All About 'Graceland':

everything you ever wanted to know about Elvis' Memphis mansion

Graceland, before Elvis: Farm filled with family memories: Ruth Cobb is one of the few people outside Elvis Presley's family to visit the upstairs of Graceland.

It was before it opened as a tourist attraction, and Cobb, who lived there before Elvis, soon learned her old upstairs bedroom had been turned into a music room.Cobb visited in 1967 at the invitation of Elvis' grandmother, and later when the Presley family planned to turn the home into a tourist attraction. It reminded Cobb of her own music career and left her slightly quizzical about a few decorating changes.

"We did not have a jungle room growing up," she says. There was also no fabric on the ceiling of the billiard room in her day. "We didn't have a billiard room," she says.

Other distinctive touches added during Elvis' ownership of Graceland drew little attention from Cobb, but there was one: "Elvis didn't like the chandelier we had in the dining room. It came from New Orleans. He put up some garish thing."As part of this week's observations of Elvis' birthday, Graceland is celebrating its 70th anniversary, and mementos of its early years are part of a new tour.

Cobb, 82, and her husband, retired lawyer Charles Cobb, 86, married in 1948. She had grown up at Graceland as an only child. When she married Charles Cobb, they remained at Graceland with her parents at first while Ruth toured the country as part of a professional harp ensemble. She would later become harpist for the Memphis Symphony Orchestra from 1953 to 1973.Her father, Dr. Thomas Moore, was a prominent surgeon and urologist. Her mother, Ruth Brown Moore, was a volunteer who enjoyed club work and became president of the Tennessee Association of Garden Clubs.They built Graceland in 1939, naming it for Ruth's great aunt, Grace Toof, who had left the farm to Ruth's grandmother. The grandmother divided her 520-acre farm into three parts, leaving it to her three children. Two of them sold their shares to Ruth's father.

The house on 20 acres began as what Ruth Cobb calls "just a comfortable country home." It would become as familiar to America as Tara, Scarlett O'Hara's home in "Gone With the Wind," and it would rival Monticello, Mount Vernon and other once-private homes among the biggest tourist attractions in the country.

There, Ruth's father taught her to shoot well enough that she once downed three geese with a single shot. He also taught her to fish in a 25-acre manmade lake behind the house. But her first love was music. Ruth played the piano, but she loved the harp, studying, then touring with one of the world's leading harpists, Carlos Salzedo.Her favorite music was classical, but Ruth says she liked all music from country to Elvis' music.

"I wasn't really crazy about his music, but my mother marveled at his hymns," she says. When her mother decided the property was more than she wanted to keep up, she asked Ruth and Charles if they would like to stay.

"We just didn't have time to take care of a big house," says Charles. "It cost $1,000 a month to keep it up. The yard alone was like trying to take care of a golf course. We had a yard man who worked two to three days a week.

"When the property was put up for sale, Ruth said there were three potential buyers -- Sears Roebuck Co.; a private party who wanted to turn it into an exclusive restaurant, and Elvis. By then, most of the surrounding land had been sold to developers for a subdivision, and the lake behind the house had been drained.

Ruth says a church, Graceland Christian Church, wanted to buy 5 acres on the northwest corner of the property. Sears and the restaurant interests did not want to split the 5 acres off for the church, but Elvis said he would be glad to have a church next door, she says. That helped seal the deal. Elvis bought the property for $102,000 in 1957.

When the church next door, Graceland Christian Church, eventually decided to move, the Presley family bought back the land and turned the church into the headquarters of Elvis Presley Enterprises.

Ruth and Charles built their own home in Coro Lake and later moved to Central Gardens before retiring to Trezevant Manor.Charles met Elvis during the closing on the sale of Graceland, but Ruth never met him. She has since returned to Graceland as a tourist with her grandchildren. "I thoroughly enjoyed it, but it didn't feel like home," she says. (News, Source: Michael Lollar, Commercial Appeal Online, 8 Jan 2009)

Life at Graceland before Elvis, narrated by former resident Ruth Moore Cobb. Watch the video

and

More about Graceland - read EIN's Spotlight article


All About 'Graceland': everything you ever wanted to know about Elvis' Memphis mansion

by Nigel Patterson, July 2004

3764 Elvis Presley Boulevard (formerly known as South Bellevue Road/Boulevard), or Graceland as it is more widely referred to, sits atop a hill in the suburb of Whitehaven, Memphis on U.S. Highway 51. It is around 8 miles south of downtown Memphis and the grounds stretch across 13.8 acres.

