Daily Archives: August 15, 2007

Graceland: Part V

The sun setting over Graceland, we enjoyed the remarkably good Elvis “tribute artists” in the plaza — practically all of whom were non-native English speakers! — and mingled with the crowd of super cool Elvis look alikes. My favorites were the late-Elvis super fan couple pictured below.

Me and the Elvis Couple!

This dude was so devoted that he was braving the crowds and the heat (in costume!) while toting an oxygen tank!

Unfortunately, he disconnected from his tank for the picture, but he was really cool and when I asked his wife if she was hot in that plastic wig she had on, she answered: “Yeah, but it’s for the King.” Awesome!

Christine, Italian Elvis and bad-wig Elvis!

Christine loved the Chris-Isaak-ish Italian Elvis (pictured above) and then just before I snapped the pic, that old grizzled Elvis in the blue jumpsuit appeared. Wow, two Presleys for the price of one!

Snuggled up behind the girls in the next pic was the best singer of the bunch, another Italian Elvis who really rocked the tent!

The girls and the best singing Italian Elvis @ Graceland!

But I think our favorite guy there was the Indian Elvis (not pictured) who kept checking his hair in a mirror. Hilarious!

Despite the withering heat — Courtney and Mom tried to sit down on the curb and actually burned their butts! Seriously! — we were enjoying the Elvis parade in the plaza and then, before we knew it, 8:15pm was upon us. The candlelight vigil, arguably the defining moment of Elvis Week 2007, was about to begin outside the mansion!

An annual event for years, the candlelight vigil begins at nightfall, on the eve of the King’s death on August 16th, 1977, with the closing of Elvis Presley Blvd. to thru traffic. Almost instantly, the street floods with candle-toting fans who gather around the gates for a series of speeches by specially-selected members of Elvis’ many international fan clubs.

The candlelight vigil begins!

The speeches were surprisingly moving but the kicker was when they started playing actual Elvis songs over the deluxe speakers on the lawn. I’m not kidding you, not a dry eye on the boulevard!

Lighting our candles — generously supplied for free at little tables all up and down the block — we held them over our heads and began to sing along.

Honestly, you haven’t lived till you’ve heard 75,000 weeping, candle-toting Elvis fans singing along to “If I Can Dream”. Probably one of the coolest things any of us has ever experienced…really, profoundly beautiful!

Candlelight vigil @ Graceland!

So, holding our candles high, we sang along through “Love Me Tender” and “The Wonder Of You” before finally succumbing to the heat — not to mention the frenzied emotion! — and making our way back to the car.

The vigil continued throughout the night with the snaking line outside the gates making their way onto the property to pay their respects at Elvis’ grave. We didn’t stay for that, but the sight of all those flickering candles in the rearview mirror as we drove off was really something to behold.

A fitting end to a truly amazing day at Graceland. Thank you, Elvis!

Our last emotional pic @ Graceland!

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Graceland: Part IV

Now that we’d eaten that famous sandwich, toured the mansion, and mourned at the grave, we set off to see the rest of Graceland.

While all the museums were awesome in their own way, the highlights for us were the jumpsuits in the “Sincerely Elvis” museum, the “Elvis After Dark” museum and those insanely cool airplanes on the tarmac! Let’s start with the planes…

The “Lisa Marie” @ Graceland!

Located just beyond the main gates are not just one, but two of Elvis Presley’s airplanes: a smaller commuter jet with a swinging interior that would leave Austin Power’s lime green with envy, and the super luxe, converted Convair 880, the “Lisa Marie”.

Purchased from Delta Airlines in 1975, Elvis had the 96-passenger jet completely refurbished to the tune of $800,000.00. His renovations included a full conference room, two bedrooms and a 24 karat gold sink in the bathroom (pictured below).

Stock photo of the gold sink on the “Lisa Marie”!

But the coolest thing to us was what he actually used the plane for.

When Elvis learned that a young Lisa Marie had never seen snow, he famously packed her and his entire posse onto the plane and promptly flew to Denver, Colorado so his daughter could build a snowman. They landed, played in the snow for a few minutes, then hopped back on the plane and headed home to Memphis! Wow…thanks, dad!

Just beyond the planes on your left is another sprawling museum called “Sincerely Elvis”. This one is jammed with row upon row of the dazzling, jewel-encrusted jumpsuits that made the late-career Elvis so freaking awesome!

Cool Elvis jumpsuits @ Graceland!

