We had a forewarning about the man and the house we were about to visit. It was to the extent that my travelling companions and I agreed on a code word we would use when it was time to escape.
It was a bit of a joke on the way to the house. As it turned out, we needed to use it.
Graceland in Memphis may be the spiritual home of Elvis, but an hour’s drive south of the city, in Mississippi, is Graceland Too, the spiritual home of a man who calls himself Elvis as well.
His house is a tribute to The King and, as became quickly apparent, a monument to obsession and how it can corrupt a person’s sanity.
You can spot Graceland Too as you drive up the street in Holly Springs, a small town rich with Civil War history.
It stands out from the antebellum homes not just because the trees in the front garden have been painted blue, not just because the entire house has been painted blue, and not just because of the barbed-wire fence surrounding it.
(Just in case you need some background, barbed-wire fences around houses are not common in the Deep South.)
You can also spot Graceland Too because standing out front is Paul MacLeod (aka Elvis), emptying his jacket pockets of empty soda cans.
Paul MacLeod’s Elvis tribute
Paul drinks at least twenty cans of soda a day – it’s how he keeps his energy to welcome visitors to his house 24 hours a day, maintain his video collection of every mention of Elvis ever made on television, and sustain his lunacy.
Paul is a short rotund man in his sixties, with slicked grey hair, a slight limp as he walks through the mess in his house and a Southern accent that’s hard enough to understand without his dentures constantly falling from his top gum.
He describes his house as a shrine to the memory of Elvis. Some people might call it a dumpsite.
Every room is filled from top to bottom with paraphernalia relating to Elvis. One has albums stuck to every centimetre of the walls and ceiling, another has stands with every TV Guide that has ever mentioned the singer.
There are guitars, clothes, collector cards, photos and dolls – and that’s just what’s on display.
Paul tells us he has thousands of other things in storage.
The problem is that Paul tells us a lot of things… and most of them are probably lies.
Apparently Bill Clinton once offered him millions of dollars for one of his records when he visited (Barack Obama and George W Bush have also apparently visited)…
He owns the most expensive record ever made…
He has Elvis’s pink Cadillac (which looks remarkably like a painted standard Lincoln Continental)…
Steven Seagal is a huge fan of Graceland Too…
And pretty much everything he points out to us is apparently worth $250,000.
The Elvis tales
The tall stories and the exaggerations could be quite cute on an old man if he wasn’t so creepy. As Paul shows us around his house, he looks at each of us with an eye that’s half-suspicious and half-lustful.
It didn’t take long for him to tell us that he is a “sex maniac”… and he didn’t need to search too hard for excuses to touch the women in our group.
When he closed the door behind us after a few minutes, the sound of the lock caused a few hairs to stand on end.
If one of us tried to look at something he wasn’t talking about then he would whistle at us and draw our attention back to his incoherent and unconvincing ramblings.
Towards the end of the tour of his house he asked us to walk ahead of him, through two heavy curtains, into a darkened room.
It felt a bit like a horror movie until he turned on the light in the room to reveal photos of all the previous visitors to his house stuck to the walls.
Then it felt completely like a horror movie.
The code word that I mentioned earlier had actually already been spoken by one of our group by this point and we were on our way back to the front door.
It had been in all of our heads from the start but it was said aloud in the garden with the containers that looked like coffins and the fake electric chair in the corner.
If it hadn’t been said then, it probably would have come from someone’s lips in the photo room, because there was something extremely creepy about it.
Having said all of that, though, Paul has clearly had thousands upon thousands of people visit his house and listen to his stories (and I assume most of them have survived).
If those visitors were fans of Elvis they may have enjoyed seeing some of the memorabilia.
We asked Paul why he likes Elvis so much and he said it has a lot to do with the generosity of The King and that he gave so much to other people.
Deep down, that’s what Paul is now doing for fans of Elvis – giving something back.
It’s sad in some ways, though, that an obsession could become a lifelong addiction to the point that it not only defines a person but cripples them from any real interaction with the outside world.
Paul MacLeod’s collection of Elvis souvenirs is impressive but what is more interesting is the man who has dedicated decades to curating that collection.
At Graceland we saw the love for The King – at Graceland Too we saw how far that love can push you