The whole reason for our trip to Memphis was to bring my mother to Graceland for her 80th birthday. She isn’t a crazy, huge Elvis fan but she, like pretty much everyone else from the 50’s, thought he was your basic ball of hot stuff wrapped in a southern accent.
Also, turns out Betty doesn’t like gangsta rap which rules out a set of gold teeth, so what else are you supposed to get an 80 year old?
So let me take you back to a week ago, when we were getting ready to go to Graceland.
We had just left Sun Studio and had been worked into a frenzy by the tour. Sun Studio was the very small recording studio that Elvis wandered into in 1953. He wanted to record a song to hear what he sounded like on an album. Owner Sam Phillips heard the demo and … didn’t like it. It was too soft. Too much of a ballad. But he later called Elvis back to Sun Studio to try recording with a band. This was in 1954. Elvis bombed. He was too soft and sweet and Sam Phillips didn’t like it at all. He stormed outside the studio and by then everyone was frustrated, upset and angry. And that’s when the magic of Elvis happened. Sam heard Elvis singing inside the recording studio by himself and came back in to find a very different Elvis. He recorded his first single that night, “That’s All Right”.
And that was it. With that one song, Elvis became Elvis. Within a year he had released 5 singles with Sun Studio. You know how the rest of the story goes.
Once the studio tour was finished we all got into a free shuttle that runs from Sun Studio straight to Graceland with Elvis videos playing the whole time on a television at the front of the bus. That’s just in case you weren’t transformed into a raving, shaking lunatic by the studio tour. They want to make sure you’re fully prepared to faint or at least cry once you get to Graceland.
And I forgot to mention in yesterday’s post that my Memphis trip photos aren’t exactly award winning. I brought my good camera then decided my entire trip would be ruined if I had to walk around with a huge digital camera hanging around my neck. Also, there are certain parts of Memphis where you don’t want to look like a wandering tourist and nothing says wandering tourist like a camera strap. So it was iPhone photos all the way. Then my camera kept croaking on me because it’s an iPhone 4S circa 2011. I had to buy one of those little portable battery boosters to keep in my purse and it worked GREAT. It was $50, so it wasn’t cheap but it charged quickly and kept my phone going all day so it was worth it to me.
And it was worth it to you because that’s how I bought it just before heading to Graceland knowing that if I didn’t buy it you wouldn’t get any photos of the home of Elvis.
When we were finally dropped off at Graceland, all of us were convinced that Elvis was the greatest thing to ever happen to the world, let alone music. We were humming, singing, toe tapping fools wondering how we’d gone so long in life without a full Elvis sleeve tattoo or at the very least Elvis themed cutlery. It’s like we’d been living under rocks.
The moment you hit the ground you’re steps away from a gift shop. The actual tour starts off across the road from where Graceland sits.
The road is a busy city street. Nothing like you’d imagine. Graceland can be seen from the city street, it isn’t hidden and isn’t down a long winding country road. It’s in the middle of the city surrounded by stores, other houses and motels. And it would have been fairly similar when Elvis bought Graceland in 1957.
Once you’ve bought your tickets to tour Graceland (and this took a LOT of bickering among us because we didn’t know which of the many packages to buy) you line up to get on the shuttle that takes you across the street and through the famous Graceland gates to the house. I was a bit worried at this point because we had to line up right away and I didn’t get a chance to look through the gift shop. Remember, I had been whipped into an Elvis frenzy at this point and was pretty desperate to get my hands on a set of Elvis pajamas or some other important Elvis thing.
Before you get into the shuttle lineup you’re ushered onto a stage of sorts and told to smile. Or in our case we were told to smile twice because I’m pretty sure we were all looking in opposite directions and wandering off like cats in the first photo. This photo is taken of course so when you leave Graceland you have yet another thing to possibly purchase.
This photo along with a few other smaller ones of the same shot cost $35 US. And it has possibly the worst colour balance I’ve ever seen. I scanned it and tried to colour correct it a bit here but it’s still fairly awful. Yet … we bought it … because that’s what you do on vacation and any good tourist spot knows this. I expect I’ll look at it 4 times then shove it in a photo album only to find it 10 years from now wondering whatever happened to that dress I was wearing.
