We did not get up particularly early in Nashville. We had plenty of time to get to Little Rock, so we took our time getting up and out. We even had a chance to blog.
The Wife wanted to go to Graceland. It seems like “THE” thing to do in Memphis if you only have a couple hours.
To be honest, when I realized we were going to Graceland, I was more interested in seeing the morbidity of what I envisioned as hordes of visitors demanding to know his REAL whereabouts, insisting he was still alive. Or watching a huge gathering of fans sing terrible renditions of his greatest hits in memoriam of his career.
Now, to be clear, I’m not a fan of Elvis. I evidently don’t know that much about him. His music is from a different era. He died before I was conceived. From my academic perspective, he seems like more of figure for the history books, than a performing spectacle.
After our trip down I-40, we reached Memphis, and then made it out to Graceland. When we got to the ticket gate, it was $10 to park and $30/person to get in.
I was beginning to wonder what the Wife had gotten us into. She appeared a bit sinister.
Named for a previous owner of the estate, Elvis purchased the home and nearly 14 acres in the 1950s for just over $100,000. The house was more modest than I expected from Elvis.
From the ticket office, we took the shuttle across the street to the mansion. It was big, but not huge. Additions had built it up to be several thousands of square feet, but the original house was not cavernous. The basic tour allowed us to walk through the first floor and basement of the home.
As we walked in the house, we were greeted with the living room and dining room. The rooms were mostly in the condition they were in when Elvis died. It was like the house had been preserved as a memorial for those who wished to honor Elvis, and a chronicle for those who never had the opportunity to know about him.
I had always thought of Elvis like any other modern “celebrity.” I knew he was raised poor in Tupelo, MS, but I didn’t know that he pledged to provide his parents with a better life when he got older. As he approached super-stardom, and after he purchase Graceland, he made good on his promise. His parents moved into Graceland with him, along with his grandmother. His parents lived on the first floor.
The first floor seemed so much like a HOME, rather than some eccentric spectacle. You could imagine a family living there, with a child or two running around. It was so peaceful and… normal. The Wife said made her feel nostalgic; reminding her of her grandparents’ home when she was growing up. I didn’t immediately feel that way, but in hindsight, I don’t think that’s an inaccurate description.
We went to the basement, which was more what I expected from “the king.” One room was outfitted with three TVs after Elvis heard that President Eisenhower was able to watch all three network broadcasts at the same time. This was probably the most interesting room on the tour for me.
Then we went back upstairs to see the jungle room. This is widely regarded as the most interesting room in the house by most, but it didn’t quite do it for me. I took several pictures, but it was so dark, none of them came out except a goofy picture of me taking a picture of myself in a mirror.
Then we headed through the back yard to the office Elvis had built for his father, Vernon, who essentially functioned as his manager. He also had two administrative assistants (secretaries at the time).
We crossed the back yard again to check out the trophy room, where Elvis’ awards were kept. Up to this point, the tour had been interesting, and really not what I expected, but this is where it really began to go from, “how quaint,” to “holy crap, this guy was incredible!” Look at this hallway.
This is only one half of the hall. The other side of the hall was just as decorated and impressive. Elvis held, effectively, every significant musical record during his life. The tour alleged he has sold over 1 Billion records worldwide. 1 Billion. Burgers is one things for McDonald’s. There’s a good chance in a year, I’m going to buy 5-10 burgers from McDonald’s. But there’s no way I’m going to buy 5-10 Elvis records in a year. Even if I WERE a fan, I might buy 1? 1 Billion worldwide. That’s incredible.
From the trophy hall, we walked into an area that held costumes from his acting career.
These are the kinds of outfits I always imagined Elvis wearing. Yet, when you hear the interviews about his life, and you see the house, they somehow seem appropriate for him; and not outlandish. He performed live in the early part of his career, along with being drafted and serving in the military. He met his wife, Pricilla, while serving. Then he moved to films. He performed in 31 films in 13 years. Do the math. That’s almost 2.5 movies per year, for 13 years! During this time, he really didn’t perform live.
It also had a section about the charity he provided. Aside from providing for his family, he frequently paid off debts or purchased homes for those in need. One section had a large picture frame, filled with cashed checks given as charity to people around him.
It was here that I really began to see him as a whole person. Here he was, this huge, mega-star, and yet he was a personal philanthropist, prominent American, and wonderful son. He didn’t invent rock and roll, but he made it relevant to so many strata of society. He appealed to the poor, because of his roots growing up. He appealed young people because of his sex appeal. He appealed to older audiences because of his wholesome family values. And his attitude and personality fueled the juggernaut that was his career, making him otherwise unstoppable in international markets. I liked him because he seemed so genuine. I had always imagined him as being a huge personality, which was really just an act. Graceland, though, showed that he really WAS the person on stage; a huge presence, and indeed, a bit eccentric.
Then we headed out to the racquetball court. Yes, he had a racquetball court built on the property. Today, though, its basically the trophy annex, because the one building wasn’t big enough.
This is also where the tour showed his “Aloha from Hawaii” performance. Brought to the world “via satellite,” the performance was seen by over 1.5 Billion people worldwide, and more Americans than the moon landing. 1.5 Billion people! Today, 30 years later, that’s still 5 times the entire population of the United States. He was so beloved by the world. I have tried to come up with a modern-day comparison, but haven’t been able to, yet. Maybe Princess Diana?
As we left the trophy annex (my term, not theirs), we passed the pasture where there’s still horses kept on the property.
Then we made our way to the gravesite. Once again, not what I expected. I assumed that there were hordes of people that simply sat and mourned his loss, day in and day out. It was quiet and somber, which I expected. I didn’t expect it to be quite so touching, though. He was laid to rest along with his parents and grandmother. There was also a marker memorializing his brother, who is buried in Mississippi.
At the base of the grave marker, you’ll notice the lightning bolt, with the initials “TCB”. If you look back to the “3 TV room,” you’ll notice the same lightning bolt on the wall, along with the TCB. It stood for “Taking Care of Business in a Flash,” which was Elvis’ motto. Otherwise, though, it was a life-size grave for a larger than life personality.
The only thing that stood out as being particularly flashy was the eternal flame, located at the head of the grave marker. As we rounded the corner to catch the shuttle back to the parking lot, we noticed this sign. We thought it was pretty cool.
It was a pretty quiet ride back to parking lot. I was amazed at how much of a global impact Elvis had. I hadn’t seen any protesters demanding to know the truth about Elvis’ death. I hadn’t seen anyone sobbing over his death. I had just seen people, remembering someone that had a tremendous impact, like a president or an astronaut.
We made the obligatory stop by the gift shop, where I got a shooter glass (I try to get a shooter glass anywhere I go), and the Wife picked up an Elvis Pez dispenser.
It was a wonderful experience, and one that I would recommend to anyone heading through Memphis. If you are an Elvis fan, you’ll love remembering him. If you’re not an Elvis fan, you’ll enjoy learning about him.
Long live the King.