Whitehaven was originally an unicorporated part of Memphis. It was later annexed by the city of Memphis.

Quote: "Graceland looked like the country place that showcased Lana Turner in the 1959 tearjerker, Imitation of Life", (Professor) Karal Ann Marling in Graceland: Going Home With Elvis.

The Graceland property was originally established as a 500 acre farm during the American Civil War (1861-1865) by publisher S.E. Toof (owner of the Memphis Daily Appeal). Toof named the property after (depending on your source) either his daughter, Grace Toof or an auntor niece named Grace (perhaps all).

The present mansion (actually a Southern colonial mini-mansion) known as Graceland was built 1939 by Dr. Thomas and Ruth Moore. Mrs Moore was the niece of Grace Toof. The property was later sold by the couple's daughter, Ruth Marie, herself to later become a celebrated harpist with the Memphis Symphony, to (another) musician, Elvis Aaron Presley. (Today, it is the property of Lisa Marie Presley under the terms of Elvis' will).

When Elvis bought Graceland in March 1957 for just under US$102,500 it was being used by the Graceland Christian Church for prayer services. Elvis was fortunate to get Graceland as it had already been sold to the YMCA for US$35,000 when he saw it. By upping the price significantly Elvis finally obtained his "home".

The purchase was funded by a combination of $10,000 cash deposit, trade of the Presley home on Audoban Drive for $55,000 and mortgage of $37,500.

Quote: "Elvis' house has balls." Michael St. Gerard, actor who played Elvis in 'Elvis" on ABC

The two-story mansion is constructed of Tishomingo or tan Tennessee limestone and the number of rooms it houses has varied between eighteen or twenty-three, including five to eight bedrooms and up to eight bathrooms. Corinthian columns form the entrance portico.

Elvis painted the mansion blue and gold, which glows at night. The painting was undertaken by C.W.Nichols. It turned out Nichols was not a member of the local painter's union, and Graceland was picketed by Painter's Local #49. Renovations over the years have seen Graceland grow from 10,266 square feet to 17,552 square feet. While Elvis liked redecorating, his parents added their own touches:a vegetable garden and a chicken coop.

Elvis and his parents called Graceland home from 1957 for the remainder of their lifetimes. Also resident at Graceland was Elvis' maternal grandmother, Minnie Mae Presley, who outlived her son, daughter-in-law and grandson, passing away on May 8, 1980 at the age of 86. Vernon's sister, Delta, also lived at Graceland for a number of years.

The front room features a white marble fireplace and Louis XIV furniture. After buying Graceland, Elvis added several rooms including a trophy room and racquetball court. In addition, Elvis erected a pink Alabama fieldstone wall around the property and also the famous wrought-iron, guitar gates at a cost of $3,052. The stone wall around Graceland is periodically cleaned with a pressurized water system so that fresh graffiti can be left by visiting fans.

The trophy room was originally used by Elvis and the Memphis Mafia to race slot cars. It would later become a tribute to Elvis' incredible international success, showcasing his countless gold and platinum awards, other awards and a selection of his spectacular clothing. The Jungle Room features an indoor waterfall and houses three air conditioners that were used by Elvis to keep the room at a less than tropical temperature.

Did you know?: When Gladys Presley died in 1958 Elvis hesitated to replace a windowpane accidentally broken by his mother shortly before her death.

While Elvis loved redecorating and changing things, he was reluctant to change things that reminded him of his mother. Along with Elvis, Gladys and Vernon Presley, Minnie Mae is buried in the Meditation Garden at Graceland. The Meditation Garden also features a grave marker in memory of Elvis' still-born twin brother, Jesse Garon. The Meditation Garden was built by Elvis in the mid-sixties as a place for contemplation. The bodies of Elvis and Gladys were moved from Forest Hill Cemetery following security threats. At one stage a group of men tried to steal Elvis' coffin from the Cemetery. The bodies were reinterred in the Meditation Garden on 2 October, 1977.

The Garden's centerpiece is a circular twelve-foot fountain pool with five single jets of water and a larger one in the middle all lit by colored floodlights. The curved wall behind the fountain is made of Mexican brick with four stained-glass windows.

