As a child Elvis promised his mother Gladys that: “One day, I’ll make money. I’ll be somebody and I’ll take care of you. And Momma, you’ll never have to work on your hands and knees again. I’ll buy you the prettiest house in Memphis…”
And in the spring of 1957, Elvis kept that promise when he bought the Graceland mansion (pictured below) and grounds for $102,500.00.
Beautifully landscaped with gigantic shade trees, the front yard is massive and even cluttered with lights, news vans and reporters (the press was literally EVERYWHERE you looked at Graceland during Elvis Week) the house is stunning to behold.
Stepping off the shuttle bus — after a brief drive across Elvis Presley Blvd. and through the mythic front gates — we made our way to the door where a Guide helped everyone sync up their audio tour headsets then ushered us inside the House Of Presley. And let me tell ya, stepping across the threshold was the first of many goosebump-inducing moments that day.
Inside on your immediate right is the white-on-white Peacock Room, the site of Elvis’ funeral on August 16th, 1977 and for years before that, the most used room in the house.
Priscilla has called this room (pictured above) a truly lived-in living room. This is where the family opened their Christmas presents each year and the room’s epic, fifteen-foot couch was just as likely to play host to one of Priscilla’s many great danes as it was to welcome a visiting celebrity guest.
On the far left wall there is a super cool photo/portrait of Elvis that his father, Vernon, had hanging from a thumbtack in his office for years. When the home was opened to tours in 1982, Vernon had the portrait (seen below) framed and hung where it is now, directly across the room from a similar portrait of Vernon.
A very sweet, familial touch to an insanely decadent living room.
Across the hall from the Peacock Room is a surprisingly intimate formal dining room, the highlight of which is a really cool, totally-70′s portrait of Priscilla and Lisa Marie that unfortunately did not photograph well minus a flash. Sorry.
Moving past the ornate, roped-off staircase — the entire second story of the mansion is off limits to tours and literally hidden behind dark curtains at the top of the stairs — you move down the hall towards the bedroom of Gladys and Vernon Presley, Elvis’ parents.
The room is nice, but the coolest thing here are the dresses hanging behind the glass in Gladys’ closet (not pictured, but just this side of the bed in the photo below). Though they are probably very expensive, the gowns are just as plain and dowdy as the simple house dresses she wore while raising her young son in near poverty in Tupelo, Mississippi. A sweet, humble woman to the end, no wonder Elvis loved her so much!
Exiting the Presley’s bedroom, you head down a mirrored staircase (with mirrors on the walls AND the ceiling!) towards the crazy cool yellow and blue TV Room.
Inside, a gigantic record player/sound system and retractable movie screen are built into the ceiling above a row of three TV’s on the far wall. With each TV dedicated to one of the major networks at the time — an idea Elvis copied from President Nixon — Elvis could watch all three channels at once and often did.
Today the TV’s play a constant loop of early-70′s shows and even with the sound muted, the visuals give the room a really groovy, vintage vibe.
There is also a long bar crafted of bright yellow leather and another doozy of a couch with a freaky Michael Jackson-ish monkey statue (pictured above) on the coffee table. And though you can’t really see it in my picture, Elvis’ moto “TCB” (Takin’ Care of Business) is emblazoned above a shiny lightening bolt on the wall behind the couch. Very cool!
Exiting the TV room and the small, closet space that doubled as the 35 mm projection room, you enter the funkiest room on the entire tour, the Pool Room.
Inspired by a swatch of swinging, psychedelic fabric Elvis and then-girlfriend, Linda Thompson fell in love with at a designer’s showroom in 1974, the room is covered floor to ceiling with over 350 yards of gathered fabric.
So over the top that it’s almost beautiful, the room gives the word “busy” a whole new meaning. Seriously, I don’t know how you could concentrate on a game of pool with all that crazy-ass fabric screaming at you…yikes!
Heading back upstairs you enter the room that for many fans is the heart and soul of Graceland…the world-famous Jungle Room.
Unfortunately, the room was kind of in a shambles as a CNN production crew was moving the furniture around for a Larry King interview with Priscilla scheduled for later that afternoon. So though we didn’t see the room at its postcard-ready finest, we did get to hear the gentle cascading of the built-in waterfall and run our fingers through the thick green shag carpeting on the walls and floor, so for us, that was enough!
Exiting the Jungle Room you enter a small museum dedicated to Elvis’ favorite hobbies, with some books from his library, his Kung Fu outfits and a huge case of really cool monogrammed firearms. On the opposite wall is the crib where Lisa Marie slept and the actual Las Vegas wedding attire of both Elvis and Priscilla. Really cool stuff!
You then head outside past Lisa Marie’s childhood swing set — which many people have said contains a bullet hole from an errant shot by a trigger-happy Elvis — into Vernon’s office and the smokehouse, before following a garden path into the first of several award rooms.
Filled with various awards (his three Grammys, gold records, etc.) won by the King over his long career, the room is amazing. Sadly, many of my flash-free pictures here didn’t turn out, but one of our favorite things in these rooms was the leather suit Elvis wore on his groundbreaking “’68 Comeback Special” on NBC.
So, though my photo was too crap-tastic to share with y’all here, please enjoy this stock photo I found online. Cool, huh?
After exploring the awards room to the fullest (we spent at LEAST an hour in there!) you enter the Racquetball Room, which contains a piano where Elvis sang “Unchained Melody” with some friends on the morning of his death.
Now, I am not kidding you, at this point in the audio tour, EVERYONE in that room was weeping. It was that dramatic! And when Priscilla’s quivering voice comes on and tells you where she was when she got the news that Elvis had died (in case you were wondering, she was watching a movie in a theatre in L.A.) there was not a dry eye in the house. It was insanely moving!
Then, the booming music of Richard Strauss’ “Also Sprach Zarathrustra” (more commonly known as the theme to the film “2001: A Space Odyssey “) fills your ears as you enter the towering former racquetball court.
Dripping with gold albums, awards and sparkly sequined jumpsuits, the room literally takes your breath away. And with tears running down our faces, we soaked up the magic one last time before heading outside for the final stop on the audio tour…the Meditation Garden.
Located in a very peaceful u-shaped garden area just behind the swimming pool, the Meditation Garden is home to the graves of Elvis’ mother, Gladys; Elvis’ stillborn twin brother, Jessie Garon Presley; his father, Vernon; aunt Minnie Mae Presley, and yes, the King himself, Elvis Aaron Presley.
Here again the tears flow freely. I think my Mom said it best when she said that after touring his house for so long and getting such a sense of who Elvis was as an artist and a man, you kind of forgot till the end of the tour that he is actually dead. And yeah, you kind of do. So when you reach that grave site, man alive, what a blow!
And we weren’t even that big of fans before. Judging from the sniffling of the crowd, the true blue fans (even grown men!) were really dying inside. I know it sounds crazy, but it really was that emotional.
So, after waiting in line to pay our respects as his grave, we made our way through the sea of flowers and cards (which you’ll see more of in the next post) back towards the waiting shuttle bus and the ancillary museums beyond.
For though our tour of the mansion and grounds was complete, there was still much to do and see at Graceland!