.All Trips / North America / Southeastern USA / Tennessee

Travels with Elvis (Part 2). A visit to Graceland

memphis-graceland-2012-001

3764 Elvis Presley Blvd.  It’s an address many Elvis fans know by heart because, as you’ve certainly guessed by now, that’s where you’ll find Graceland.  Graceland is THE place every Elvis must visit at least once in their lifetime.  Not only was it Elvis’ home for 20 years, it has more artifacts and memories of his life and career than any other place on the planet.  It’s important to Memphis’ economy as Graceland is the second most visited home in the United States, second only to the White House.  With the constant flow of Elvis fans, there’s a lot of tourist dollars coming to this fairly poor region….and always having been supportive of Memphis, Elvis would have liked that!

Elvis bought Graceland in 1957 for just $100,000 when he was 22 years old, as a place he could relax with his parents, Vernon and Gladys Presley.  Graceland was almost 20 years old when he bought it and is named for the aunt of the original owners (Grace).  The home is a nice (but certainly not extravagant) colonial style mansion that sits on an impressive 13 acre property.  When Elvis bought the home, it was almost rural but in the past 50 years the sprawl of Memphis has engulfed it.  Still, it’s a lovely setting and I know Elvis would be glad that it’s a place fans migrate to as they did when he was alive (they would congregate around the famous gates of the estate, waiting to see Elvis as he drove in and out of Graceland.  Elvis almost ALWAYS stopped and said “hi” and signed autographs).  Elvis enjoyed his home and never had any intention of leaving it or Memphis, which speaks highly of his love of the place because he could have lived anywhere in the world.  But he wanted to be at Graceland because he felt comfortable, safe and grounded here.

When Elvis died so unexpectedly in 1977 the fate of Graceland was uncertain.  While Elvis was a cash generating machine, he spent most of what he earned (on himself, gifts and the many charities he supported)(remember also that his manager, Colonel Parker, took 50%).  Some thought the estate might need to sell Elvis’ home but fortunately Priscilla had the right idea.  She knew that Elvis would want his fans to visit and enjoy his home so in 1982 she opened the home for public tours,  These tours have been popular and financially very successful and even 35 years after Elvis’death, visits to Graceland are setting records. By some estimates, 750,000 will visit in 2012, a remarkable number and a testimony to Elvis’ enduring popularity and to the fondness and affection his fans have for him.  It astounds me that many of the people who now are drawn to Graceland were not even born when Elvis was alive.

I’d first visited Graceland in 1989, just a few year after public tours began. In the intervening years, the Estate has greatly improved the exhibits and visitor’s experience. I was traveling with my baby brother and this was his first visit to Memphis, so it was very exciting being able to share this visit to Graceland with him.

But enough background.  If you’re an Elvis fan, you already knew most of this and you’re wanting the details.  If you aren’t, then perhaps this is the place you finish reading and sample a few of the iconic photos of Graceland I’ve included before moving on….

Touring Graceland:
This is what you’ll see and the order in which you ‘ll see it when you do the tour of Graceland (see also the accompanying photos arranged in the same order):

1) A van will shuttle you from the ticket office across the street to the front doors of Graceland.  Here you enter a que and walk between the famous paired lions through the front doors.  Inside the home you’ll see:

2) Living room, featuring Elvis’ custom-made massively-long sofa and coffee table.  In the room behind this you’ll see his piano which Priscilla had crusted in gold for him.  The piano room is framed by twin stained glass peacocks.

3) Gladys and Vernon’s bedroom (Elvis’ bedroom and office were upstairs and have always been closed to the public and kept private).

4) Dining room (Elvis was a night-owl and rarely ate dinner before 10 p.m)(in fact, he rarely saw the sun!)

5) Kitchen, the heart of the home.  Cooks were available for Elvis and his entourage 24 hours a day.  Elvis and his friends tended to congregate here a good portion of the time.

6) You walk downstairs to the Television room, famous for having 3 television sets side-by-side (Elvis was inspired to do this because President LBJ had a similar setup, so he could watch 3 newscasts simultaneously).

7) Pool (billiard) room

8) Head back up the stairs to the “Jungle Room”, a gaudy room covered and lined by green shag carpet, with exotic tropical furniture and figurines.  The room was designed to remind Elvis of his beloved Hawaii.  It was in this room that Elvis recorded his final two albums, ‘Moody Blue” and “From Elvis Presley Blvd”.