Near the Meditation Garden is Elvis' kidney-shaped swimming pool. When Elvis lived at Graceland it went through several color changes. In 1977, at the time of Elvs' death, the mansion was in its spectacular red period. This was the result of Elvis' last redecorating spurt in 1974. There were red carpets, red walls, red drapes, red was everywhere.

After Elvis' death, Graceland was valued at US$350,000. Because of an annual upkeep bill estimated at $500,000, the mansion was opened to tourists by Priscilla Presley on June 7, 1982.

Touring Graceland: The mansion tour starts as fans board a shuttle bus to take them across the highway and up the windy driveway to the front steps of Graceland. As part of the tour, visitors can view those parts of Graceland Elvis would have shown his friends: the music room, the dining room, the TV room (with its three television sets along one wall), the billiard room, the kitchen and the jungle room where Elvis recorded parts of the Moody Blue and From Elvis Presley Boulevard albums.

Upstairs at Graceland: For various logistical reasons the upstairs part of Graceland is not open to the public. There is a symbolic significance in this. Even when Elvis was alive, the upstairs area was regarded as The King's inner sanctum, with the stairs representing the dividing line between it and the rest of the world.

The upstairs area consists of Elvis' bedroom, bathroom, wardrobe room, and office, as well as Lisa Marie's white and gold bedroom and bathroom and a bath and dressing area used by Elvis' girlfriends.

Did you know?: There was a glimpse of the upstairs area of Graceland in the biographical film, This Is Elvis.

Visitors use headsets to listen to the guided tour (originally the tour used actual tour guides, but these were discontinued as part of a cost-cutting exercise in the late 1990s). Apart from touring the mansion, visitors can also visit the:

  • Elvis Presley Automobile Museum;
  • Sincerely Elvis Museum;
  • take the Lisa Marie and Hound Dog II tour; and
  • watch the film Walk A Mile In My Shoes.

The mansion is visited by up to 700,000 visitors each year, and as a home in the US is second only in visitor numbers to the White House.

Tickets to attractions are sold either individually or as packages.

Current ticket prices are available by visiting the official Elvis web site at: www.elvis.com

Did you know?: The barn in the fields behind Graceland was used to house Elvis' horses until his horse buying spree got too much and he had to buy the Circle G Ranch. Descendants of some of the original horses still lived in the fields behind Graceland in the late 1990s.

Elvis Tribute Week: The city of Memphis comes alive each August as the annual Elvis Tribute Week is celebrated. Tens of thousands of fans and the media from around the world converge on Memphis to visit Graceland and enjoy the 50 or so organised events based around the King of Rock and Roll.

Famous Visitors to Graceland: The official Elvis web site includes details of the long list of famous people who have visited Graceland over the years. The mansion is celebrated in the Paul Simon recording of the same name, and two noteworthy visitors over the years have been Bruce Springsteen and Jerry Lee Lewis.

Springsteen has the distinction of, before he became a star, jumping the wall at Graceland to see The King, only to be ejected by the security guards. As it turned out Elvis wasn't home at the time. Jerry Lee Lewis' visit is more notorious. "The Killer", one of the wild men of rock & roll turned up drunk, firing a gun, and demanding to see Elvis. Again, Elvis was not home at the time.

Graceland Visitor Center: across from Graceland are various retail outlets owned by EPE that market officially licensed Elvis items. (Close-by, at 3727 Elvis Presley Boulevard is the Graceland Crossing Shopping Center consisting of Elvis shops not affiliated with EPE).

Sources:

  • All Shook Up Elvis Day-By-Day 1954-1977, Lee Cotten
  • "E" is for Elvis, Caroline Latham & Jeannie Sakol
  • Elvis and You The Pleasures to Being An Elvis Fan, Lara Victoria Levin & John O'Hara
  • Elvis His Life from A-Z, Fred L. Worth & Steve D. Tamerius
  • Graceland: Going Home With Elvis, Karal Ann Marling
  • Last Train To Memphis The Rise of Elvis Presley, Peter Guralnick
  • Memphis Elvis-Style, Cindy Haxen & Mike Freeman
  • Roadside Elvis The Complete State-By-State Travel Guide for Elvis Presley Fans, Jack Barth
  • The Complete Idiot's Guide to Elvis, Frank Coffey

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