Tupelo Hopes Tourists Swoon for 'Elvis the Boy'

By Beifuss, John | The Commercial Appeal (Memphis, TN), January 8, 2012 | Go to article overview

Tupelo Hopes Tourists Swoon for 'Elvis the Boy'


Beifuss, John, The Commercial Appeal (Memphis, TN)


Mississippi-born Memphian Mike McCarthy has devoted much of his life to scratching the itch of his Elvis obsession with art.

He's created comic books with such characters as "Psychedelvis" and "Rebelvis," and movies with such titles as "Damselvis, Daughter of Helvis" and "Elvis Meets the Beatles."

Needless to say, these were not Graceland-authorized projects.

But now McCarthy has gone Elvis-legit, so to speak, uniting his distinctive indie-cult sensibility with the Tupelo Convention and Visitors Bureau to create a short film titled "Tupelove," set to appear Monday at tupelo.net , to promote the town where Presley was born 77 years ago today.

The film can be seen now on McCarthy's website, at guerrillamonster .com.

The 15-minute film marks the start of a major effort by Tupelo "to reinvest in Elvis," in the words of Neal McCoy, 37, executive director of the Tupelo Convention and Visitors Bureau. The hope is that the city will be able to cut itself a larger slice of the multimillion-dollar Presley tourism pie.

The enterprise is expected to hit its high point during Elvis Tribute Week in August, when a life-size $50,000 statue of Presley is unveiled in the green park space near Tupelo's City Hall.

Designed by veteran sculptor Bill Beckwith from an idea by McCarthy, the statue will replicate the famous 1956 Roger Marshutz photo of Presley reaching down toward fans from the stage during a Tupelo performance . Visitors will be able to complete the recreation by reaching up for the statue's hand - an irresistible photo op.

"Memphis is a true gateway to Tupelo," said McCoy, who hopes to attract more of Graceland's 600,000 annual visitors to Tupelo, where "Birthplace Park" includes Presley's childhood home, the Assembly of God church attended by the Presley family, a museum and gift shop.

With a population of about 37,000, Tupelo attracted 40,271 visitors to the Elvis Presley birthplace during the 2010-2011 fiscal year - or "closer to 55,000, once you add the tire-kickers," McCoy said, referring to people who stop to look but don't buy a ticket or enter the building. He said the estimated economic impact of tourism in Tupelo in 2011 was close to $69 million.

McCoy said the Tupelo Elvis experience complements rather than competes with Graceland and Memphis. "Our message is 'Elvis the Boy' - what formed and shaped Elvis up until he was 13 and the family left to go to Memphis. …

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