9) You leave the home and walk past the Carport area to an…

10) Outside office (Vernon’s office)

11)  You walk back outside to Elvis ‘Trophy Room.  To me the Trophy Room was the highlight of the tour and the room Elvis really would have wanted his fans to see. It was in this room that Elvis kept those honors presented to him and it has been modified during the years to include a historic account of his career highlights. The exhibits start with the Sun records years (including originals of all 5 records he released on this label), early career memorabilia, guitars, and features of his movie career (such as scripts, lobby cards and clothes) and stage performance. Most special to me was the “Hall of Gold” a long hall covered ceiling to floor by Elvis’ many gold and platinum records and the three Grammies he won (all for gospel records). The displays also include his wedding tuxedo, Priscilla’s wedding gown, the famous ’68 Comeback leather suit, and several of his early 1970s stage jumpsuits.

12) You leave the trophy room and walk outside to the Racquetball court.  When I first visited Graceland in the late 1980s this was not open to the public.  Now you walk into a small gym area with a sitting lounge containing a piano (on which Elvis sat and played several songs during his last day on earth).  Then you walk into the racquetball court itself which features hundreds of new gold and platinum records that have been awarded to Elvis since he died.  These line all walls of the court and are a truly impressive sight.  There are also several 1970s concert jumpsuits displayed here including the well known “Aloha from Hawaii” and “Aztec Sundial” suits.

13) As you walk out of the Racquetball court you pass the guitar-shaped pool and enter

14) The Meditation Garden.  Created by Elvis as a small quiet place to relax and meditate.  It is in this garden that Elvis, his parents, Gladys and Vernon, and his paternal grandmother are buried and the eternal flame burns.  There are usually many flower displays and gifts from the fans. It is common to see tears as people pass Elvis’ grave.

15) After this you usually catch a van to return to the ticket office.  We had “VIP tickets’ which included a special exhibit situated in the garage which was really fantastic!  This included a new 10 minute video by Lisa Marie, Elvis daughter, talking about memories of her father (very positive and pleasant) and featuring select items from Elvis’ personal effects that she wanted to share with his fans.  These include things like his personal clothes and jewelery, his desk, a sampling of his books (he was a voracious reader) and a sample of the way he liked to mark-up-their margins with his thoughts and comments.  There are tons of photos of Lisa and her children, as well as things like her crib and baby clothes.  It was well worth seeing and an interesting and unique glimpse in to Elvis’ personal life.

We then grabbed the shuttle back to the Visitor Center but your visit to Graceland doesn’t end here.  It continues across the street at the plaza that Graceland owns.  Besides lots of shops selling everything from rare collectible music to lunch boxes, you can visit:

– Elvis’ Car Museum, featuring many of Elvis beloved cars including the 1955 Fleetwood Pink Cadillac he bought for his mother, Gladys.  The museum also has two of Elvis’ Rolls Royces, a Mercedes limousine, his beloved 1971 Stutz Bear-cat, one of his Harley-Davidson motorcycles and an assortment of motorized toys (golf-carts, tractor, snow-machine with wheels instead of skis, etc).  There is a sitting area playing a loop filmed collage of Elvis’ car and motorcycle scenes from his motion picture catalog.

– The “Lisa Marie”, a customized airplane Elvis bought just a few years before he died.  It is a Convair 880 jet for which he paid $250,000, then spent almost a million dollars upgrading and making it his own (eg. gold bathroom fixtures and seat buckles, great sound system, etc).  A smaller private plane (which he bought before the Lisa Marie) is also part of the airplane tour; called the “Hound Dog II”,  it’s a Jet Starplane.

– Sincerely Elvis.  Personal items from other celebrities whose lives were touched by Elvis, with quotes about their memories of Elvis.  A touching tribute

– Elvis on Tour.  While we were visiting there was a special exhibit featuring a short documentary about the 1972 documentary film, “Elvis on Tour”. Many of the outfits featured in the film are on display.  The video was really educational as well.

– 68 Comeback Special. Things like tickets and the white suit Elvis’ wore when singing “If I can Dream”.

– The Graceland Gates and the writing on the wall. Spend a little time walking the fence outside of Graceland and reading some of the graffitti on it.  It is interesting and many of the phrases are quite moving.

By the end of the day we were tired but exhilarated!  What a charismatic performer!!  What a talent!!!  What a legacy!!!!!  What a great visit we’d had.  So very special to have shared this day with my brother, who loves Elvis as much as I do.

I think everyone would find a visit to Graceland interesting.  But for Elvis fans, it’s a MUST.  Stay at the nearby Heartbreak Hotel, also owned by the estate, where your Elvis experience begins as you meet fans from around the world!

Tagged , , ,