A TRIP DOWN LONELY STREET TO THE HEARTBREAK HOTEL
July 29, 2020
By FRANCISCO GONZALEZ
In 1956, Elvis Presley released his single, “The Heartbreak Hotel.” It topped Billboard’s Top 100 chart for seven weeks and remains a classic to this day. Some believe the song and its title were inspired by The Heartbreak Hotel, located in Kenansville, Florida in Osceola County.
I recently took a trip to Kenansville to find out – it’s less than an hour drive from the heart of Orlando. As the song’s lyrics attest, The Heartbreak Hotel is certainly on “lonely street,” located at 1350 South Canoe Creek Road. As you approach the town, you see cattle ranches nearby. There’s not much else around here, except the remnants of the First State Bank across the street – where we peeked through the windows to see memorabilia of an old train depot that was located at this intersection as well.
Perhaps The Heartbreak Hotel was “always crowded” in 1955, when Elvis toured Florida and reportedly stayed here then – but it wasn’t crowded at all on this hot and humid day in July. It was eerily quiet on this lonely street in rural Central Florida. And while Elvis said, “you still can find some room,” we could not find any room on this day – but that’s entirely because it’s not a hotel anymore. So, there are no rooms available! A few years ago, the hotel closed, and it was bought by Tall Timbers, an organization that manages wildlife and land.
As a longtime Elvis fan, I was excited for a pilgrimage to a local place made famous by The King himself – but I found nothing but heartbreak once I knocked on the door and was greeted by an employee of Tall Timbers who told me the story I had been told was a tall tale.
Apparently, this hotel has been named The Heartbreak Hotel since the 1950s – but not before Elvis released his song in 1956. Perhaps Elvis still stayed here. Maybe it simply wasn’t called “The Heartbreak Hotel” during his stay. But maybe it was simply a place where Elvis found heartbreak. And perhaps once the hotel owner found out his establishment was the place that inspired Elvis’ famous song, he renamed it. Or maybe it was just a clever way for this entrepreneurial Floridian to draw visitors, long before Walt Disney changed Central Florida tourism forever. There is no evidence to prove the point either way.
However, what there is plenty of evidence for is that even in a small, rural town in Florida, the legacy of The King of Rock and Roll is still alive and well more than 40 years after his death. Despite the fact the establishment itself is no longer a hotel, passersby will still see painted in large letters across the building the name of one of The King’s greatest hits, “The Heartbreak Hotel,” keeping the legacy of Elvis alive – and the legend of where one of rock’s most well-known songs might have originated. As I got back in my car and returned to Orlando with a broken heart, I cranked up the music through the speakers and let The King continue to speak for himself about the heartbreak he too once found. Maybe here.
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