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Elvis Presley Passed Here: Even More Locations of America's Pop Culture Landmarks, by Chris Epting

Elvis Presley Passed Here
You might think, after amassing two other seemingly comprehensive tomes about the places where something interesting happened, that the indefatigable Chris Epting might start running out of material. Nothing could be further from the truth, however, for a couple of good reasons. One is that American history still contains many rich lodes just waiting for someone like Epting to mine them. The other is that pop culture is not like fossil fuel -- it's a renewable resource. In Elvis Presley Passed Here, Epting serves up a fascinating collection of events and their landmarks from the dawn of American history to almost now. From the oldest residential streets -- a contest between Huguenot Street in New York and Elfreth's Alley in Pennsylvania -- to Napoleon Dynamite's house in Idaho, Epting creates a mosaic of Americana in categories ranging from history, tragedy, crime, and celebrity events to movies, television, art, architecture, and music.

Epting's other two books in this series, James Dean Died Here and Marilyn Monroe Dyed Here, have spawned a movement among people who, like the author, like to go and stand on a spot where an event of cultural significance occurred. For these fans, Elvis Presley Passed Here will provide many months and untold miles of fascinating exploration. But the great thing about this book is that physical travel is optional. The book is a journey in itself, a sort of hop-scotch game through American culture that leaves the reader with an overview utterly unlike a standard history narrative. What history book would tell you where Tim Allen was arrested for cocaine possession in 1978 (Kalamazoo, Michigan), or that he spent over two years in prison as a result? Easily dismissed as historically insignificant, such an event offers insight into American culture that a ream of statistics about drug use cannot. Ordinary history books also don't mention facts like this: there once really was a little girl named Mary who owned a lamb. Epting reveals her full name, the location of the one-room school in Massachusetts where the lamb followed her one day, and the author of the immortal "Mary Had a Little Lamb."

Because it includes locations and events across the United States and Canada, Elvis Presley Passed Here is great for those who, like me, enjoy checking for familiar spots. I smiled when I found Philippe The Original, one of my favorite Los Angeles eateries, is included as the place where French dip sandwiches were invented. More sobering to think about are events like the last public hanging in America (Kentucky, 1936) and the Boston Molasses Disaster of 1919, in which twenty-one people were killed when a 2.5 million gallon tank of hot molasses exploded with enough force to derail an elevated train.

Epting has profiled more than six hundred events and locations in Elvis Presley Passed Here, including the site that inspired the book's title, a park in Los Angeles where Elvis used to blow off steam playing touch football. From the dock where the Titanic should have arrived in April, 1912, to Martha Stewart's "Camp Cupcake" stay, the book takes a fascinatingly circuitous trip through American culture. A delight for aficionados of the random-page approach to reading, it's just as good as a linear experience. Cover to cover, Chris Epting has most definitely done it again.

Megan Edwards

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