“Up in Memphis the music’s like a heatwave
White lightning, bound to drive you wild
Mama’s baby’s in the heart of every school girl
“Love me tender” leaves ’em cryin’ in the aisle
The way he moved, it was a sin, so sweet and true
Always wanting more, he’d leave you longing for
Black velvet and that little boy’s smile
Black velvet with that slow southern style
A new religion that’ll bring ya to your knees
Black velvet if you please.”
Alannah Myles—Black Velvet
Elvis Presley (the King of Rock and Roll) means many different things to many different people. His life was one of excesses, with boundaries that were continually tweaked and modified throughout his career, resulting in a persona that, while in the public view, still remained heavily entrenched in the shadows. His death on August 16, 1977 to this day remains a mystery for some, and a verification for others of the results of life in the fast lane.
Paul MacLeod also lived a life of excesses that only got more bizarre as he grew older. For MacLeod, the “King” held a special significance to a life lived—his life—and all that would come from it as a southern “gentleman” made his mark in a small town in northern Mississippi. For Paul MacLeod, however, it became a different matter all together….
Holly Springs, Mississippi is a small town in the Mississippi Delta near the southern border of Tennessee. From there it is roughly 60 miles to Elvis’ birthplace in Tupelo, Mississippi and 51 miles to Elvis’ final destination in Memphis, Tennessee. It is a town with a majority-black population, and a heavily entrenched past of former cotton plantations and slave labor. And little opportunity…. Young people grow their wings and fly elsewhere to seek work. Holly Springs was where retired autoworker Paul MacLeod called home and over the years cultivated his own personal memorial to the King of Rock and Roll.
Graceland Too, located at 200 East Gholsen Avenue, and not far from the town square, became a means to an end; MacLeod’s end, that is. The 1853 antebellum mansion had weathered many transformations over the years, but had at last settled into a museum of MacLeod’s memorabilia to a man who had died in 1977. Yet for MacLeod, as with thousands of fanatics still out there—can Elvis ever really die? Not likely. During his younger years MacLeod had sported the Elvis look: coal black hair (Elvis had began the continuing process of dying his hair jet-black in 1957) and mutton-chop sideburns. In effect, he had become the Elvis impersonator before it was fashionable to do so. For him it worked, and then began the collection of artifacts that would put a stamp on an infatuation that carried into the present years.
MacLeod’s Elvis Museum collection was sub-par at best. If a genuine Elvis enthusiast visited looking for hidden gems beyond the bounds of Elvis’ Graceland mansion in nearby Memphis, they would be solely disappointed, yet at the same time somewhat amused. That was where the appeal of MacLeod’s museum took off. There were some rugs and a gun or two that he claimed was once owned by Elvis and a purported jacket that the King had once worn (none of these authenticated), lots of photos, 45RPM records, posters, and a hodgepodge of knick-knacks that related, but in the general scheme of things, had little bearing. There were no souvenir treasures to be bought…you could travel to Graceland to get those sort of things. And the claims of famous visitors that had visited—Muhammad Ali and Bill Clinton to name just two (their photos were mysteriously excluded from the hallway wall of framed visitor photos). The museum it would appear became not so much about Elvis, but about the excesses of Paul MacLeod. He became the show!
No longer having the slicked-back black hair of his youth Paul MacLeod, now 71 years of age, still wore it slicked-backed, only now it was white. The mutton-chop sideburns were long gone. He was a bear of a man with large beefy hands adorned with an array of rings. He still loved his Elvis, and kept his museum open 24/7, charging only $5 for a reminisce into a world of the 1950s, 60s, and 70s when a small town Mississippi boy made it big and left an imprint on the world. He also would tell you a lot about himself whether you wanted him to or not. He had guns and stated he wasn’t afraid to use them, which is important to know in any Elvis museum you would ever visit. He liked to talk and was insistent that he had your undivided attention at all times. And, he had his own rather strong opinions regarding women and African-Americans that he was not hesitant to share. Paul MacLeod led an interesting me-me life, and even more mysterious death.