There are literally hundreds of jumpsuits in this place (as well as in the other museums around the park) but pictured here are some of our favorites.

Elvis’ Aztec Calendar jumpsuit, Graceland!

Elvis’ Tiger jumpsuit, Graceland!

And finally, we come to the “Elvis After Dark” museum. This was the last Graceland museum we visited, and since it’s a little further away from the others — and our dogs were barking BIG TIME! — we almost didn’t make the hike out there. But thank God we did, because here was true Elvis-mania at it’s finest.

A notorious night owl, Elvis lived for the wee small hours (I hear ya, brother!) and this museum is dedicated to all the crazy stuff he and his posse would do “after dark” at Graceland — no prescription drug jokes please.

Housed here is Elvis’ extensive police badge collection, various games and music but best of all, an actual TV that Elvis shot out with a pistol in the mid-70’s (below). Kudos to Vernon and Minnie Mae for saving that thing! So, cool!

TV that Elvis shot out with a gun, Graceland!

But wait, it gets even cooler…

Not only is this museum home to the pimped-out velvet cape/suit that Elvis wore when he famously “dropped in” on President Richard Nixon on December 21, 1970…but in the next display case over is the actual plain gray suit that “Tricky Dick” wore that day as well! Whoa, who knew THIS would be at Graceland?

Nixon’s suit from his meeting with Elvis in

Needless to say, this museum was definitely worth the schlep out there, and the gift store outside the main entrance is probably one of the best at Graceland. We bought a cool, gold-plated Graceland Christmas ornament that I’m sure our ancestors will cherish.

Reconnecting with Mom and Courtney — who were chilling with beers and lemonade while we braved the last couple of museums — we scored some folding chairs in the plaza (actually more like a converted parking lot) and watched the Elvis impersonators sing while we waited with the ever-expanding crowd for the candlelight vigil to begin!


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Graceland: Part III

Since we lacked the foresight (or the space in the back of Mom’s car for that matter) to actually bring a cool homemade memorial wreath with us to Graceland, I begin this post with something I created after our visit.

Red Elvis #1

Featured above is my lovingly-rendered comic book-ized tribute to Elvis Week 2007. I call it RED ELVIS #1, and yes, I know I am a total nerd bird. All I can say in my defense is that perhaps once you experience the genuine outpouring of crazy fan love and devotion at Graceland for yourself, you’ll be moved to create some Elvis “art” of your own as well. Or…maybe not, who knows?

Flowers For Elvis #1

In any case, the rest of the pics here are of the actual arrangements, wreaths, cards and photo collages that fans from around the world sent to Graceland in honor of the King’s passing.

Imagine the shipping costs on some of these things…yikes.

Flowers For Elvis #2

The groundskeepers at Graceland (who are legion) said massive floral arrangements like these arrive every day of the week all year long.

Flowers For Elvis #3

Flowers For Elvis #5

Flowers For Elvis #4

Of course, the number of arrangements arriving increases dramatically during Elvis Week and around his birthday in January, but regardless of the time of year, whatever floral craziness arrives at the front gates is immediately put on display and tended to until it fades and/or dies. Pretty amazing, huh?

Flowers For Elvis #6

Flowers For Elvis #7

Anyway, hope you dig the pics, my favorite is the last one, the swinging crown with the golden guitars on it…so cool!

And hey, if any of you cats have some Elvis “art” you’d like to add to the gallery here, send it my way and I’ll slap it up on the virtual wall next to my boy, RED ELVIS #1.

Flowers For Elvis #7

Flowers For Elvis #8

Flowers For Elvis #9

Flowers For Elvis #11

Flowers For Elvis #12




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Graceland: Part II

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.

Graceland Mansion!

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.

The Peacock Room @ Graceland!

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.

Elvis portrait in Peacock Room, Graceland!

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!

Gladys & Vernon Presley’s bedroom, Graceland!

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.

The TV Room @ Graceland!

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.

Stock photo of the Pool Room @ Graceland!

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!

Stock photo of the Jungle Room @ Graceland!

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.

Lisa Marie’s bullet-hole ridden swing set! Cool!

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?

Elvis’ leather jumpsuit from the “‘68 Comeback Special”!

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.

The Raquetball Room @ Graceland!

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.

Original tombstone for Gladys Presley @ Graceland

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.

Elvis Presley’s grave @ Graceland!

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!


