Graceland in Memphis : Elvis Presley’s house

Channeling Elvis at Graceland not hard to do

by Judy Elliott

Visiting friends in Memphis, a Graceland visit is proposed. I vote “No.” It is a perfect day, blue sky, a cool breeze, a bonus for that neck of the woods.

Standing in line to tour Elvis Presley’s house sounds, well, “touristy.” Still, I am pegged as a woman, loathe to leave her comfort zone, (true), so I agree to go.

Elvis Presley bought Graceland, the house and acreage, after his first records were hits. He paid $100,000 for the property. As a small town boy from Tupelo, Miss., the green, rolling fields around the house surely caught his eye, promising him time away from autograph seekers wanting a piece of him.

The house once claimed status as a farm, but today, it is part of Memphis’ urban sprawl with traffic and strip malls. No tourist would risk crossing the busy road from parking lot to Graceland. Lines of vans shuttle visitors through oft-photographed wrought-iron gates marked by music notes, ferrying fans to blazer-wearing guides, who move crowds through Elvis Presley’s home.

Everyone is unfailingly polite. When a bum foot I was nursing kept me from managing steep, narrow basement steps, a Graceland staffer offered to “escort” me to the next stop on the tour, a smoke house, Elvis Presley’s father’s former office.

I asked about the make-up of the sight-seers. Young? Old? Many come from Europe and Canada as devoted fans, emotional over Elvis’ burial spot, the guide said.

Still, it is hard to channel Elvis’ spirit at Graceland. The rooms are 1960s-formal with white carpet and a marble insert in a floor. The one space with a down-home feel is the kitchen, paneled in pine, an iron skillet still on the stove.

And it is easy to picture Elvis there, eating a peanut butter and banana sandwich, talking to his daddy about Graceland’s horses.

Otherwise, the house is movie set material with a smoked glass-topped dining room table and a jungle room with fake fur covered furniture and a waterfall. The story is Elvis saw the heavily-carved sofa and chairs in the window of a Memphis furniture store and bought the lot.

If there is doubt about talent paying for Graceland, an outbuilding with walls covered in gold records quiets the foolishness. That much time spent in a recording studio demanded a serious performer.

The memorabilia is also a reminder of Elvis Presley’s altruistic side. He made a lot of money and gave a lot away, pink Cadillacs, too, but also checks written to charities.

Word on the street is a big conglomerate has bought the Graceland brand, the two airplanes Elvis owned, the stable of cars, the house and its land, gift shops and tour concessions.

The Heartbreak Hotel, nearby, will still welcome travelers too tired to move on and the RV camping area will stay open for business.

A voice, heard through earphones, led us through the Graceland visit, reminding a listener Elvis Presley’s first love was gospel music. The hip-thrusting gyrations were only crowd pleasers.

Yet, the excess finally got to him. How would his story have ended if he had embraced the heartache of country music, the comfort of hymns and shed the trappings of Hollywood?

But don’t we do this? Turn back the years, re-imagine the choices of talented lives, gobbled up by promoters and hangers-on? Was the real Elvis Presley an innocent or money making machine, worn out in the end?

Our one souvenir from Graceland’s gift shop is a refrigerator magnet, picturing Elvis in a white form-fitting suit, covered with rhinestones. His arms are flung out and he looks like an overdressed rock and roll angel.

And that’s how the faithful remember him, not as a man whose personal demons claimed him, but as a talented boy whose smoky voice wrapped a song around those in love and those looking for it.

He was, he is, “The King,” his image frozen in time. At Graceland, Elvis never grows old.


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