In the line up you’re given an iPad and a set of headphones. They were the stupidest things ever. It seemed great and fancy and very futuristic to have an interactive iPad hanging around your neck for the tour but it wasn’t. It was cumbersome, confusing, a waste of time and distracting. The iPad shows each room as you go through it and you have to manually maneuver it to advance to the next room and let’s face it, a lot of the Elvis fans showing up to Graceland were older and they had NO idea what the hell to do with this thing hanging off their necks. The man in front of me didn’t plug his headphones in so his iPad was blaring, Betty kept asking where the hell we were and how the hell to get to the kitchen on the screen. Graceland needs to ditch the iPads and just have a regular audio tour. Why do we need to look at a picture of the room on an iPad while we’re looking at the actual room in real life?
The front of the house is beautiful as you drive up. It looks quite small compared to what you think of as a mansion today. But the tour only takes you through a few rooms on the lower floor so you don’t realize how big the house really is.
The house, built in 1939 is 17,552 square feet with 8 bedrooms and 8 bathrooms, sitting on over 13 acres. Elvis redecorated Graceland several times over the years with the last incarnation being what we see today as we tour his home.
Stepping inside the front doors of the house I immediately felt weird. I didn’t like it. It felt invasive and voyeuristic and made me feel icky about it all. It seemed sad. But everyone else in the place seemed to be loving it and Priscilla and Lisa Marie are making a fortune off of it so good for them. If they hadn’t turned Graceland into a museum they would have lost it just a few years after Elvis died because they couldn’t afford to run it. Elvis’s entire estate was left to his daughter Lisa Marie, but because she was so young, her mother Priscilla was her executor. And it was Priscilla that decided to turn Graceland into a museum so they could afford to keep it.
Now the moment you’ve all been waiting for. Welcome to Graceland.
The living room is the first room you see after walking in the front doors. It sits to the right of the door and beyond it is the music room.
Sitting against the front wall of the house is a 15′ long couch.
Down the main floor hallway just past the living room and the same side is the bedroom of Elvis’s parents. Elvis’s mother Gladys decorated her own bedroom.
Doing a u-turn from the parent’s bedroom and going back down the front hall you find yourself at the front door again. This time looking to the left, you see the dining room.
A massive, and beautiful chandelier hangs over the table, set with the Presley’s wedding china.
To the other side of the dining room is the kitchen. A perfect, vintage 70’s kitchen complete with carpeting and stained glass lamps.
From the kitchen you’re led down into the basement of Graceland to what’s effectively a rec room. Or rumpus room if you prefer. This was not my favourite room.
On the other side of the basement is the pool room which features pleated, upholstered walls.
And a pleated upholstered ceiling. Because why not? You’re Elvis. Back upstairs you’re led through the famous jungle room which I had imagined to be huge and really kind of like a jungle. It wasn’t nearly as jungly as I thought it was going to be. I was having an argument with my iPad during the jungle room so I didn’t get a photo of it but you can see a 360 degree panoramic view of it here.
And that is all the rooms you see in Graceland. From there you head outside to the massive grounds.
I think the pastures are what surprised me the most about Graceland. I didn’t really realize the estate was so big and definitely had no idea there were horses there. You can see one grazing in between the two trees in the distance.
Graceland wouldn’t be Graceland without the Elvis performance costumes. People always joke about how fat Elvis got in the end but from any of the footage we watched in the many videos of Elvis we saw throughout the day he was never fat. Not even a little bit. He had a puffy face, that’s for sure, but his stomach was flat and he still had a tiny little waist even in his final performance. It’s funny how we remember things wrong.
The final portion of the tour of Graceland is the gravesite of Elvis.
For real, I had no idea this was coming. At all. No idea. One moment we were walking along the fence line of a beautiful pasture and the next we were walking around a small garden just to the back of the swimming pool which was home to the graves of Elvis, his mother, father and grandmother.
The huge marble memorial above was his mother’s. Gladys Presley was only 46 years old when she died. She was originally buried at Forest Hill Cemetery in Memphis. When Elvis died he was buried alongside his mother. There are two different accounts about what happened next. Two weeks after Elvis died a group of people attempted to rob his grave. After that the bodies of Elvis and his mother were moved to Graceland.
Most people say the grave robbers were random people out to make money, but one FBI agent says he was part of the grave robbing and it had been organized by Elvis’s father when the government wouldn’t let him move the bodies to Graceland. It’s said he orchestrated the robbery to fool the government and get them to agree that for security reasons the bodies should be moved to Graceland.
The graves sit just behind the pool area of Graceland.
It’s known as the Meditation Garden.
On August 16th, 1977 Elvis Presley died at the age of 42.
As we walked around Graceland I thought about the fact that my mother and Elvis were born the same year. If Elvis had lived, like my mother he would be 80 years old.
Bless his heart.