In 1957, a young man in Memphis, Tennessee wrote a check for the then astronomical sum of $100,000 and purchased a southern mansion and grounds, giving his impoverished parents the home of their own that they never could afford, and for himself, fulfilling a dream of success that he pursued with zeal despite setbacks and negativity from all sides.
While this in itself would be an incredible American success story if this young man were a banker or lawyer, it is even more so when one realizes that the young man, Elvis Presley, would soon become one of the most famous entertainers the world would ever know and that this home, named Graceland by the owners from whom Presley purchased the home, would become an icon in popular culture and after Presley’s untimely death at Graceland in 1977, a shrine of sorts (Honey).
In this paper, we will take a journey to what many have called “The Rock & Roll White House” (Duffett) and try to gain a better understanding of what Graceland represents in the fabric of the American experience. A Journey to Graceland Memphis, and Graceland more specifically, are among the most visited places in America, attracting millions of visitors from around the world (Honey).
Like the millions of other people who visit Graceland every year, the first observation that one will make when they approach Graceland is that it is, in the current day, much like a golden crown placed upon rat, for the surrounding neighborhood is no longer the beautiful Memphis suburb that it was when Elvis lived within the high stone walls of his beloved Graceland, but rather, it is now, with the exception of the property in the vicinity of Graceland which is owned by Elvis Presley Enterprises, a collection of weed strewn parking lots, shady looking motels and the like.
It is a far cry from the average looking neighborhood which became a city in miniature in August of 1977, when nearly 100,000 people from around the world converged on Graceland in an attempt to say goodbye to Elvis, whose massive bronze coffin lie in state at home just days after he passed away so unexpectedly (Stow).
As the long, winding driveway takes you up to the main house, you can’t help but imagine the countless times that Elvis took this same route- first as a bright-eyed superstar at the peak of his powers, then as a man returning from military service, and sadly, years later, as an exhausted and frustrated artist whose fame made him a virtual prisoner within the walls of his own home.
In this context, however, it is better to think of the life and career of Elvis as a triumph that was cut short by the stark realities of mortal people whose own power turns on them, rather than as one who came up short in some way. “Welcome to My World” This is not just the title of one of Elvis’ many hit songs (Duffett) over his decades of success and mega stardom, this is also the sentiment that you cannot help but feel when finally reaching the top of the driveway and standing before the massive front door of the white columned mansion which has been the focal point for so many people for so many years.
Despite looking down upon what is today a busy highway, still called Elvis Presley Boulevard, the noise from the thousands of cars which pass in front of the home cannot be heard from this vantage point. This only adds to the surreal experience of being moments from entering what was once the sanctuary of an entertainment icon, and for some in the modern day, some sort of a demigod, whom they worship as one would do at a church or temple (Duffett). Inside Graceland
Entering the home, the many personal items of Elvis’, including furniture, family photographs and other odds and ends can be seen throughout the first floor, which features a dining room, kitchen, music room, living room, a bedroom formerly occupied by his mother, and of course, the famous Jungle Room, complete with working waterfall, giant tiki wood table, and thick shag carpeting- on the ceiling! Clearly absent from the tour of the house is the second floor, which holds Elvis’ ultimate refuge, his bedroom, private bath and dressing room- where he passed away in 1977.
Out of respect for his memory, the official word is that this portion of the home will never be open to the public (Honey). From the first floor, however, it is part of the standard tour to be able to descend into the basement of the home which features an old-fashioned soda fountain and bar, large couches and chairs, and a jukebox which still contains Elvis’ extensive record collection, and is connected to speakers which allow for the music to be heard in every room of the house.
The basement also boasts a full-sized pool table and an apartment, which many of Elvis’ friends called home at different times over the 20 years that Elvis lived here. As the tour continues, something is clear by looking around- the other people on the tour are in a festive mood as they observe the house and grounds- reliving memories and trying to take in every detail of what can best be described as an extreme overload of the senses.
The mood takes a decided downturn when one reaches Meditation Garden, the spot where Elvis, his parents and paternal grandmother are laid to rest (Stow) and rightly so, as Graceland, if nothing else, should be viewed as a tangible monument to a man who gave so much to others but in the final analysis was unable to be protect himself from forces that swept him up and took him away from the world that adored him.
Other highlights of the main Graceland mansion tour are the outer buildings which hold literal tons of fan mail, awards and accolades that Elvis received over the years, a carport that once held a fleet of luxury vehicles (which are housed across the street from Graceland in a separate museum at the current time) and a beautiful meadow which still houses horses which are descendants of the original horses that Elvis owned.
Overall, what the tour serves to do for the visitor is to entertain, fascinate and delight- by visiting Graceland, individuals can feel a special connection to an entertainer who is in fact the highest earning deceased celebrity in America (Stow). Conclusion This paper has taken a journey to Graceland, a mansion in Memphis, Tennessee which was made a living thing by a man who no longer lives there but rests there eternally in body and spirit.
Lastly, there is one more point to be remembered from the example of Graceland- anything is possible in the human experience.
Duffett, Mark. “False Faith or False Comparison? A Critique of the Religious Interpretation of Elvis Fan Culture. ” Popular Music and Society 26. 4 (2003): 513+. Honey, Jean N. “The Evolution of Elvis Presley Enterprises. ” Business Perspectives Summer 2002: 9+. Stow, Simon. “The Colonel: The Extraordinary Story of Colonel Tom Parker and Elvis Presley. ” Popular Music and Society 28. 4 (2005): 570+.