No visit to Memphis is complete without a visit to Graceland, home of the late, great Elvis Presley. He purchased the property in 1957, early in his career, as home for his entire family, including his parents and grandmother. Originally the property was several miles out of town, but over the decades, the city of Memphis has enveloped it. After Elvis’ death, the mansion was opened to the public and has become the second most-visited home in the US (after the White House) with 650,000 visitors per year.
The Graceland “experience” has grown to include multiple exhibits including Elvis memorabilia, his cars and motorcycles, his military service, his family, and his impact on other artists. We opted for the full tour, including his two airplanes. Although it wasn’t too busy this cold November weekday, it’s clear that Graceland has crowd control down to a science. After purchasing our tickets, we were first ushered into a small theater for a 7 minute pre-show. Then we were provided headsets and a tour ipad, and shuffled off to a shuttle bus for the trip across the road to the mansion.
This past year, Jeff and I have visited some famous grand homes – Hearst Castle being one notable example. I guess I was expecting the Elvis mansion to be more …. impressive. Instead I found a reasonably-sized, family-oriented residence. Sure, Elvis added some living space over the years, such as the racquetball building/lounge. But the home itself was surprisingly modest and cozy, for an international superstar! It also was like stepping through a time portal back to the 70’s with its shag rugs, picture tube TVs and golden harvest colored refrigerator. As we were herded along the tour route, listening to our audio narration, we were given a history of Elvis’ career and family, and finally – his death. I had forgotten that he was so young when he passed, only 42. He had his difficulties in life, but you couldn’t argue that he was extremely hard-working, had tremendous charisma and had an enormous impact on the music scene of his day. As with all artists whose life was cut short, you have to wonder what he would have accomplished had he lived to a ripe old age.
After being shuttled back across the road, we browsed through the rest of the voluminous exhibits at the Graceland ticketing complex. I’m sure uber-fans love it all, but for us it got to be information overload after a while. The number of artifacts is almost staggering. However, it was fascinating to board Elvis’ airplane (the Lisa Marie). The 1959 Convair 880 jet is equipped with a plush bedroom, lounge area, wet bar, 4 TV’s and a conference table. The seat belt buckles and bathroom fixtures are even gold plated! It must have been really something, back in the day.
As was Elvis.