The tour was very well handled, in my opinion. We got onto small buses at the main Graceland building, across the street from the actual Graceland mansion (which, by the way, was named not by Elvis, but by the original owner from whom he purchased it.) We were given audio cassettes which described everything in the Mansion tour, and which also offered additional recordings about the memorabilia, which could be accessed by codes indicated in each room. The audio included snippets from Elvis himself, Lisa Marie, and other people when appropriate.
Graceland, meaning the house itself, is actually smaller than I expected. Elvis bought it in 1957, when he was 22, and although I’m sure it was considered a huge home at the time, by today’s McMansion standards, it is not large at all. The ground floor contains only 5 rooms, one of which Elvis added onto the back later—the den which became known as the “jungle room”. But the rest of the first floor was quite grown-up and unexceptional in many ways (the 2nd floor is not on display to the public). It had a living room, with a music room on the far end, a dining room, a bedroom suite which was occupied by Elvis’s parents, and the kitchen. The Jungle Room was added behind the kitchen. Even the Jungle Room wasn’t quite like I envisioned—a den with avocado green shag carpet (oh, the wonderful 1970s!) had heavy wood furniture with animal motifs carved in the handles, fur-covered upholstery (more 1970s), and a custom-designed waterfall at one end. It looked like really bad taste, but someone obviously loved it
The "Jungle Room" den. Notice the lion heads on the arms of the chair. The round, fur-covered chair was "one of Lisa Marie's favorite places."
The basement was clearly the “hangout” of a 22-year-old guy, and was perfect for that, I thought! One room was done in yellow and dark blue, with 3 televisions (Elvis got the idea from LBJ, who said he watched all 3 network news programs at night), record player, and a bar. Across the hall was the pool room. Again, neither of these rooms would particularly turn heads today—they were not exceptionally large or even, I thought, ostentatious (although the fabrics in the pool room were a bit too much on the gaudy side! But Elvis didn’t do the decorating here, so he can’t really be blamed.)
Another display room (part of the original garage, I think) had memorabilia from all stages of Elvis’s life, plus furnishings that had once been in some of the rooms, but had been replaced. The items included Elvis’s jewelry, and I noticed that somewhere along the line he acquired a large diamond Chai!
It was not until we moved into the “Trophy Rooms”, however, that I was really astonished. These rooms were not part of Graceland originally; they were built over a patio area to house Elvis’s awards, memorabilia, and demonstrate the history of his music, and later his films. We moved through the music area first, which had tvs showing clips from his earliest appearances; blown-up newspaper articles describing his appearances, protests against him and his “dangerous” style of visceral rock and roll, and other items related to his earliest career. From there we moved into a long room with the walls simply COVERED with gold records, singles and albums; his 3 Grammy awards, and other music awards, both from this country and abroad. The sheer number of them was totally amazing.
The next rooms were devoted to memorabilia from Elvis’s stint in the army, and then his film career. This was followed by showcases detailing his musical “comeback” in 1968, and also a section on his charitable work and donations. One really touching display showed his award from the Jaycees as one of “Ten Influential Young Men”, or something like that. The audio accompaniment played Elvis’s self-written and very moving acceptance speech at the Jaycee dinner, the only award dinner he ever attended personally. He carried the award itself with him wherever he went. The overall impression of the entire experience was of an exceptionally talented musician who never outgrew his roots as a soft-spoken, polite, small-town boy; who was generous to everyone around him and never really stopped being amazed at his success; and who was absolutely adored by everyone. The scope of his success in a pre-Internet, mostly pre-satellite world was really amazing.
From there we went into the racquetball building which Elvis built later on, and again, we were overwhelmed by later awards of all kinds and from all places for his musical accomplishments in the 1970’s. A large TV played selections from Elvis’s first satellite concert, live from Hawaii. The awards covered the entire walls up to the ceiling. It was this room which dealt with his death at the age of 42.
Tributes line the walkways near the Meditation Garden. The estate accepts and displays all tributes until they are faded or wilted.
And it is true that the only thing matching the popularity of Elvis Presley is the ability of his estate to market his image, as well as his music and his movies, in every conceivable item that anyone could want. You can dress yourself from head to toe in Elvis clothing, furnish your entire house, and even buy items such as Elvis themed fabrics, luggage, and yes—scrapbooking paper and embellishments!
By the end we were pretty much Elvised out, but still really amazed by his accomplishments in the world of entertainment. Some of the most touching things, such as his reaction during an interview when asked whether he’d left any special girlfriend in Germany (after his army stint), when he looked genuinely embarrassed; or the sign his father had hung in the office, along the lines of “handle your business and then leave, don’t just hang around here getting in the way”; or the quotes on the walls: “I don’t care if the fans rip the shirt from my back—they put it there”, or “If the songs don’t go over, we can try a medley of costume changes!”, allowed the real person to come through the hype and the adulation. Most of all, I can’t get over that long long room simply LINED with gold records! It was simply amazing.
We finally left Graceland after about 4 hours, and drove to Nashville. There, we spent a few hours with Ben and Miriam, who gave us a delicious dinner. We are now “camping out” in the street in front of their house, and using their wifi. Tomorrow we are heading for Joe’s brother Ed’s home, Miracle Farm, and will spend Friday there visiting before heading home this weekend. It is so hard to believe our trip is coming to an end at last.