I grew up listening to Elvis Presley and watching his movies — my grandmother was a huge fan. My daughter, who is 25, hardly knew who he was. Both of us left Graceland thrilled with the experience. She discovered his music, learned his history and discovered a good man and humanitarian. I fell in love.
We arrived at Graceland just before Elvis Week began. But there was still a healthy crowd coming to see the King.
The tour takes a good two hours (not including browsing the many shops.) In addition to the 1939
southern mansion, named Graceland by its original owners, a basic mansion tour takes visitors to the trophy room, racquetball court — where Elvis kept a piano that he played “Unchained Melody” on the summer day he died (Aug. 16, 1977) — as well as the pool, backyard, pasture and finally, the graves of Elvis, his parents and grandmother, and a memorial to his twin brother who died the day they were born. Some rooms, including the living room and dining room, recall a pretty normal guy. Others tell the story of a many who seemed never to be alone: a kitchen that ran 24 hours a day, the jungle room as his den came to be known for its exotic decor.
There are plenty of pictures of the King, including one by the stairs (you won’t be allowed to climb) that features Elvis with his natural blonde hair color. Details of the house, including the trophy room in the house and the bigger one in the racquet court building tell the story of a curious man who loved all kinds of music (a Mario Lanza album is prominently displayed among his LP collection), loved people (every room seems to be set up for a crowd), and was generous with his time and money (Don’t miss the display of checks send to charities and individuals he wanted to help.)
Then, of course, there is his music. Long rows of gold and platinum albums, certificates and awards are all on display. I was touched by his well-worn trophy given by the U.S. Junior Chamber of Commerce, which named him one of the Ten Outstanding Young Men of the U.S. in 1970. He carried it with him everywhere he went — and it shows. Sure, all of this is designed by people who love Presley and want to show him in the best possible light. It works; this is a shrine to a man who changed American music. It wasn’t the religious experience Ryman Auditorium was (next week’s post), but I knew I had walked in places once inhabited by a good man and a great musician.
We stuck with the basic mansion tour — and that was a wonderful look at the man and the musician — but other options are available for others who can’t get enough of the King, including a look at his planes, or cars or other exhibits. You won’t want to miss the gift shops. I think I counted five. Besides the small gift shop beside the ticket windows, there are other gift shops outside where you catch the bus specializing in clothes, toys and movie memorabilia.
Graceland is located only about 15 miles outside of Memphis so we took the opportunity to spend an evening in town, as well. Beale Street is famous for its bars, and restaurants. Music is everywhere, even on the street corners. We slipped into the Rum Boogie Cafe for dinner and a late set after walking down to watch the sun set over the Mississippi River.
We had hoped for a tour of the Gibson Guitar Factory just off Beale Street but when we arrived, every tour of the day was sold out. I wasn’t rushing my tour of Graceland for a guitar factory tour so we knew we were taking a chance. If this is your thing, be sure to make a reservation. I did learn a few things. All day parking costs $5 at the lot across from Gibson at Second and Dr. Martin Luther King Avenues. And if you can’t get on the tour, you can still peek into the work room through the dark tinted windows along Second Avenue.
Next time, I’ll make a reservation. I hope it’s soon.
Ⓒ Text and photos Mary K. Tilghman
Here are some more photos from Graceland….