Auctioning off the Elvis memorabilia at Graceland Too.
The Absolute Auction of Graceland Too was over in one fell swoop. This past Saturday morning, about a hundred warmly dressed bidders, journalists, and rubberneckers had assembled on East Gholson Avenue in Holly Springs, Mississippi. The auctioneer informed us that the sale was over not even a minute after it began. Everything available—some six hundred items of variously worthwhile Elvis memorabilia—had sold to an unnamed online buyer for the sum of $54,500.
The crowd was visibly distressed at the news. There were groans, shouts of false advertising. The auctioneer, Greg Kinard, an immaculately dressed man of considerable stature, apologized and explained: this was the way it had to be. This was how Paul MacLeod would have wanted it. Kinard thanked everyone for coming out, assured us that there had been no false advertising, and reminded us to pick up one of the pink or blue T-shirts for sale: GRACELAND TOO FOREVER!
Stripped of its lurid speculative detail and Southern Gothic charm, the story of Graceland Too and its ill-fated proprietor, Paul MacLeod, is a sad and simple one. MacLeod was seventy-one when he died suddenly this past July, a victim of undiagnosed and untreated paranoid obsession. He’d spent the last years of his life poor and without family, in a rotting house without running water. His neighbors, for the most part, disliked him, and though he had multiple visitors nearly every night, he died alone and friendless.
Throw in some moonlight and magnolias, though, and a different story appears. Paul MacLeod was Elvis Presley’s number-one fan, a self-designated job if there ever was one. He dedicated his life to Presley in a way that makes other legacies of cultish Elvis devotion—and there are many—seem like the work of Sunday hobbyists. MacLeod lived for upwards of thirty-five years on East Gholson, a block from Holly Springs’s historic town square, in a two-story house that he christened Graceland Too, after Presley’s only slightly-less-weird Memphis mansion. MacLeod was infamous among regional college kids and roadside-Americana enthusiasts, the likes of whom he welcomed into his home at any hour, day or night, for his tour.
The tour was a forty-five minute trek through Graceland Too’s overstuffed lower rooms, graphically narrated by MacLeod, who claimed to hold millions of dollars in Elvis memorabilia. He bolstered his Elvis stories with apocryphal anecdotes about rough sex and famous visitors, all told in a well-rehearsed verbal onslaught. MacLeod guided his visitors through Graceland Too’s almost Masonically curtained interior, past Love Me Tender–emblazoned jukeboxes and gilded posters of the King. His tours led to the backyard, where MacLeod kept his “Jailhouse”—a cement courtyard complete with a fake electric chair. For five dollars, you got the tour and a snapshot next to an Elvis poster. For fifteen bucks, MacLeod made you a lifetime member of Graceland Too.
I never took the tour myself, though I grew up about an hour away in Memphis, where I still live. I told friends about it, especially out-of-towners in pursuit of a certain kind of storied Southernness. If my friends went, they often came back shaken. “That’s a scary guy,” a friend from New York told me last March after a midnight visit with MacLeod. I dismissed her discomfort as city-kid unfamiliarity. Then came the news, this past July, that Paul MacLeod had shot and killed someone on his property. I was surprised. I’d wrongly assumed, as I think most everyone else had, that MacLeod’s casually threatening spiel was just talk.
MacLeod’s victim was a man named Dwight David Taylor. He had done some work for MacLeod, who—owing either to poverty or to miserliness—failed to pay him. When Taylor showed up late at night to demand his pay, there was an altercation, and MacLeod pulled one of his many guns. Not even a week later, Graceland Too made headlines again: someone found MacLeod dead on his porch, seemingly from natural causes. When I asked locals in Holly Springs about the two deaths, they said both men were “angry guys.” There seemed to be no blame assigned.
Plenty of people bemoaned the loss of Paul and his project, but there was never any serious talk of keeping Graceland Too intact. After all, greater obsessive folk monuments, built by similarly single-minded old bachelors, have not been spared. The consensus seemed to be that the true value of MacLeod’s home—quantifiable, among other ways, in the tourist dollars wayward Presley fans brought to Holly Springs—had passed with the man. What remained were piles of junk, some of it with nominal value to an aging community of collectors. MacLeod’s distant, if not quite estranged, daughter organized the auction.
Ordinary estate sales are like pop-up museums of our lives as unremarkable consumers. They attract all kinds, and not solely for commercial reasons. The Graceland Too auction was no different, except that the melee of bystanders was interspersed with photographers, documentarians, and an unofficial coterie of the tristate area’s cultural columnists. We were there alongside Paul MacLeod devotees (mostly art students) and some white-haired Elvis fans; many of us had arrived the day before for the auction preview, when we were invited to look at the considerable inventory and decide what we wanted.
Memorabilia collecting is particularly weird in that memorabilia is, by definition, cheap. There was no such thing as memorabilia before about the 1930s—you can trace its rise alongside that of middle-class tourism. The value of tchotchkes is entirely dictated by living memory. Sites like eBay don’t just sell memorabilia; through continuous crowd input, they help create its worth.
MacLeod was one of those undiscriminating collectors who hoard anything that reminds them of their chosen theme. Having never made it to Graceland Too myself, I hadn’t known what to expect from his collection. The guts of Graceland Too were laid out along the sidewalk in plastic and fiberboard crates. There were stacks of newspaper clippings, cigar boxes, Playboys, piles of photographs two feet deep, unlabeled VHS cassettes, action figures, Christmas decorations, guest books, and printed quotations from people who’d visited Graceland Too. One of these spoke to the Christo-Judaic heights to which Elvis fandom sometimes ascends: “I have been saved by Jesus Christ and the grace of God. Almost equal is the grace of Elvis, and no other place do I feel as close to the King as Graceland Too.”
But mostly there were binders, stacks and stacks of them, containing MacLeod’s carefully typed records of every single mention of Elvis in any media, anywhere, even in passing.
In other words, on Saturday morning, for $54,500, an anonymous online buyer purchased three hundred or so records, a couple tchotchkes, and a ream of Elvis references. He or she bought a totalizing document of a life in inanity.
There’s a small public library on East Gholson where, after Paul’s plumbing failed, he would go to use the restroom. He befriended a librarian there, Robert Patterson, a quiet man—another “weird guy like Paul,” according the local who advised me to seek him out. When I asked Patterson about MacLeod, he printed out a short memorial he’d written for Facebook, which gave a brief account of how Patterson taught MacLeod to use the Internet. It also explained, in unsentimental language, how Patterson worked with Paul to compile pictures and videos relating to Graceland Too. Patterson was the only person I met in Holly Springs who seemed unaware or apathetic about the auction. “I feel that [Paul] considered me a friend,” his post concluded, “and I’m sorry I didn’t get a chance to know him better.”
Eileen Townsend lives in Memphis, Tennessee. She writes about art for The Memphis Flyer and is a contributing editor at Memphis Magazine.