Jim Arthur is a retired attorney from Memphis who moved with his wife, Jill, to Franklin in 2012.
Jim grew up in the Blues City, not far from Graceland.
In 1957, at age 12, Jim was the paperboy who had the plum assignment of daily delivering the afternoon paper, The Memphis Press-Scimitar, to the Presley residence.
Jim, in the year you were making a daily delivery to Graceland, who was Elvis Presley to you and to Memphis? Where was he in his career at that time?
Elvis moved to Graceland from East Memphis in 1957 and was already a big star. He had already made his famous TV appearances on the Ed Sullivan and the Milton Berle
shows, released his first megahit album, made his first movie, and although he remained a controversial figure in certain circles, he was Memphis’s darling and, for most folks, its favorite son.
I took over the paper route later in ‘57, not long after Elvis had moved in. I remember the first time I went there to deliver the paper. The famous gates were already up, and they were building the fieldstone walls.
The image I have of a paperboy in the ’50s and ’60s is a kid on a bicycle, slinging rolled-up newspapers onto driveways and front porches. Was that you? Do you remember your bike and the route?
That’s a pretty accurate image.
The Press-Scimitar was not rolled; it was typically folded into a tight square, which gave it some remarkable ballistic capabilities. I could hit your dog in the nose at 20 yards. I could fold 140 papers in 15 minutes, except on Thursdays, when the paper was fat with ads.
My ride was a candy-apple red Schwinn Corvette. It may have been the first regular-style Schwinn bicycle to have three gears. I had a huge basket on the front, about two feet by three feet, and 18 inches deep, that would accommodate three rows of papers two deep. The trick was to keep the papers packed tight, so they didn’t bounce out.
The gears came in really handy at Graceland, because it was early in my route, my basket was nearly full, and it was a long, long pull up the hill from the gate to the
front porch where the Presleys wanted their paper. At least the driveway was smooth.
I remember every inch of that bike route, from its beginning at Kimbrough’s Feed & Seed, through Harbin’s Trailer Park all the way to what was then the end of Old Hickory.
What was it like riding onto the Graceland property? Was there security or did you ride your bike right up to the porch?
Getting to the entrance was the hard part. I had to pedal a front-heavy bicycle across a major highway right in front of Graceland without getting run over. There was a little gate house off to the side customarily occupied by one or more of Elvis’s distant relatives who passed for security. These were salt-of-the-earth-type good guys — a
pack of Lucky Strikes rolled up in their t-shirt sleeve and one stuck to their lower lip. They would keep an eye out for me so they could get the gates open, clear a path for
me through the fans, and give me a running start up that long steep driveway.
My target was the front door mat, which I would hit on the fly and head back the way I came. I would collect payment once a month and would wander around the place until I found one of the Presleys who insisted on paying me themselves — in cash. When I lucked out and found Mrs. Presley, I usually got a peanut butter and banana sandwich from the housekeeper as a tip. They were really very sweet people.
Tomorrow, in Part 2 of my conversation with Jim, he’ll tell us about how he finally met his favorite paper route customer and how it involved a peacock and a bike wreck.
Ramon Presson, PhD, is a licensed marriage and family therapist in Franklin (www.ramonpressontherapy.com) and the author of several books. Reach him at
firstname.lastname@example.org. To read Presson’s previous columns go to www.franklinhomepage.com/?s=ramon+presson