelo share responsibility for maintenance and operations of the Birthplace Park.

 

We encourage everyone, when they have a chance, to visit this wonderful landmark as well as; visit Graceland, go to www.Elvis.com (the official Elvis Presley website), and support the endeavors of Lisa Marie – her husband – and their family.

 

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2 Comments

  1. Jamie Boal

     /  October 4, 2017

    My wife and i visited the park and the wee house in August 2017 during Elvis week . The park is absolutely beautiful and the statue of boy Elvis and the superstar Elvis is stunning . The church at the park is very well done also . We were pleasantly surprised about Tupelo it’s a pretty town . Totally recommend a visit and we plan to return in 2019 . TCB 🕺⚡️

    Reply

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