Where’s Elvis Presley: Tupelo or Memphis?

In January 2014, Vanity Fair magazine published an article showing a photo of Elvis Presley presumably taken in downtown Tupelo, Mississippi, in 1947.

The article traces the origin of the photo to a woman who was walking into a drugstore to drop off some film that had one exposure left on the roll. According to the story, she noticed a young Elvis on his bike and asked him to pose, snapping her last frame of him. The woman later gave the photo to Presley family friend Janelle McComb of Tupelo, who passed along the photo and the story of how she obtained it to Elvis fan and memorabilia collector Wade Jones shortly before her death.

The story behind the photo may have been correct, but the city was wrong.

1Looking east down Poplar Avenue at High Street in Memphis around 1955. The distinctive twin gable home on the right shows up in the background of the Vanity Fair photo.

A young Elvis posing on his bike in front of the S&S Drug Store in 1949.

Tupelo lies in Lee County, which was a dry county in the 1940’s, meaning it was illegal to sell alcohol, yet the background of the photo shows a liquor store. Mississippi didn’t repeal Prohibition until 1966.

The bike in the photo is also familiar.

Elvis on his new bike in Tupelo around January, 1948.

Elvis on his new bike in Tupelo around January, 1948.

Elvis received a Firestone Pilot Classic bicycle, most likely for his 13th birthday. In 1993, a photo was found in Gladys’ closet at Graceland of Elvis on a new bike with “age 13” written on the back.

The bike is the same one in the Vanity Fair photo, except for the fenders, which were removed in the later photo.

Looking east down Poplar Avenue at High Street in Memphis around 1955.

Looking east down Poplar Avenue at High Street in Memphis around 1955. The distinctive twin gable home on the right shows up in the background of the Vanity Fair photo.

The Presleys moved to Memphis in November 1948 and lived at 370 Washington before moving just around the corner to a large rooming house at 572 Poplar Avenue in June 1949. They briefly lived there until September, when they moved to Lauderdale Courts. Elvis’ grandmother, Minnie Mae Presley, continued living at the Poplar address, according to the 1950 Memphis City Directory. City directories list homes and businesses by street throughout the city.

Memphis City Directory listing for Poplar Avenue in 1950.

Memphis City Directory listing for Poplar Avenue in 1950.

 

Sanborn Insurance map of Poplar Avenue showing the Presley’s early homes and neighborhood from 1948 to 1949.

Sanborn Insurance map of Poplar Avenue showing the Presley’s early homes and neighborhood from 1948 to 1949.

The 1950 directory also shows the S&S Drug Store, Lando Marossi restaurant and Milo’s liquor store that appear in the Vanity Fair photo. John Sampietro, whose father operated the S&S Drug Store at the corner of Poplar and High Street, remembered his father talking about how a young Elvis would come into the store to play pinball.

S&S Drug Store building today at 548 Poplar Avenue in Memphis.

S&S Drug Store building today at 548 Poplar Avenue in Memphis.

Milo Solomito operated the liquor store just across the street from the drug store and his son, Milo Jr., identified the store in the photo as the one his father ran for many years. To the right of the liquor store was the Marossi restaurant, which was also located across the street from the drug store before moving to a nearby location in 1954, according to Jerry Marossi.

Then and now photo showing the spot where Elvis posed for the snapshot in 1949.

Then and now photo showing the spot where Elvis posed for the snapshot in 1949.

This was Elvis’ neighborhood for almost a year before moving to Lauderdale Courts in the fall of 1949.

Although not taken in Tupelo, the photo is one of the earliest photos of Elvis in Memphis, a city he would call home for the rest of his life.


35 Comments

  1. Karen Ray

    Wow… This was a really great History Lesson!
    I enjoyed the comparison of pictures and the Families involved.(Tupelo, Memphis, and Elvis always on my mind)!
    Elvis brings good people together!

    • Milica Djukich

      Agree with you Karen, He would be doing it today if he was alive which we could sure use it! GOD BLESS!

    • I really enjoyed all the information about where the picture of Elvis and his bike was taken. I noticed way over on the right side of the picture there is the letter “E” in what appears to be Elvis’ own handwriting … could this be so? In the very last pictures of “then” and “now”, looks like the buildings across the street from the drugstore are no longer there. I guess the years took their toll on them. I still intend to fly over to Memphis to see Graceland, the airplanes, the cars, etc., but may now have to wait til spring because it might be getting too cold over there already now.

