Any true Elvis fan remembers where they were on Aug. 16, 1977, the day The King of Rock ‘n Roll died.
It is an unforgettable moment, a piece of history, a date that somehow marks an end and a beginning. Some call it the date that defined the end of youth for the Baby Boomer generation and the official transcendence into maturity and middle age.
Although Elvis died 37 years ago his memory and his music live on, seemingly forever. A big reason for that is Graceland, the house and 13.8-acre estate in Memphis that he purchased in 1957, the place where he lived and died. His wife, Priscilla, converted Graceland into a museum open to the public in 1982, primarily to bail the Presley estate out of a financial tailspin. At $35 per visitor, her idea worked far better than she anticipated as Graceland today draws more than 600,000 visitors a year. It is reportedly one of the most-visited private homes in the United States, with only the White House and the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, NC, getting more visitors. Graceland also is listed in the National Register of Historic Places and was named a National Historic Landmark in 2006.
Graceland is a large mansion with a whitecolumned portico and Elvis, his parents, Gladys and Vernon Presley, and his grandmother, are buried in what is called the Meditation Garden on one side of the house. A memorial marker for Elvis’ stillborn twin brother, Jesse Garon, also has been placed at the site. The Meditation Garden is one of the big attractions at Graceland and there always is a crowd paying their respects to the man who was “one of the most significant cultural icons of the 20th Century.” But there is a whole lot more to Graceland than the Garden.
A visit to Graceland starts at the reception center on the opposite side of Elvis Presley Boulevard, where you’ll buy your ticket and visit souvenir shops and stores that sell everything from Elvis key chains and teddy bears to posters from his many movies and the metalframe wraparound sunglasses he popularized.
The museum that houses the many cars that Elvis owned during his lifetime also is located here and it is definitely worth touring.
You will see his prized Rolls Royce and the Lincoln Continental he drove during his Miami appearance at the Olympia Theater in 1956 — the same one that infatuated girls decorated with lipstick love notes when they found it parked on the street. There’s also the famed pink 1956 Cadillac on display, the dune buggy from one of his movies, the Mercedes that he gave Priscilla when she joined him in Los Angeles, and many others.
To get to the mansion, you will have buy a ticket for $35, then stand in line and wait your turn to board a shuttle bus that will whisk you across Elvis Presley Boulevard and through the famous sheet-music gates, then up the driveway to the storied entrance to Graceland. On the way, attendants hand out headphones with a controller that plays a recorded narration of Elvis’ exploits and what you are viewing as you stroll along a guided tour of the mansion.
After entering, the first thing to catch your eye is the white staircase with reflective mirrors, while to the right is the Living Room and the adjoining Music Room with the stained-glass peacock entrance. Guardrails prevent entry to the Living Room and only part of the Music Room can be seen with its black baby grand piano. The Living Room holds a 15-foot-long white sofa, a white fireplace, a painting that was Elvis’ last Christmas present from his father, and there are photographs of Elvis’ parents, of Elvis and daughter Lisa Marie.
The walking tour includes a look at Elvis’ parents’bedroom, then into the dining room and the kitchen, and through the basement where Elvis’ media room with its three televisions is located. There is also a bar and billiards room.
The tour moves upstairs again, through the famous Jungle Room where you’ll see Elvis’ favorite easy chair. After the Jungle Room, the tour moves to the backyard, past Lisa Marie’s childhood swing set, then into a small white building that served as Vernon’s office and now houses various memorabilia. Elvis’ shooting range is housed next door in what used to be an old smokehouse.
Down the sloping lawn, you will come to the Trophy Room where the walls display framed copies of Elvis’ many records, movie posters and other memorabilia, even a 1950s Elvis doll. Other items displayed are the three Grammys Elvis won, Priscilla’s wedding dress, Elvis’ wedding tuxedo, Lisa Marie’s toy chest and baby clothes, and the famous hall of Elvis’ gold records and awards.
The Trophy Room then winds through a display of his 1968 Comeback TV show, featuring his leather suit. There are personal copies of his movie scripts, costumes he wore in many of his movies and several of his trademark jumpsuits. Also on display are all the awards and distinctions Elvis received, including a display of the many canceled checks he wrote to various charities.
There is much more to see on this tour, including the still fully functioning stable of horses and a racquetball court that now houses a display of Elvis’ sequined jumpsuits. Many old vinyl records hang on the walls of the two-story court, including numerous posthumous awards, and Elvis’ movies and recordings of his Las Vegas concerts play continually on big screen TV sets.
A visit to Graceland is a must for any real Elvis fan; it reveals so much more about the man than any written commentary can ever tell. Elvis truly has never left this building and as they say at Graceland, “The legend lives on!”