Friday, October 29, 2010

Every witch way: Halloween Greetings from Salem, Massachusetts

The Salem Witch Museum was being renovated but it looks even spookier, I think, with this black shroud on it.

I'm no golfer, but there's got to be a Bogey-man joke in here somewhere.

A little Salem levity.

Salem pays tribute to Samantha Stevens... impress your friends with a t-shirt.

It isn't easy being red.

Can you find a better souvenir than this? Nevermore.

They used to burn witches and now you can't even smoke a cigarette near one.

I already did a post about this Salem place, but it deserves a second mention.

From witch trials to passing bad checks, Salem's a regular sin town.

So you falsely accused a few dozen innocent townsfolk of witchcraft, hanged 19 of them and crushed one poor guy to death under heavy stones in 1693. What's a little seaside New England town to do? Why, exploit it, of course! Nobody has made lemonade out of lemons better than Salem, Massachusetts, whose notorious 17th century witch trials actually spawned the term "witch trial." Today, the town is a cornucopia of goblins, spooks and scary monsters, all played for fun and profit to fright-seeking tourists, and Halloween is their biggest night of the year. We paid a visit last August and had a swell time lurking about the kitschy horrors that hang in the air. And who do you see there? Scary Connick, Jr., the Moody Boos, Howl Pacino, Bat Sajak, the Boo Man Group, Helen Haunt, Robert Deadford, Peter Graves, Billy Mummy, Boo Screamsteen, Brad Pitandpendulum, Mariah Scary, Alice Ghostly, Red Skeleton, somebody stop me...

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

That's alright Mama: Tupelo Hardware, where Elvis' Mama bought him his first guitar

The exterior of Tupelo Hardware looks much the way it did when Elvis and his Mama walked in one day in 1945... does the interior.

The truly wonderful Howard points to the very spot where Elvis and Gladys stood...

...where a duct taped "X" marks the spot.

Howard stands behind the same counter where Forrest Bobo showed Elvis his first guitar...

...and apparently they'll let any joker wearing a Sun Records T-shirt stand behind there, too.

The King keeps watch over Tupelo Hardware's guitars...

...but they don't use the name Elvis on the souvenirs.

No visit to Tupelo, Mississippi is complete without a stop at Tupelo Hardware, a time-warp of hardware store that's been in business since 1926. With its wood floors and shelves crammed with all kinds of bric-a-brac, it has the look and feel of an old, cool, unchanged place, but an event from its past puts it in the stratosphere of must-see eccentric roadside attractions. In 1945, a 10 year-old and his mother came into the store to pick out a birthday present for the boy. That boy was Elvis Presley, who lived with his family in Tupelo. Elvis had saved up some money and had his heart set on a .22 bolt action rifle in the store. The clerk, a Mr. Forrest Bobo, let him hold and play with the unloaded rifle, but both he and his mother said he was too young to own such a dangerous firearm. This disappointed Elvis terribly and he cried. To make him feel better, Mr. Bobo suggested a guitar, which the store had in stock. Initially unenthused, he accepted it because he knew it was the guitar or no gift at all. He didn't have enough money for the guitar, though. His mother, Gladys, told him if he would agree to the guitar instead of the rifle, she would make up the difference in price, which came to $7.75 plus 2% sales tax. Elvis accepted the deal and you know the rest.

The store is proud of its Elvis heritage and happily greets tourists, who come from all over the world, especially Japan. Howard Hite, a true southern gentleman, is the store's Elvis historian, and enthusiastically regales all interested parties in the King's Tupelo Hardware tale. There's a duct taped "X" on the floor in the very spot Elvis and Gladys stood, and the original case and counter still stand, now filled with Elvis souvenirs and memorabilia. Howard will even snap your picture where Mr. Bobo stood behind the counter on that momentous day. And its not just tourists who flock to the store. A framed newspaper article behind the counter attests to the fact that Aerosmith's Joe Perry came to the store when the band was playing in the area and purchased one of the store's acoustic guitars which it still keeps in stock.

One thing about the store's souvenirs that's interesting: nowhere do they use the name Elvis, apparently because the Presley estate charges a lot of money for that privilege. They skirt this legal issue by emblazing "Where Gladys bought her son's first guitar" on the nicknacks.

Here's a nice video done by tobykeithlvrdeanzlvr's channel on youtube:

Friday, October 22, 2010

Elvis has left the building: Tupelo, Mississippi's birthplace of Elvis Presley

Elvis' birth home

The magnificent Nina, a docent who actually knew Elvis, fills in eager tourists on all the facts.

The Presleys' living/bedroom...

...and their kitchen.

Vernon's hat.

Elvis' childhood church...

...complete with outhouse.

Elvis was 13 when his family moved from Tupelo... a car like this.

What the place looked like back in the day.

Gladys, Elvis and Vernon Presley, circa 1937-8

"Thanka. Thanka verra much."

