Friday, September 26, 2014

Remembering Elvis’ ’56 Homecoming Concert

By: Helen Cook

Helen Cook
The Mississippi summer had been an especially hot one, but things had begun to cool off once September rolled around. My daddy was a sharecropper, so we often picked cotton to help him and make some extra money for ourselves. It wasn’t anything new to me, as I had been doing it for years. In that day, 100 lbs of cotton would earn you two or three dollars, which for me was about a day’s work. So, after a day of work I’d made enough to afford a ticket to see the concert at the fair.

The fair was in the middle of the week during those times, so instead of having class, the schools would load the students up on the buses and drive them to the fair for the day. It was always something we looked forward to every year. Normally, my friends and I would walk around the fair, eat cotton candy, and maybe ride a ride or two. We rarely ever went to the concerts.

But in 1956, my Aunt Louis and I wanted to go see Elvis at the fair. We listened to a lot of radio when we were growing up and about the only thing we ever heard was the WELO radio station, which played country music. All that changed when Elvis started coming onto the scene. They started playing Elvis and some rock n’ roll. So, we listened to a lot of Elvis on the radio and were familiar with his songs because of that.

The day was just like any other year when the school took us to the fair. We got on the school buses, got dropped off at the park, and walked around. I very specifically remember that year I went into Reed’s and bought a purse before we went to the fair. I’m not sure why that memory sticks out so much, but I know that in 1956, a sharecropper’s daughter didn't buy too much from Reed’s.

From Reed’s, Aunt Louis and I went to the fair and enjoyed some of the attractions before we went to the afternoon concert. There was a good size crowd there for an afternoon concert. Aunt Louis and I sat a few rows up on the bleachers, because we just wanted to be able to sit back and enjoy the show. A lot of the girls there were “Elvis crazy” so they were very excited to see him in person and having problems sitting still.

In this picture, you can faintly see Helen and her Aunt Louis sitting in the
stands of Elvis' 1956 Homecoming Concert. 
Then, there he was. Elvis walked on stage and it went into riot mode! It seemed like everyone rushed the stage and went crazy! I remember thinking “I really wish everyone would sit down so I could see the stage better!” I was little bit of an introvert when I was a teenager, so I just wanted to sit back and listen to the music. When he started singing and dancing, all the girls got even crazier! They started screaming and crying; they were so loud I could barely hear the music!

After the concert, we loaded back up on the buses and went home. I remember talking with my aunt about how we liked the songs he played and how much fun we had during the day at the fair.

The funny thing to me is, in 1956, when we went to the concert we were just going to see Elvis, because he wasn’t “ELVIS” yet, or at least, not to us. In our minds, he was just a boy from East Tupelo. I guess the closest thing to it today would be like going to see a local band that has a song on the radio.

To me, there was never a moment where I thought, “Wow, I just witnessed history.” It was a lot of fun, but the next day was just a normal day of going back to school. People talked about the concert the next day, but it never really set in what I had witnessed until 10 or 15 years later when he was “ELVIS,” a name in bright lights.

I would think about the concert from time to time after that, but I remember one afternoon I was in the grocery store doing a little shopping, and the song on the radio stopped. The DJ announced that he had stopped the song to inform everyone that Elvis Presley had passed away earlier that day. I remember stopping my cart and my mind drifted back to that day when I saw him at the fair. That’s when it hit me how big the event was in Tupelo, Mississippi, and what he meant to the world of music and pop culture.

Want to hear more stories about Elvis' triumphant homecoming return to Tupelo? Two Elvis fanatics, Barbara Mallory & Linda Hawkins, discuss what that day was like for them. 

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

What To Do In Tupelo This Fall (UPDATED)

After the dog days of summer, fall is a great time to enjoy the cooler weather and seasonal flavors. But just because the heat is cooling down doesn't mean the activities in Tupelo will!

1.) Buffalo Park Pumpkin Patch - October 1-31

Get your kids into the fall spirit with their very own pumpkin! The Tupelo Buffalo Park & Zoo is hosting their 12th Annual Pumpkin Patch. Kids will take a hayride to the pumpkin patch where they'll pick out their very own special pumpkin to take home. There will also be a huge corn maze for exploring!

2.) Manhatten Film Festival - October 2

10 independent short films selected out of 628 films submitted from 48 countries will screen at the Malco on Thursday, October 2nd. The audience will be the judge! The event is around 2 hours and you will receive a ballot when you arrive and after the screening you will pick your favorite film and turn your ballot in when you leave - all over the world the same week, the same films will scrreen and the audiences will be the judge!

3.) Tupelo's Foliage

The great thing about fall is a break from the summer heat and the beautiful colors that nature has to offer. Luckily, Tupelo has a few spots to take in that foliage, from one of Tupelo's many parks, the Natchez Trace Parkway or the Elvis Presley Birthplace. Tupelo is a beautiful town 365 days a year, but it is exceptionally beautiful with the fall colors.

