I grew up in Memphis, Tennessee as the child of two Elvis Presley fans, and despite a decade where I considered myself “too cool” for Elvis, I became one myself. I almost didn’t have a choice – a love for Elvis was bred into me from a young age. I can remember being 8 or 9 years old, riding with my dad in our family’s Chevy pick-up listening to All Shook Up playing from the cassette deck, my foot tapping out the rhythm on the floorboard. Not having my own musical preferences yet, I adopted those of my parents, and Elvis was one of my favorites.
So how I managed to live in Memphis for twenty years and never take a tour of Graceland, Elvis’ mansion in the city, is beyond me. My own father visited Graceland every day for eight years – he just wasn’t ever invited in. (My dad was Elvis’ paperboy!) I suppose when you live somewhere, you don’t look at it through the same eyes as a tourist would, so it took moving to London for us to finally pay Graceland a visit!
We visited Graceland on Christmas Eve, so crowds were low – unlike how I’m sure they were last week for Elvis’ birthday. (His birthday, 8 January, and the day he died, 16 August, are always popular days among fans.) Graceland receives over 600,000 visitors every year, coming in third for the most visited personal residence in the U.S. behind the White House and the Biltmore Mansion in North Carolina.
Entrance into Graceland isn’t cheap. Tickets for adults start at $34, children at $15, and go up from there. We chose the second tier package for $3 more per ticket that allowed us into the house and grounds as well as Elvis’ two airplanes and five special exhibits.
We entered the mansion through the front door and were immediately standing in the foyer with the staircase leading up to the second floor, Elvis’ private quarters. The upper floor is not open to visitors out of respect, since that is where Elvis passed away.
To the right is Elvis’ living room decorated for the holidays with his own collection of Christmas decorations. Just beyond the peacock flanked doorway is his music room housing a baby grand piano and a 1950’s television set.
Down the hall is the only bedroom visible in the house, Elvis’ parents room. It was his parents, Vernon and Gladys, who discovered Graceland for sale after Elvis urged them to find a place for the three of them to live. He bought the house in 1957 for $100,000. A paltry-sounding sum for a 10,000 sq. ft. mansion, but for frame of reference, my grandparents bought a house just behind Graceland the same year for only $11,000.
The next stop on the tour was the dining room and kitchen. And this is where it starts to get a bit tacky, at least by 2013 standards. The last time these rooms were updated was the 70’s, so keep that in mind as you travel back in time via the Graceland time capsule. Elvis’ kitchen reminds me of our family room and kitchen in our old house before we remodeled them. All that dark wood paneling and cabinetry – it’s a bit depressing!
Next we headed into the basement where Elvis had his tv room, complete with three different televisions and a wet bar encased in mirrors. If you look closely, you can see the ceiling in the tv room is tiled in mirrors as well. (If I were Elvis, I would have wanted to look at my face all day, too!)
Next to the tv room is the billiards room outfitted in ridges of fabric covering every square inch of wall and ceiling space. Say what you will about Elvis’ decorating skills, but you can’t say he didn’t have unique taste! This was my favorite room, and I’m a little sad that the pictures I have didn’t turn out a little nicer and more colorful, but with no natural light, it was difficult to photograph.
Heading back upstairs, our last stop in the mansion was the famous Jungle Room where Elvis recorded his last two albums. Designed with Elvis’ favorite vacation spot in mind, Hawaii, the room is outfitted with green shag carpeting on the floor AND ceiling, Polynesian furniture, and a no-longer-functioning waterfall along the far wall. The other side of the room features a seating area and an intricately carved wooden bar area.
After the Jungle Room, we exited the house and came to a second building used for offices and Elvis’ shooting range. Then we stopped to admire the horses in the pasture. Elvis loved horses, and when he was alive he kept his own in the stables here. The horses currently at Graceland are rescues. Tours of the stables are available in the summertime only for an extra fee.
Next we headed to yet another outbuilding lovingly known as the Trophy Room. Elvis had it built to store his awards and gifts he’d been given. Most notable here are Elvis’ three Grammy awards and the hall of gold records. Other exhibits have been added like Elvis and Priscilla’s wedding attire and a few of the famous suits he wore in performances. (You’ll see many more of those if you pay the $3 upgrade for the extra exhibits!)
The racquetball court turned record/memorabilia room was the last building we entered. Before we got into the court itself, we walked through the arcade and sitting area Elvis had built onto the court where you’ll find yet another wet bar. (If you’re counting, we are up to three now!) This is also where Elvis played the piano for family and friends the morning of the day he died.
The racquetball court is impressive not only because of the sheer size of it, but also because of the amount of records and memorabilia lining the walls from floor to ceiling. More of Elvis’ famous jumpsuits are showcased behind glass and video clips from his concerts play on a big screen television. With the amount of awards and gold records presented on such a grand scale in here and the Trophy Room, it is undeniable what a gigantic influence Elvis had on the music industry.
Closing out our tour, next to the pool is Elvis’ Meditation Garden where he, his parents, and his grandmother are buried. A small marker memorializes the death of his twin brother who is buried in Tupelo, Mississippi where they were born. An eternal flame burns at the head of Elvis’ grave in his memory.
Overall, I loved visiting Graceland. The audio tour through the mansion was incredibly helpful and added so many insights into Elvis’ personality that I really felt like I got to know who he was better through it. My only complaint was the ticket prices. They’re high enough to keep away some of Elvis’ less wealthy fans, and judging by how generous he was in his lifetime, I don’t think he would approve of such a steep entrance fee. However, seeing as how we were there for almost four hours, I feel like we got our money’s worth!
This is where I’ll stop for today. I’ll continue on Wednesday with the second part of our tour, including Elvis’ cars and custom airplanes. If you’re interested, make sure you come back and see that!
Address: 3734 Elvis Presley Boulevard, Memphis, Tennessee 38116
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