Elvis' home not lonesome for visitors
By MICHAEL SCHUMAN / Special to the Journal Sentinel
Posted: July 14, 2007
Memphis, Tenn. - It was 30 years ago Aug. 16 that Elvis Presley was found
dead at Graceland, his Memphis home. But in those 30 years, the King has
remained as big as ever, having reached the status of American icon.
Graceland Mansion is on Elvis Presley's 14-acre estate in Memphis. Presley,
who died Aug. 16, 1977, at age 42, bought the property in 1957.
Many people under 40 have no idea that Elvis was on rock 'n' roll's cutting
edge in the 1950s.
For much of the 1960s until his death, he was upstaged by the Beatles, The
Who and the Rolling Stones.
While other groups were providing the soundtrack to student activism, Elvis
was churning out forgettable movies such as "Spinout" and "Harum Scarum."
But he still had a core following that never wavered and has attracted new
fans as well.
It perhaps is noteworthy that two products from those very same 1960s, The
Who and Neil Young, have both written and recorded Elvis tribute songs.
Bono, U2's lead singer, made a pilgrimage to Graceland, and "Viva Las Vegas"
has become an anthem to the adult playground where veteran stars like Elton
John, Chicago and Dr. John perform regularly.
Some say it was his premature death at age 42 in 1977 that turned him into a
legend, but more likely the legend grew from his magnetism and the way he
could sell a song with style and swagger.
Whether it be the rawness of "Jailhouse Rock," the passion of "Burning Love"
or the, well, tenderness of "Love Me Tender," Presley's music portfolio is
today as classic as that of other American music royalty such as Frank
Sinatra and Judy Garland.
That enduring appeal might explain the 600,000 to 700,000 people who visit
Graceland every year, as well as explain that the Graceland experience has
expanded well beyond Elvis's mansion tour into a full-day experience filled
with supplementary galleries and museums.
Photos of Elvis and his parents, Gladys and Vernon, are displayed in one of
the rooms at Graceland.
The number of visitors spikes during Elvis Week, held each year during the
week surrounding the date he died. This year's dates are Aug. 11-19.
All nationalities and all ages - Americans and Europeans, blue hairs and
long hairs - come here. And they still leave graffiti on the brick walls
guarding the mansion as they have since the 1950s.
Elvis stories have become folklore.
He shot a color TV as adult contemporary singer Robert Goulet was performing
on the screen. Why? Was it at the peak of one of Elvis' notorious mood
"Nobody really knows," says Graceland spokesman Kevin Kern. "When our
archives department put the TV on display for the first time and secured the
glass for exhibiting, they actually found the bullet inside the TV."
Today the fractured television is displayed in the "Elvis After Dark"
exhibit, which opened in March 2006 across the street from the mansion.
Elvis said early in his career: "The world is more alive at night. It's like
God ain't lookin'."
Says Kern: "Elvis was a night owl. He recorded many of his hit songs during
late-night recording sessions, and some of his most memorable performances
were late at night in Vegas."
He also hung around with friends at night, hosting parties or partaking in
G-rated fun such as playing games of Monopoly.
His personal game board illustrated with Marvin Gardens and Park Place is on
view in "Elvis After Dark."
So is a blowup of a black and white news photo of a 1970s Presley, donning a
red leather jacket and offering assistance at the scene of an auto accident
in the wee hours of a Memphis morning. The jacket is displayed in front of
As much as Elvis loved the night, he also savored anything with a motor and
The Elvis Presley Automobile Museum preserves his cars in automotive
His famous 1955 pink Cadillac is parked in front of a tableau of Graceland
The last car he would drive, a black 1973 Stutz Blackhawk, sits under a
forest of lights reflecting on the car's roof and hood with Christmas tree
The pink 1960 Willys jeep with a fringed candy-striped roof was used by
Elvis' security staff, a fact that drew laughs from my teenage daughters who
pictured a burly security guard driving an overgrown Barbie car.
Visitors can plunk themselves in authentic 1957 Chevrolet seats to watch
clips from some of Presley's 31 movies in a mockup of a period drive-in
Presley's other favored means of transportation were his jets, the "Lisa
Marie," named after his daughter, and the smaller "Hound Dog Two."
In a video presentation screened on the "Lisa Marie," one hears stories
about airborne Elvis, including one occasion when he had his pilot stop in
Colorado so little Lisa Marie could see snow for the first time.
The "Sincerely Elvis" introduces visitors to Presley's private side and is
home to changing galleries.
But the entrée in this six-course Graceland feast is the mansion itself.
A recorded audio tour replaced live human guides in the late 1990s, and the
kitchen and Elvis' parents' bedroom were added to the tour around the same
The guides were dropped in part because of the volume of people, Kern says,
but also because the audio tour better tells the story.
Mansion visitors seem to most remember offbeat chambers like the TV room and
billiards room, both located on the home's basement level and reached via a
Over 350 yards of hot paisley fabric on the walls and ceilings, along with
Tiffany lamps, decorate the billiards room.
The blue and yellow television room boasts three TV sets lined up side by
side so Elvis could watch three football games simultaneously.
The famed jungle room is on the main level and is seen near the tour's
conclusion. Elvis never referred to this den by that name. The media did,
and the name stuck.
The ordinary den was transformed into the extraordinary jungle room in the
1970s when one day Elvis entered a Memphis store and within a half hour
purchased every piece of furniture that reminded him of Hawaii.
That included: a sofa and chairs covered in faux fur; solid green carpeting
for the floor, walls and ceiling; an easy chair with its arms carved in the
shapes of wooden snakes; and an artificial waterfall that often flooded
Graceland's outbuildings today have names like the Hall of Gold and the
They are filled with miles and miles of gold records; furniture from
Graceland and his Los Angeles homes (including baby Lisa Marie's crib and
dresser); books on subjects from philosophy to sports; and the costumes and
jewelry he wore on stage.
In one case, side by side, are a Hebrew chai and a Christian cross. Elvis
wore both. "Why miss heaven on a technicality?
" Elvis was known to ask with
The exit is through Meditation Gardens, the resting places for Elvis, his
parents, his grandmother and his twin brother, Jesse, who died at birth.
photo / Michael Schuman
Graceland's Meditation Gardens is the resting place for Elvis, his parents,
his grandmother and his twin brother, who died at birth.
It's a fairly small part of the Graceland picture. But it's the place where
thousands of visitors pay their respects and leave bouquets and banners.
Kern notes that Graceland's draw reaches far beyond Presley die-hards.
"Elvis was a pop icon and his home is now a national historic landmark. And
his home is a time capsule for the era he lived in," he says. "You don't
have to be an Elvis fan to enjoy it. You can enjoy it if you're interested
in '60s and '70s pop culture, or if you're a car aficionado."
source: journal sentinel online
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