4.) Tupelo Reads: Forrest Gump - October 3

"Tupelo Reads: We're All on the Same Page" helps to promote literacy and feature our community as a place of lifelong learning as well as unite Tupelo in the name of reading. This year's featured book is "Forrest Gump" by Winston Groom, who will be joining the festivities. Festivities include: Art show at the GumTree Museum of Art, "Run Forrest Run" Race at Fairpark and a showing of "Forrest Gump" in Fairpark.

5.) Lyrics for Le Bonheur - October 9

A fundraiser for Le Bonheur, this event will feature some amazing singer/songwriters, such as: John Milstead, Jamie Davis, Tyler Reeve, Casey Beathard, Shane Minor, and Phil O'Donnell and Leith Loftin. In addition to the wonderful music, Kermit's Outlaw Kitchen is catering the event.

6.) Tupelo Fair - October 9-12

Fall just wouldn't feel right without eating a funnel cake, riding a ferris wheel and playing some silly games. The Tupelo Fair is returning to the BancorpSouth Arena grounds with all your favorite fair rides, games and foods.

7.) 15th Annual Chili Festival - October 10

With the weather getting cooler, it's nice to have something warm and hearty. Tupelo celebrates the culinary world of chili cooking with the 15th incarnation of Chili Festival! Lunch will be provided by Bar-B-Q by Jim for only $5. Chili teams will then provide samples of their award winning chili that evening.

8.) Tupelo Acoustic Blues Jam - October 14

Mississippi, home to the blues and the birthplace of America's music. Come experience some blues under the stars in Fairpark!

9.) Tupelo Halloween Horror Film Festival - October 17

Get scared early this year! You can see a variety of independent films from local and regional filmmakers. They bring their artistic creations to the fest for your generally Halloween and viewing pleasure.

10.) Barktoberfest - October 18

It's always a good day to take man's best friend to the Tupelo Bark Park for some bonding. Barktoberfest is tailor made for pets and their families to play, seek pet information and products, and most importantly, enjoy all things, dog! Come enjoy music, food and vendors. No dog is too big or too small!

11.) TCT's Haunted Theatre - October 17-18; 24-25; 30-31

No Halloween is complete without a haunted house. Visit The Lyric, one of Tupelo's historic landmarks, for a night of spooks and frights courtesy the Tupelo Community Theatre's haunted theatre. If none of the actors or props get you feeling spooked, maybe you should ask one of the venue's employees to tell you about the ghost that lives in the theatre.

12.) The Great Pumpkin Splash - October 25

The Tupelo Aquatic Center will turn into the Great Floating Pumpkin Patch in October. Kids can pick a pumpkin from our in-water pumpkin patch. Participants will swim around the pool and pick the pumpkin that suits their fancy. Kids can enjoy harvest relay races, the pumpkin roll and more.

13.) Trick or Treat the Mall At Barnes Crossing - October 31

What's fall without some trick or treating? Get the little ones dressed up as their favorite superhero, princess or whatever else their little heart desires and take them to the Mall at Barnes Crossing for the chance to trick or treat the mall stores. There will also be a magic show in the food court!

14.) High School Football - September through November

Sure, most towns in the United States have high school football on Friday nights, but how many have their games on blue turf? Tupelo's Golden Wave football team doesn't have to use much of an imagination to feel like they're in The Flood Zone, the team's affectionate nickname for their stadium. The blue turf is something truly unique to behold on any given Friday night in Tupelo.

15.) Christmas Parade to Welcome Santa - November 14

One of the most exciting parts about fall is knowing that Christmas is right around the corner. Santa is making a special trip from the North Pole to say an early hello before the Christmas Season. Come welcome Santa at the Mall at Barnes Crossing!

16.) Tupelo Arts Showcase - November 15

Join in on the Fourth Annual showcase of some of the finest visual and performing artists in the area. There will be music, ballet, and more. Come experience the arts and after the performances, attendees will be given the opportunity to speak with the artists. They will be available to share their insights into their art.

17.) Downtown Holiday Open House - November 23

The Businesses in Downtown Tupelo are having a Holiday Open House for you to come get some early Christmas shopping done! This is a great opportunity to cross some gifts off your list, browse for your own list for Santa or just support your favorite stores!


Full a full list of events and happenings in Tupelo, visit:

Monday, August 4, 2014

The First Day: The Teachers' Perspective on Back to School

In this blog post we talk with a first-year and a veteran teacher about what a first day back to school is like. We get their perspective on nerves, excitement and new beginnings heading into a new year of school. 

