By Debi Lander
Elvis Presley shook the music industry in the 1950s. He rattled and rolled his way to the top, becoming the King of Rock’ n’ Roll. I, however, was battling traffic on a drive toward Memphis. I kept hearing the lyrics of Paul Simon’s Graceland playing in my head, “I’m going to Graceland, Graceland — in Memphis, Tennessee, I’m going to Graceland.
Elvis was born in 1935, in a two-room house built by his father, grandfather and uncle in Tupelo, Miss. They were very poor. When Elvis turned 13, his father moved the family to Memphis in hopes of finding a better job. But Elvis had bigger dreams — he intended to become a legend. Armed with his guitar and influenced by images of Captain Marvel in a comic book, Elvis envisioned himself with the character’s signature lightning bolt, hairdo and cape.
Determined, in 1954, Elvis recorded a record at Sun Studios, and by 1955, RCA signed him to a contract. In 1957, the young star, at age 22, bought himself a house and named it Graceland.
I have to admit, I’m wasn’t a huge Elvis fan, but I was curious. I’d heard about the 2017, $45 million, 200,000-square foot state-of-the-art Elvis Entertainment complex. I just had to go.
Graceland Tours: Your budget might get rattled when you see the admission prices, but based on a full day’s entertainment, just roll with it. Graceland is the most visited house in America after the White House. About 21 million have toured Graceland since it opened to the public in 1982.
Tours inside Graceland are self-guided. You’re loaned an iPad and headset and listen as John Stamos and Lisa Marie (Elvis’ daughter) provide information. Enter through the front door flanked by stained glass panels. Then, walk around and see the living room, music room, parents’ bedroom, dining room and kitchen before going downstairs. There, you stop in a billiard room and the TV room with three televisions, so Elvis could watch the major networks just like President Johnson. Proceed back up to view the Jungle Room, really just an animal-themed space. The public cannot visit the bedrooms on the second floor.
Tourists exit the rear and meander through Vernon’s office (Elvis’ Dad), who handled his business affairs, the stables, handball court, trophy room and memorabilia. The path leads to the graves of Elvis and his parents. By the time you get there, you have embraced the King. Before the renovation project, that was the end of the tour, but trust me, your experience is far from over.
By today’s standards Graceland remains a lovely but dated home, indeed not an extravagant showplace. That’s the thing, you do feel welcomed into Graceland as if Elvis himself were inviting you to sit and talk. It’s his humbler side, and seeing it for yourself is memorable.
The Elvis Entertainment Complex: A bus shuttles you back to tour the Presley Motors Automobile Museum, The Entertainer Career Museum, and Elvis Discovery Exhibits. You’ll discover the flamboyant entertainer who loved being on-stage. The cars displayed include, among others, the legendary pink Cadillac, a 1975 Ferrari, 1973 Stutz Blackhawk and cars from his movies.
The costume displays show off the star’s incomparable outfits, nearly all in the jumpsuit style with large jeweled belts and capes. Often a video of the concert plays in the background.
The space devoted to gold and platinum records and numerous awards truly overwhelms. The walls soar high overhead laden with glittering records and memorabilia. If you have energy left, you can tour Elvis’ two airplanes. Plan on a full day to take everything in.
The collection strengthens the validity of Elvis’ successful career and his impact on the entertainment community. Elvis lived the rags to riches American dream. I’m glad I went.
Visit www.bylandersea.com to read more of local travel writer Debi Lander’s stories and travel tips.
Photos courtesy Debi Lander