  2. randall horner

    He was the best singer that ever was. Randy

    • Elvis was not only the best singer….he was also an outstanding actor, a very kind and giving human being, and the most gorgeous person to ever walk this earth. I met him once when I was about 16 and he was talking to me … but there is no way I will ever recall what he said, because I was so excited. Wish he would not have had to die at such an early age.

  3. ELVIS LIVED HIS CHILDHOOD IN TUPELO AND HIS GROWN UP LIFE IN MEMPHIS

  4. Very interesting story. I am a history major in college, and I love to see things like this where you have obviously done your homework and provided us with photos and stories that give us a glimpse into Elvis as a child and the area he lived in. Thank you!

  5. Thank you very much, great research, great story !

    Ed

  6. Coralee Dorrington

    I really enjoyed reading this article.Great pics of a young Elvis…

  7. Denise Bright

    neat!

  8. ray curry

    very interesting .memories,

  9. Wow … TCB .Thank you .

  10. Jerry Davis

    That picture does not even look like Elvis when compared to picture Gladys took in 1949. Not the same bike either.

    • Yes. It does look like Elvis. His family members have acknowledged it’s Elvis, and it’s fairly obvious just by looking at most photos of Elvis around this age. Perhaps if you zoom in on photo and study it a bit you will see what everyone else see’s.

      • I’m replying to Jerry Davis comment, by the way.

        To whoever published… Great article and research here!

      • If you look way over on the right side of the picture where Elvis is standing in front of the drugstore, you will see a large letter “E” that even looks as if it is Elvis’ own handwriting. He very well may have written on that picture while he was still alive.

  11. Vicky Byrnes

    This is a piece of Elvis history,articles like this don’t surface a lot, but it’s great to see. I’m an avid Elvis fan, planning on going there next year 2016

  12. The pic of Elvis posing with his bike is so tender. Rare photos are such a treasure!!!

  13. But what happened with elvis’ hand on the picture?? It’s just soooo big compared to the rest of his body.

  14. Alan Beresford

    What a fantastic piece of detective work! Great story. Alan

  15. James V. Roy

    Great work Robert. Love this stuff. I’ve been by that building a few times, always fascinated by the architecture of it, reminded me of the building where Sun was/is.

  16. James V. Roy

    PS. In e piece you mention that the bike had its rims removed, I believe you mean fenders

  17. glyn fellowes

    Thankyou for the time you spent putting this altogether its an interesting find,I was in Memphis in September and visited Lauderdale apartments and humes high as well as tupelo it was a great visit and I hope to return soon.

  18. Todd Greene

    This was awesome!!
    Next time I get to Graceland and Memphis I’m going to visit these spots.
    History, Baby.

    Thanks,
    Todd

  19. WOW!!! That Jan 1948 pic is a mindBLOWer….worth about a million words.

    Thanks MUCH for ALL your efforts…..
    …..keep on chooglin’!

  20. Margaret Porter

    I Just love to see pictures of Elvis when he was young he was so good looking as a boy as well as when he was a man i also loved the story behind the pic

  21. Stephen Bloomfield

    One of my most favourite photographs of the young Elvis. I always imagined he was soaking up music sounds from the building behind.
    Thanks for the research.

  22. Urbain Van Geerteruy

    I’m a big Elvis fan and this article is indeed an historic piece. Well done. Thanks

  23. Priscilla Soignier

    So cool, and so cool to learn about the young man that would change the music world and make way for all the entertainers that have come and gone, but none forged the way like Elvis, he is unforgettable and ever-lasting.

  24. Toni Monar

    It is fantastic to see Elvis as a young teenager, doing what all teenagers do. The photo I had never seen, and to see the photo and the history of it, is amazing. Thank you for showing me a side of Elvis I could never imagine.

  25. Stefan Ödman

    This is the third time I have written a reply, but it is never posted. Why??

    Is it something here that you don´t want people to know about??

  26. STEPHEN NIGEL HARRISON

    I think Elvis is the greatest. I have been to visit GRACELAND to see where he is buried. And tupelo to see where he was born.

  27. Smithc744

    Thanks for the sensible critique. Me &amp my neighbor were just preparing to do a little research about this. We got a grab a book from our area library but I think I learned more clear from this post. I am very glad to see such wonderful info being shared freely out there. aacgaeacdfdgceag

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