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Graceland: Part I

Before we left for our trip, we were warned by my brother Ryan — the only person we knew who had ever actually been there — to plan on spending a LOT of time at Graceland.

And man, he wasn’t kidding. One day wasn’t nearly enough!

Main Entrance to Graceland!

Everything we did at Graceland was so cool and fun that describing our experiences there could literally fill volumes, so in the interest of time, I’ll condense the visit down into small, bite-size chapters (hence the ominous “Part I” mentioned above) for your reading pleasure.

That said, let’s start at the beginning. We arrived at Graceland just after 1pm and were stunned by the totally rinky-dink infrastructure. The parking lot was tiny and not even remotely as organized as it could be — you know, “You are parked in Section H for ‘Hound Dog!'” like they used to do at Disneyland — I mean, even just numbered sections would be nice.

It was pretty much a hillbilly free for all, but somehow in the flood of cars surging through the gates, we found a sweet parking spot near the main entrance. Thank you, Elvis!

Graceland Parking Lot!

Armed with our cameras and Elvis fans (embossed with the slogan “#1 Fan”, they were Courtney and Christine’s saving grace since we couldn’t find matching t-shirts in our size range) we followed the scent of BBQ hamburgers towards the only restaurant around.

Which brings up another infrastructure problem, there is practically nowhere to eat at Graceland. Seriously, my inner Walt Disney was screaming to slap up a couple themed restaurants — you know, “Colonel Parker’s Chicken Shack”, “Priscilla’s Rib Hut”, etc. — but my dreams of modernizing the food court at Graceland would have to wait as we were absolutely starving!

The only place to eat @ Graceland!

Ducking into the only restaurant in the area, we were instantly overwhelmed by the crowd. The picture above does not do that joint justice…because, let me tell ya, that place was packed!

And with upwards of 50-to-70,000 people in attendance that day alone they actually ran out of food about ten minutes after we ordered. Yes, they literally ran out of food to sell. Insanity!

A couple of the surly waitresses locked the doors to keep the hungry throngs at bay, but I swear to God, I thought people were gonna riot.

The infamous fried Peanut Butter & Banana sandwich!

Lucky for us we had secured a safe haven (a row of four barstools at the back of the restaurant) so we were able to avoid the fireworks out front. And then, our lunch arrived!

Picture the most ordinary hamburger you’d find at any theme park and you have this place pegged. Nothing fancy, but here at this no name restaurant near the parking lot, with people banging on the doors out front, we experienced one of the true culinary highlights of our trip: Elvis’ late-night favorite, the legendary fried peanut butter and banana sandwich!

Pictured above with a side salad, though it usually comes with fries (!), this sandwich is so grease-tastic, you can almost hear yourself getting fatter as you eat it. And yes, that’s a compliment!

Elvis had the right idea, baby! This sandwich rocks!

The girls each had the obligatory bite, followed by the obligatory gag, but I thought it was pretty damn tasty…if not exactly marriage-worthy on my food scale, then surely worthy of a trip to the drive-in in my van.

My only complaint is that they used smooth peanut butter and mashed it together with the bananas. Chunky peanut butter and whole slices of banana would have been much better and way more rustic to boot.

Inside Elvis Presley’s favorite sandwich!

But hey, we were eating Elvis’ favorite fried food mere steps away from his final resting place…who were we to complain?

So, our bellies full, we checked in at the ticket booth (thankfully I had pre-ordered our tickets online weeks earlier, which allowed us to cut to the front of the reserved ticket line!) and joined the rabid fans waiting for the next Graceland shuttle bus.

Gigantic Graceland Ticket!

We purchased the mid-level Graceland Platinum Tour (a steal at $27.00 per person!) which includes an audio guided tour of the mansion and grounds along with a self-guided tour of Elvis’ two custom airplanes (yes, he had two!), Elvis’ automobile museum, the Sincerely Elvis Museum (mostly filled with his super cool jumpsuits!) and finally, the Elvis After Dark museum which I’ll tell you more about later.

Courtney, Christine & Mom in line @ Graceland!

And even though it was roasting outside — we later heard that the temperature peaked at 115 degrees that day! Yikes! — we were so excited to be waiting in line to see the home of the King, that the gentle Southern breeze generated by our matching Elvis fans was more than enough to keep us cool.

Courtney, Mom & Me in line @ Graceland!

Me & Christine in line @ Graceland!

Having finally reached the gates of Graceland, we were ready to step inside!

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