Following his death this summer, writer Alex Marshi recalls his trip to the home of the man dubbed “the ultimate Elvis fan”, and why he was every bit as intriguing as the King himself
“At the end of the tour, McLeod pointed to a golden bowl filled with panties, sealed in a Ziploc bag. “That’s from this week’s admirers,” he chuckled proudly. “Gals come every week from around the world to see me and they always want to give me their panties”
In 1966, Bob Dylan said, “People have one great blessing – obscurity – and not really too many people are thankful for it.” If any man defied that characterisation, it was Graceland, Too owner Paul McLeod.
McLeod’s claim to fame was that he duplicated the blueprints of Elvis Presley’s mansion home, and built his own replica on a patch of dirt in Holly Springs, Mississippi. Naming it ‘Graceland, Too’, for $5 a pop, he’d give visitors a tour of his home at any hour of the day or night, showing them around the most extensive collection of Elvis memorabilia in the world. I was lucky enough to take one of those tours, and now that McLeod has died, I feel compelled to recount that story.
Arriving at Graceland, Too, my friend and I had low expectations. I thought I was going to see some fun and (possibly weird) esoteric Elvis souvenirs, and meet an unconventional collector. But from the moment McLeod opened his front door and shook my hand, I knew I was looking into the eyes of a true American original.
As wide as he was tall, and wearing unglued dentures that flopped around when he talked, McLeod’s exterior was almost as eccentric as his personality. Inside his two-storey shrine, every inch of wall and ceiling was covered in ultra-rare Elvis Presley artefacts. Enormous posters, statues, every Elvis album ever recorded, clothing, jewellery, shower curtains and thousands upon thousands of photos covered every surface. McLeod claimed his collection was worth millions of dollars, and though he was not rich, he had no intention of ever selling any of it.
He projected every word with an almost superhuman passion, though his deep Southern drawl and frantic-paced speech made it difficult to follow half of what he was saying. The highlight of the two hour tour was the moment he picked up a microphone and sang ‘Hound Dog’: his voice was horrendous, but in witnessing the intensity in his face, I realised that in his own mind, Elvis never died – his soul simply found a new Graceland in Paul McLeod.
At the end of the tour, McLeod pointed to a golden bowl filled with panties, sealed in a Ziploc bag. “That’s from this week’s admirers,” he chuckled proudly. “Gals come every week from around the world to see me and they always want to give me their panties.” He showed us a picture of his son. “That’s my boy, Elvis Aaron Presley McLeod. He’s a very successful Elvis impersonator in Las Vegas.” Of course he was, I thought, and wondered if McLeod’s admiration for Elvis was so intense that it’d become genetic.
As the tour concluded, McLeod and I took some photos together, shook hands and said our goodbyes. Climbing into our car, my friend and I drove in silence for 20 minutes. Neither of us could quite believe that a house, or someone like McLeod, could really exist. Of one thing we felt certain: we’d just met one of America’s most devout music worshippers.
It was with great sadness I heard the news that Paul McLeod had been found dead. Without hesitation I can state the world has lost a true character. Just like Hunter S. Thompson described Doctor Gonzo, McLeod seemed to be “too weird to live and too rare to die.” But now he is gone.
You probably hadn’t heard of him before, and it’s unlikely you will hear about him again, but before he’s buried and forgotten, I offer one last salute to Paul McLeod. McLeod proved it’s possible to love from almost any distance, having dedicated his entire existence to a person he’s never met – passionately, obsessively and without regret.