Elvis: Still the king

Graceland is America's top rock 'n' roll destination

The Charlotte Observer

Last year 600,000 people made the trek to Graceland, the mansion on the south side of Memphis where Elvis lived, died and is buried.

Graceland drew more visitors than the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, making it the top rock destination in the U.S.

It's part holy grail and part cash register. When you visit, keep these things in mind:

1. This ain't Beverly Hills.The mansion is nice, but in our time of McMansions, Graceland isn't palatial.

Elvis bought it in 1957 for a bit over $100,000 and moved his folks there from a ranch home he'd bought the year before. The 22-year-old's star was clearly on the rise.

The same couldn't be said for the area around Graceland. When suburban flight hit Memphis in the '60s, wealthy residents built mansions east of downtown. Bellevue Boulevard – the road renamed Elvis Presley Boulevard in 1971 – was and is a pre-interstate highway to Mississippi, a mishmash of stores and car lots.

2. Bring your wallet. You're asked for cash before you get out of your pink Cadillac.

The mansion is on the west side of the street; parking, the visitor center and shops in Elvis Presley Plaza are on the other.

Besides souvenir shops, the official plaza has restaurants (nothing fancy), a theater and two museums. Graceland tickets are sold in the visitor center, as are – surprise! – souvenirs.

Pay just to see the mansion if your interest is only slight ($22); shell out more for the Sincerely Elvis museum, Elvis Presley Automobile Museum and tour the King's two jets.

3. This world is not flat. Graceland was built as a private residence, not a walk-through shrine. The route through the place is maze-like. Graceland is not well-suited for visitors in wheelchairs or with strollers.

If you can't handle stairs, forget about touring the jets at the plaza. Access is walk-up only.

4. Think smaller. Graceland was built more than 60 years ago, when rooms tended to be smaller. At 17-by-24 feet, the dining room is large but not grand. Authorized photos, like those in the "Official Guidebook," make the chambers appear larger than they are and do not show the ropes visitors must peer over.

5. The lived-in look.The dining and living room you see first are formal; much more interesting are the places where The King relaxed.

The kitchen cabinets have see-through fronts; they're filled with everyday glassware and such. And they're still used every December, when ex-wife Priscilla, daughter Lisa Marie and Presley relatives in Memphis gather for an after-tour-hours holiday party.

Downstairs holds the pool room and TV room – well-appointed according to the owner's tastes and times, but a gussied-up basement nonetheless.

The pool room's ceilings and walls are covered in close to 400 yards of bright print fabric. The TV room next to it is an eye-popper in Prussian blue and bright yellow; built into the far wall are three TV sets – an idea Elvis seized upon after he heard President Lyndon Johnson liked to watch all three network newscasts simultaneously. (Because he recorded on the RCA label, Elvis typically received RCA electronics for free.) There's a small bar, though Elvis was said to not care much for spirits.

Kitchen at Graceland:

6. Not as tacky as they say.  So how over-the-top is the décor? You hear a lot about the faux wilderness look of the Jungle Room – his first-floor den. Its look comes from his fondness for Hawaii, where "décor" is always laid on with a trowel. At one point, the room held a pull-down screen for a projector TV.

Elvis bought the furnishings in Memphis, in a single 30-minute shopping spree in 1974. The room wasn't called the Jungle Room; he simply knew it as "the den."

Keep in mind that many rooms have been locked by curators into the colors and furnishings of the 1970s, an era that many professional decorators would just as soon not discuss.

Elvis was not well-educated and, despite his wealth, not a recreational traveler. Much of what you see reflects his working-class sensibilities and time spent in glitz-crazy Las Vegas.

But consider this: He could've knocked out walls or built onto the old Georgian colonial house, but he had enough sense to largely leave it alone.

7. Best indoor places to linger. The tour route leaves the house to take in dad Vernon Presley's garage-like office and the trophy building – a rec room that holds display-case exhibits – plaques, clothes (including Army fatigues and stage jumpsuits) and curios.

The attendant there tells you Elvis spent part of the morning of Aug. 16, 1977, at the spinet piano in the lounge, playing/singing for girlfriend Ginger Alden and Presley cousin Billy Smith and his wife.

That concert for four, which included singing "Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain" and "Unchained Melody" was his last gig: Elvis went to bed and was found dead hours later.

8. Do see the Lisa Marie.The Lisa Marie, at the plaza, is intriguing – a Convair 880 jet that may be the only walk-through attraction that curators haven't fiddled with. As his "flying Graceland," the Lisa Marie is his lifestyle in miniature.


DVD: Colonel Parker
Film: Elvis Killed My Brother
CD: Elvis A Legendary Performer Vol. 7
DVD: A Tribute To The King (Scotty Moore)
Book/CD: Memphis Recording Service
Book: Elvis and the Memphis Mafia
CD: All Shook Up (reggae tribute)
Book: The King's Ransom
Book: The King (graphic novel)
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'Hitstory' CD EIN in depth review
CD: Hitstory (USA edition)
FTD: Summer Festival
DVD: Born To Rock
Book: Elvis Aaron Presley: A Candle In The Wind
FTD: Too Much Monkey Business
Book: Desert Storm
Book: Elvis On Stamps
FTD: Elvis Today
Book: Behind The Image Vol. 2
Book: Elvis on Screen
DVD: Elvis & Me
FTD: All Shook Up
FTD: Tickle Me
CD: Elvis by the Presleys
Book: Warman's Elvis Field Guide
DVD: Why Elvis?
Book: Dewey and Elvis
CD: Black & White Elvis
CD: All Shook Up
Book: Rough Guide to Elvis
FTD: Rockin' Across Texas
FTD: Elvis Is Back
TV Special: "Elvis by the Presleys"
Book: Elvis by the Presleys
CD: Tom Green
CD: A Legendary Performer Vol. 5
FTD: Big Boss Man
FTD: Flashback
FTD: Paradise, Hawaiian Style
CD: I Remember His First Love Song
FTD: Polk Salad Annie
DVD review: Aloha From Hawaii
CD: Elvis At Sun
DVD: Comeback Special
FTD: Elvis Recorded Live In Memphis
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