One hundred miles southeast of his future mansion in Memphis, Tennessee, Elvis Aaron Presley entered the world in East Tupelo, Mississippi, in the early morning hours of January 8, 1935. The two-room shotgun shack where Elvis was born was light-years away from Graceland in all respects.
The term "shotgun shack" describes a house so tiny, a bullet fired through its front entrance can fly straight through the house without hitting anything. The Presley home was, in a word, basic, and so were its immediate surroundings.
Located above a highway that transported locals between Tupelo and Birmingham, Alabama, and nestled among a group of small, rough-hewn homes along Old Saltillo Road, Elvis' birthplace was built by his father, Vernon, with help from Vernon's brother Vester and father, Jessie, whose relatively "spacious" four-room house sat next door.
These were the humblest of beginnings. In the mid-1930s, in the middle of the Great Depression, East Tupelo was a haven for poor sharecroppers and factory workers -- as well as assorted bootleggers and prostitutes -- whose meager resources still largely outstripped those of Elvis' parents. Not only did Vernon and his wife, Gladys, rely on welfare to pay the $15 that Dr. William Robert Hunt charged for delivering Elvis and his stillborn twin brother, Jesse Garon, but neighbors and friends also had to provide them with diapers.
Confusion over the correct spelling of Elvis' middle name has existed since Dr. Hunt logged the name "Evis Aaron Presley" in his ledger after the birth. The birth certificate issued by the state of Mississippi shows the spelling "Aron," which is also found on his draft notice. Elvis' gravestone in the Meditation Gardens at Graceland, however, is engraved with the more common spelling "Aaron." Alternate spellings of names were typical in the era of the Depression, particularly in rural communities where educational opportunities were limited and the written word was less significant than it is now. Since the Presleys chose Elvis' middle name to honor their friend and church songleader Aaron Kennedy, who was himself a twin, it is likely that "Aaron" was the intended spelling.
Before Elvis was born, Gladys earned $2 a day at the Tupelo Garment Company, while Vernon worked at various odd jobs, including one on the dairy farm of Orville S. Bean. With $180 that he borrowed from Bean after Gladys became pregnant in the spring of 1934, Vernon set about constructing a family home, and he and Gladys moved in that December. Today, as part of a tourist attraction that includes a small museum, memorial chapel, gift shop, and wooded park on the renamed Elvis Presley Drive, the house that Vernon Presley built looks markedly different than when the future King of Rock 'n' Roll first tested his vocal cords there.
While the ceiling and roof of this Mississippi landmark have been replaced, the basic structure still stands, yet the wood exterior is now painted, the front porch has a swing, and the interior has been embellished with period furniture, wallpaper, curtains, and electrical appliances such as a sewing machine that the Presley family could never have afforded when they lived there. Forget the radio that now sits in the living room; the home was originally lit with oil lamps because it wasn't hooked up to the town's electric system. The nicely landscaped front yard is a far cry from the dirt patch where Gladys kept a flock of chickens and a cow.
Elvis' family life was turbulent during his early years, largely due to the poverty and financial circumstances of his parents, Vernon and Gladys. Learn more about the early life of Elvis Presley in the next section.