Montana Murff, Joyner Elementary School, First Year Teacher, 2nd grade

Q: What made you choose education?
A: When I was growing up I always loved school. One day in 3rd grade I did a project and my teacher told me that I would make a great teacher. I guess it just got in my head but ever since then I just wanted to be a teacher.

Q: Do you already have any first day jitters?
A: Yes! First year teacher on a first day is very intimidating. I did student teaching from January to May 2014 so I didn’t get to experience the first day. All of the procedures were taught when I came in so it was a little bit easier then.

Q: What are your hopes for the first year?
A: I just hope I’m able to manage the classroom and make the children show growth in academics, as well as socially and emotionally. I’d really like to make an impact on each of my children that will benefit them.

Q: Have you been nervous all summer about the upcoming school year?
A: I’ve had all summer to prepare, so I think the nervousness happened at the beginning. Once I got my classroom, got things prepared and hung up those feelings went away.

Q: How much of a learning process do you expect this year to be?
A: Everything is new this year so it’s going to be a learning process for every teacher and not just me. They’ve changed not the curriculum, but with the Common Core standards there’s a different type of teaching implemented. Also, they’ve changed from week to week teaching to unit teaching, so it’ll be new for everyone. I don’t feel so much like the Lone Ranger, which is good because everyone will have to work together.

Q: Do you have a first day memory as a student that stands out to you?
A: I remember my first day of kindergarten, because I was so incredibly nervous. I’m the oldest of five children so I was the first one to experience going to school. I remember getting there and the teacher putting me with someone that she thought I would be attached to. It ended up being my best friend for all of that year and we stayed best friends all the way through elementary and high school.

Q: Last question, packed lunch or cafeteria food?
A: Both! I like to change it up! I don’t want to get tired of one of thing.

Laura Russesll, Joyner Elementary School, 20 years teaching, 1st grade

Q: Why do you keep coming back to teaching?
A: I love it. That’s how I’ll know I need to retire when I don’t love coming back every year. You can’t do this if you don’t love it. It’s not always the perfect job but I just love it. I love working with the kids.

Q: What made you choose to do education?
A: I had always babysat and been around kids, but it was actually my aunt who influenced me to pursue it. She was a preschool teacher in Austin, Texas, and she won teacher of the year once. I don’t know why but she just influenced me. She got her degree later after her kids were grown and that was an inspiration to me.

Q: What’s the greatest part about being a teacher?
A: Making a difference in a child’s life. Hopefully, you can also make a difference in the parent’s lives. It’s great to show the children that they can be successful and help them to believe in themselves so they don’t have to depend on someone else. That way they don’t have to look to someone else for the feeling of acceptance. If I can help a child be independent and believe in him or herself, I’ve made a difference.

Q: How was your first day of teaching?
A: I was a nervous wreck! I learned real quickly that whatever you learn in college does not prepare you for that first day. It is a trial and error thing and you either have it or you don’t. It’s not something that you can work into and you maybe get better at. I was so afraid that I was going to do something wrong and that was going to have eternal consequences for a child. I was scared to death that I was going to mess up a child.

Q: How did it end up going?
A: It ended up going great. I was able to stay home with my two girls so there was a long gap where I didn’t teach, but when I went back full-time I still had the same feeling. I have that feeling every year because it’s an awesome responsibility that is charged to you and it’s frightening to think what you hold in your hands. It’s a little like that every year but it’s gotten easier. I still remember my first class and how sweet they were.

Q: Do you still get those first day jitters?
A: Yes. Every year I do. I don’t hide under the covers but absolutely do get the jitters. But I think that might be another clue that I might need to call it a day if I don’t get at least a little bit anxious or jittery.

Q: Tell me about a first day that stands out as a teacher or student.
A: I can tell one of each. We’ll do student first. I had a brother that was a year ahead of me in school and he was the perfect child. He was smart and every teacher loved him. I was not quite as smart and I liked to talk a lot. I remember my first day of fifth grade and my teacher said “So, you’re Tom Wilke’s sister?” I said yes and it went downhill from there! (laughter) I was not quite what she expected and she let me know that.

Then my first day of teaching in Tupelo, this is going on my seventh year here, the teacher had to leave because her husband was transferred for work in November. However, it was her first year and she had not had a lot of classroom management so when I walked in there was nothing in the room and the children had had nine weeks of doing whatever they wanted to do. I’m a structured teacher and I love to have fun but there’s a time and a place for that so I told them that. So, we had to start over completely.

Q: Are you still learning to be an educator?
A: Absolutely. Three years ago I got my National Board Certification because I didn’t want to ever be one of those teachers who said I’ve done this for 30 years and I don’t need to change. I don’t want to do that. I’m always looking for ways to add new and different things. If I ever say I don’t need change then that’s time for me to go. You can’t do the same thing you did 35 years ago because kids are different today.