The King and I: Visiting Graceland
You can’t go to Memphis, Tennessee without visiting Graceland. Well, you can but you know once you return home you’re only going to be asked about it. So, when I recently went to the USA seeking out southern juke joints and barbecue I made sure Elvis’ home was on the agenda.
It was good timing as a new 200,000 square foot entertainment complex has recently been added, which houses new museums. My travelling partner who had visited Graceland before said previously all Elvis’ costumes and gold records had been on display in the house itself so the new complex gives them the space they deserve.
The famous Jungle Room
Graceland is a well-oiled machine with little room for wandering off to do your own thing. As you’re directed onto a bus that takes you to the Graceland Mansion where Elvis lived you have to have your photo taken. When I tried to avoid it – knowing in advance I didn’t want a photo with a fake Graceland image behind me – I was ordered back to have it done and given a ticket to retrieve it later. I was about to throw the ticket away but the frosty glare from the photographer stopped me.
After being bussed to Graceland’s entrance everyone is divided into groups and told to wait until their particular group can enter. However, after this you have the freedom to explore many of the rooms in your own time including Elvis’ favourite, the famous Jungle Room, with its Polynesian feel and green shaggy carpet.
Other areas of interest include Elvis’ father’s – Veron’s – office, the living room, kitchen and the Meditation Garden where Elvis and other family members are buried. I was surprised to see the gravesites free of graffiti and symbols of affection, which you often find at other famous graves – I’m thinking Jim Morrison in particular here.
Elvis Presley’s Memphis
After the mansion visit if you have the right ticket you can then catch the bus to the new complex – known as Elvis Presley’s Memphis. But before you’re allowed to enter you have to show your photo ticket and your photos are retrieved for you. You then have to walk past the sales people to enter the new complex and when I said I didn’t want to buy my photo – well, if looks could kill, this article would be ghost-written.
However, the complex is certainly a sight to behold. It’s the world’s largest and most comprehensive Elvis museum in the world and gives you a greater understanding of the King’s dreams, time in the army, and achievements. Here you can literally immerse yourself in the many items that defined Elvis’ life, including his amazing jumpsuits.
Within the complex there is also a separate Automobile Museum that displays just a few of Elvis’s favourite cars including his Pink Cadillac. But it’s the history that held my attention. I didn’t know that Elvis’ first guitar was a purchase he wasn’t overly keen on making. When he was 11 he and his mother went to the local hardware story where Elvis wanted to buy a rifle but his mother persuaded him to buy a guitar. Another example of how “mother knows best”.
After a visit to Graceland, if you have time, it’s also worth visiting the town of Tupelo, Mississippi where Elvis was born and where you can find the house he lived in with his parents. The guide we met at the house personally knew Elvis and his parents and kept us enthralled with stories of the young Elvis. He was a very polite young man, she said and that never changed.
If you’re visiting the southern states of the US it’s very difficult not to be confronted with Elvis exhibits and memorabilia. He was one of the most influential and celebrated musicians of the 20th Century and even now, 40 years after his death, he is revered and missed.
Images courtesy of Gayle Bryant