Dwight Taylor, a 28 year old African-American, was a fixture in Holly Springs. It would seem every town has one: homeless on and off, uneducated, minimal intelligence, and scraping out an existence that relied on the help of others. Dwight was also bipolar and had substance abuse issues, yet reported to be a gifted singer and guitarist. It would appear that Dwight Taylor housed a range of diverse personalities that could come and go at a moments notice. Recently married to Cindi McNally, the couple struggled in the small town daily, wondering where their next meal would come from. Dwight had somehow connected with Paul MacLeod in the past, now bringing Cindi along for the ride. MacLeod hired them for various tasks, such as painting the museum on Gholson Avenue. He would either pay for labor with a ridiculously low sum of money, barter with trinkets or beer for pay, or not pay at all. It wasn’t that MacLeod didn’t have the money; he did. A man of his stature (proprietor of an Elvis museum), rumored to put away a case of Cokes a day (and on occasion, an equal number of beers), knew opportunity when it knocked on his door. On July 15, 2014 around 11:00 p.m. Paul MacLeod put a 45 caliber bullet into Dwight Taylor’s right chest, killing him on the porch of the Graceland Too Elvis Museum.
MacLeod claimed self-defense—Taylor had tried to force his way into the house. Was it over an unpaid debt or had Taylor simply snapped? Did MacLeod even know it was Taylor kicking in his door? MacLeod had filed charges in the past against his sometime handyman for a previous break-in attempt. There was also the claim that Taylor had once beaten up MacLeod and stolen his car. Others in town had previous run-ins with Taylor and his sometime volatile nature. Even his wife Cindi was dealing with his personal demons, separated because of physical abuse and living out of town on the night of the shooting. On the night of his death Taylor was reported to have been seen on MacLeod’s porch in an agitated state, pacing and chain-smoking.
The officials did not feel there had been any racial motivation to the shooting—only a man protecting himself and his property. However, members of the community felt otherwise. Paul MacLeod may have been cleared of any charges related to the death of Dwight Taylor, but he had to live in the town of Holly Springs in the aftermath. People driving by his home and yelling accusations only cemented the prospects for a dismal future. Two days after the shooting, Paul MacLeod was dead.
Paul MacLeod also died on the porch of Graceland Too—a shrine of his own making—slumped in a white rocking chair as the world passed by on the neighborhood street just down the steps. No one will ever know his final moments or thoughts as death grasped and took him home.
Elvis Presley (“Black Velvet”) had had always wanted to make “serious” movies. He was a good actor and quite capable of carrying off movies of this genre, but was instead, due to contract, forced into the corny but lovable formulaic musical romps. He hated them! When you went to an Elvis movie you were sure to see singing, fighting and loving. During his movie career he did have a few serious roles that showcased his acting ability: Love Me Tender (1956) was the only movie the King ever died in; Flaming Star (1960) was a twist of the singing legend; Wild in the Country (1961) considered one of his best; Stay Away Joe (1968) another departure with Elvis as an Indiana rodeo rider; Charro! (1969) the only film that he never sings a song and sports a manly beard; and Change of Habit (1969) his only film with Universal Studio and his last feature film role. He wanted people to see his serious side. Instead with the other films, he ultimately became a parody of himself that followed him to the end.
Paul MacLeod also became a parody of himself, but with one difference—he loved it and continued to perpetuate it until his end.
The State of Mississippi’s Examiners Office—under County Coroner James Richard Anderson—determined in their report filed November 4, 2014 that Paul MacLeod had died of natural causes related to hypertension and atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease. Maybe it was just his time to go, but a hell of a coincidence in timing! Dwight Taylor’s wife Cindi feels otherwise, believing a contributing factor being MacLeod’s remorse over shooting Taylor. She points no fingers or places any blame…feeling that her, Taylor and MacLeod were tight to the end, and that their friend MacLeod, while cheap, ultimately always came through with help. She feels that she has not lost just one person, but two!
Paul MacLeod’s remains were poured into an urn after his cremation. The urn was adorned with the visage of the King. The August 12th funeral, three weeks after his passing, was attended by only 60 people at Holly Springs Christ Episcopal Church. In nearby Memphis it was the annual August Elvis Week. In Ferguson, Missouri, the town had erupted into a state of emergency over the police shooting of a black youth. Life, for all appearances, seemed to be moving along….
On May 2, 2015, an auction was held at Graceland Too, with a vast majority of Macleod’s Elvis memorabilia sold. The “mansion” itself remains another matter for the moment.
For an excellent and more detailed summary of this incident read writer Brandon Harris’ article in The Guardian.
To receive email notification when a new article from this author is posted, click the SUBSCRIBE button. It’s free, effortless, and somewhat fun.