Mon August 18, 2014
World's #1 Elvis Fan Leaves the Building... Now What to Do with It?
The eccentric owner of Graceland Too devoted his life to Elvis. Can his unusual shrine be saved?
Holly Springs is a postcard, antebellum southern town. The official motto here 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 that Mr. MacLeod could fit in there pretty easily.”
She’s talking about Paul MacLeod. He stuck 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 Paul MacLeod.
Youtube videos show MacLeod guiding visitors through his house like a deranged carnival barker. He never stops talking. At times, the reliability of his storytelling is as loose as his dentures, though he’ll follow some of his grander pronouncements with the catchphrase, “No brag, pure fact.”
MacLeod’s devotion to the King of Rock and Roll drove off 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 for him to make contact with the rest of the world or to bring the world to him, which is really the way most outsiders do it,” Chadwick said.
MacLeod’s masterpiece was his house, which he called Graceland Too. It was a billboard for his eccentricities. Most notably, MacLeod would frequently paint it different Elvis-themed colors – Pink Cadillac Pink, Jailhouse Rock Gray, and many, many other shades.
For years, his house was casually overlooked by local code enforcement -- even when MacLeod built a wall around it and added a guardhouse, just like Graceland in Memphis.
He turned the backyard into a Jailhouse Rock prison yard, complete with a fake electric chair.
He put volleyballs atop the dozen or so flagpoles in his yard because he claimed there were at least five Elvis references in the movie Cast Away, in which Tom Hanks befriends a volleyball.
MacLeod was famously open for tours 24 hours a day, seven days a week. And the tourists showed up at all hours. Some were Elvis fans, but on most nights they were drunk college kids from local universities.
“It was like a rite of passage,” said Amery Ewing Moore, an attorney. “They’d get the cold beer, and he’d get up at midnight. And the neighbors were really, really frustrated.”
Neighbor Charlie Shaw said that visitors could be obnoxious. “It weren’t nothing pretty at three and four o’ clock in the morning when they were out there peeing in my yard and stuff,” he said, laughing. MacLeod didn't have a working bathroom.
One night last month, Paul MacLeod got a different sort of visitor to Graceland Too. A local homeless man named Dwight Taylor, who had done some work for MacLeod, reportedly barged into Graceland Too.
Attorney Phillip Knecht says Taylor demanded money. MacLeod grabbed a gun and used it. Taylor was killed.
MacLeod wasn’t charged. He cleaned up the blood and gave a tour the next day. But on the morning after that, MacLeod, age 71, and in a fragile state of health, sat down in a rocking chair on his front porch and died of natural causes.
Now the town of Holly Springs is debating what to do with Graceland Too. Mayor Kelvin Buck says that while many locals thought it was bad for the town’s pristine, Civil War-era image, “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.”
Despite having no telephone and no computer, MacLeod’s home became Holly Springs' Number 1 tourist attraction. It’s also in bad shape, in need of extensive repairs.
Last week, MacLeod’s fans from across the country helped keep the house open during Elvis Week, raising money to help pay off a $17,000 bank lien.
Local business owners like Annie Moffitt want Graceland Too converted into a museum… “I’ll say RE-converted into a museum... of Paul MacLeod,” she says.
But locals also realize that the museum’s most valuable artifact has already, as they say, left the building.