With Its Eccentric Owner Gone, What To Do With Graceland Too? | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio
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With Its Eccentric Owner Gone, What To Do With Graceland Too?

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Holly Springs, Miss., is a postcard antebellum Southern town. The official motto is "All Kinds of Character." Newspaper reporter Sue Watson says locals put it differently.

"We say, 'Holly Springs, All Kinds of Characters.' " she says. "I think Mr. MacLeod probably could fit in there pretty easily."

She's talking about Paul MacLeod, who stood out from the moment he arrived from Detroit in the 1980s, driving a Cadillac and dressed like Elvis. He even named his son Elvis Aaron Presley MacLeod. In 1990, he opened his house to visitors to show off his enormous hoard of Elvis memorabilia.

But it soon became clear that the real attraction was MacLeod. YouTube videos give an idea why: MacLeod guided visitors through his house like a deranged carnival barker. He never stopped talking:

"Elvis was having an affair with Marilyn Monroe; Frank Sinatra walked in," he says in one video. "If Marilyn Monroe was alive tonight, she'd be 88 years old. ..."

MacLeod's devotion to "the king" drove away his second wife and alienated his son. But it also transformed him from mere fan into what Elvis scholar Vernon Chadwick calls an outsider artist.

"Elvis for him was a kind of gateway to make contact with the rest of the world, or to bring the world to him, which was really the way most outsiders do it," Chadwick says.

MacLeod's masterpiece was his house, which he called Graceland Too. It was a billboard for his eccentricities.

"I wouldn't be scared to say that that house has probably got, I'm going to say, probably 30, 40 coats of paint on it," says neighbor Clifford Yon.

At different times, the antebellum house has been Jailhouse Rock gray and Pink Cadillac pink, Yon says. "It's been white, part of it's been green. It's been brown, blue."

For years, it was also casually overlooked by local code enforcement — even when MacLeod built a wall around it and added a guardhouse, just like Graceland in Memphis. But it did attract tourists — some Elvis fans, but mostly drunk college kids from local universities.

"It was like a rite of passage," says Amery Ewing Moore, an attorney in Holly Springs. "They'd get the cold beer, and then they'd come here, and he'd get up at midnight. And the neighbors were really, really frustrated."

Charlie Shaw is one of those neighbors.

"I wasn't nothing pretty at 3 and 4 o' clock in the morning, when they were out there peeing in my yard and stuff," Shaw says, laughing at the memory.

But one night last month, MacLeod got a different sort of visitor. A local homeless man named Dwight Taylor, who had worked for him in the past, reportedly barged into Graceland Too. MacLeod's lawyer, Phillip Knecht, says Taylor demanded money. MacLeod grabbed a gun.

"It ended up with Mr. Taylor being shot and killed," Knecht says.

MacLeod wasn't charged. He cleaned up the blood and gave a tour the next day. But the day after that, MacLeod, 71 and in fragile health, sat down in a rocking chair on his front porch and died of natural causes.

Knecht told a local news station he believes the stress of the shooting contributed to his death. "I know he was very shook up by what happened," he said.

Last week, just a few days before the 37th anniversary of Presley's death, the people of Holly Springs held a candlelight vigil to mark the passing of the self-proclaimed World's No. 1 Elvis Fan.

Now the town is debating what to do with Graceland Too. Mayor Kelvin Buck says that many locals thought the house was bad for the town's pristine, Civil War-era image.

"But they also understood that all their antebellum homes together could not match the kind of notoriety and attention that Paul received with the Graceland Too," Buck says.

In fact, it has become the town's No. 1 attraction, with its own pages on Wikipedia, TripAdvisor and Yelp. But it also needs extensive repairs.

Local business owners who benefit from tourism, like Annie Moffitt, want Graceland Too converted into a museum. But Moffitt knows its most valuable artifact has already left the building.

She doesn't want it simply converted, she says. "I'll say reconvert it into a museum — of Paul MacLeod."

Copyright 2014 WKNO-FM. To see more, visit http://www.wknofm.org.

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