You can't think of the great city of Memphis, Tennessee without thinking of Elvis Presley, but Memphis was actually the King of Rock and Roll's adopted hometown. He was born in the northeastern Mississippi town of Tupelo in 1935 and lived there until his family moved to Memphis when he was 13. Elvis' father Vernon built the family house in 1934, one of several two-room dwellings built very close together in a row. Work was difficult to find for Elvis' parents and the family had to move out of the house and in with Elvis' grandparents next door when he was two. After he became a star in the '50s, Elvis went back to Tupelo, bought his old house and left it with preservationists. The house sits today on the very spot it did when the family lived there, but, unfortunately, the neighboring houses have since been torn down. Inside are unoriginal but accurate time-period furnishings, placed in correct locations according to the family. The folks in Tupelo have done a great of job of turning the place into a very nicely landscaped tourist attraction. They've even moved the Assembly of God church (complete with outhouse!) that Elvis attended as a child to the property. Other features are a "Walk of Life" with granite blocks depicting important moments in Elvis' life, a fountain honoring his years in Tupelo, a statue of Elvis at age 13, a "Story Wall" featuring narratives of Tupelo residents' reflections on their encounters with Elvis, and a 1939 Plymouth similar to the model the Presleys had when they moved from Tupelo to seek better job opportunities in Memphis in 1948. There is also a newly built chapel, in accordance with Elvis' wishes for a place of meditation at his birthplace site.

There's a lot to get all shook up about at the Elvis Presley birthplace, so don't be cruel to yourself and go, cat, go!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Look that up in your Funk and Wagnall's: Westerly, Rhode Island's Ruth Buzzi park bench

The great Ruth Buzzi as Gladys Ormphby

Ruth as Gladys and Arte Johnson as her nemesis Tyrone F. Horneigh

Ruth (under the ladder) with the cast of "Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In"

Gladys and me (thank you Photoshop)

Back in the late '60s and early '70s, "Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In" was a TV sensation made up of fast-paced sketches, kooky characters and ultra-current sexual and political humor. Anyone who was culturally aware back then knew the many "Laugh-In" catch phrases including "Sock it to me," "Here come de judge," and "Blow in my ear and I'll follow you anywhere." The only cast member (besides Dan Rowan and Dick Martin) to appear every season of its run was Ruth Buzzi, who played several characters, including drunken Doris Swizzle, Hedda Hopper-type columnist Busy Buzzi, and her most famous role, the drab spinster Gladys Ormphby. Gladys would sit sad-faced and hairnetted on a park bench until Tyrone F. Horneigh, a dirty old bearded man played by Arte Johnson, would accost her with vague double-entendres such as "How about a Walnetto?" to which she would take great offense and beat him with her handbag. In 1970, at the peak of the show's popularity, Ruth was surprised by TV host Ralph Edwards who was reviving his "This is Your Life" program. Her life was the show's subject and a bench in honor of her beloved character Gladys was donated to the town of Westerly, Rhode Island, where she was born and lived until she was six. 3,000 fans came to see Ruth at the bench dedication in Wilcox Park in 1971. Since then, the bench has become dilapidated and been repaired a few times. It was in fine shape when we stopped by lovely Wilcox Park recently. We had to ask a few bewildered people where it was and the kind lady at the Pink Poodle Parlor directed us to the fountain at the public library end of the park. There it sits with its stone marker, carved by Buzzi Memorials, Ruth's family's business still operating in the area today. Ruth went on to perform on "Sesame Street" for seven seasons after "Laugh-In" and she now lives on a ranch in Texas where she and her husband own a shopping center. You can read a fun interview my friend and colleague Alan Rosenburg did with Ruth in 2008 that ran in the Providence Journal here. And were we thrilled to sit on the same bench as the legendary Gladys Ormphby? You bet your sweet bippy.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Roadside political sign of the week

...because one Assalone is all we need to get the job done.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Home Sweet O: Kosciusko, Mississippi, Oprah Winfrey's hometown

The great Oprah Winfrey

This is Oprah Winfrey Road, County Road 2207 in Kosciusko, Mississippi...

...and here's satellite proof, if you don't believe me.

Oprah's first church...

...where they're proud to let you know she first worked the room.

Her house til age six was on this empty lot. Don't know what happened to the place...

...but there seems to be an air landing field right behind it.

About 7,300 people live in Kosciusko today.

They've got a Wal-Mart. If they had a CostCo it would be the Kosciusko CostCo, and that would be funny.

There are success stories, and then there is Oprah Winfrey. From the most humblest of beginnings, she rose to become more powerful than practically anyone, and for good reason. She's a nice person who overcame poverty, abuse and hardship, worked really hard and used her success to better herself and lots and lots of other people. Born of poor teenage parents, she lived until the age of six with her grandmother Hattie Mae in the small Mississippi farm town of Kosciusko, along the Natchez Trace Parkway, about 70 miles northeast of Jackson. Her poverty was so extreme she wore dresses made of potato sacks. Hattie Mae taught her to read before the age of three and she became known as "The Preacher" at her local church because of her ability to recite Bible verses (thanks, wikipedia). The road Oprah lived on, County Road 2207, is now called Oprah Winfrey Road and markers have been put up to let everyone know about Kosciusko's most famous descendant. Her first church still stands, too, with a sign declaring "Oprah faced first audience here" and further down the road is a vacant treed lot where the Winfrey home once stood. Not much to see there now, but it gives you a sense of how far she came in her life. You go, girl.