For years, I thought I might never see Graceland. And then I did and thought I’d never get home. The issue: a pandemic.
Girls’ trip 2020: Nashville and Memphis. Memphis only because I insisted that we see Graceland. I’ve wanted to see it for as long as I can remember. Granted, I’m not a huge Elvis fan, evidenced by the fact that I claimed my favorite Elvis song is “Suspicious Lies,” which is actually called Suspicious Minds, which makes a lot more sense. But Graceland is iconic Americana.
When we left for our trip there was news of coronavirus, but it wasn’t a big deal. Each day shit escalated quickly, and by Day 4 of the trip we thought we might not make it home due to flight cancellations and quarantines. Even the language had changed; coronavirus was now COVID-19 and a new term was created: social distancing. But we were already in Nashville, so we pressed on the 3 hours to Memphis.
And by the grace of God, Graceland was still open.
Elvis did not have Graceland custom built. He bought it when he was just 22 years old from Dr Thomas Moore, who built it in 1939 with his wife Ruth, naming it after her aunt Grace who gifted the couple with what was then a 500-acre plot of land.
In 1957, Elvis paid $100,000 for Graceland. His estate, including Graceland, is now valued at approxiately $100,000,000, but that number flutuates wildly. Elvis’s only daughter, Lisa Marie, is the sole heir.
Elvis was America’s sweetheart at the height of his career in the 1950s and ’60s, and he seemed like a nice enough guy, particularly to his parents and immediate family, whom he housed at Graceland until their deaths. But Elvis had a dark side. Drugs. Overeating. Cheating on women. And eventually dying of heart failure on the toilet upstairs at Graceland (which we did not get to see).
And Graceland is evidence of that fire, under one roof.
You enter Graceland through the foyer, which is not particularly grand. In fact, the entire house is surprisingly small for a “mansion” of such provenance, but in line with the Colonial Revivial archicture of the era. The upstairs is roped off where Elivis’s bedroom (and infamous bathroom) is. We were told that this is done out of respect. My friends and I wondered how many people got jobs at Graceland just to sneak up there because that’s what we would do.
The Living Room
Directly to the right is the living room. There’s a 15-foot custom sofa and a 10-foot coffee table that run the length of the room. The room has white shag carpeting with vacuum lines, which we noticed were evident in most rooms and, for some reason, found interesting.
Stained-glass peacocks flank the doorway to the den just beyond, which has a large TV cabinet and a white lacquer piano, where Elvis played for his guests.
The Dining Room
On the other side of the foyer is the dining room. The tour guide–the recorded voice of John Stamos* played on an iPad–explained that Lisa Marie and family still occasionally dine there on holidays. It’s set with Elvis and Priscilla’s wedding china.
*Superfan and electronic tour guide John Stamos named his Uncle Jesse character in Full House after Elvis’s twin, who died at birth, as an homage to Elvis.
Behind the dining room is the kitchen. Read this carefully: the kitchen is carpeted. Not with the same shag as in most of the other rooms (and with no visible vacuum lines), but with wild, casino-like print carpeting. We all had thoughts about cleanliness.
The appliances are behind museum-like plexiglass–which, of course, made us wonder and later discuss how Lisa Marie et al prepare food–but, back in the day, the kitchen was the heart of the house. It’s where all those peanut butter and banana sandwiches were prepared.
Postcard from the Graceland gift shop.
Note that this recipe requires an ENTIRE stick of butter.
The kitchen counterops are formica. The cabinets are dark wood. And the lighting is low. It’s not a large room. But I could imagine people hanging out there, smoking cigs and watching TV while food was cooking on the electric range.
The Jungle Room
Beyond the kitchen is The Jungle Room, a sort of magical tiki-inspired room filled with hand-carved furniture that reminded Elvis of his beloved Hawaii. The original avocado-color phone is still there, and you can almost see Elvis copping a squat on the dragon and faux fur couch to take a call from a studio exec.
OF COURSE THERE’S AN INDOOR WATERFALL! And you know that Marc Cohn song Walking in Memphis?** There’s a line that says, “There’s a pretty little thing [*yikes*] waiting for The King down in The Jungle Room.” I’m very sure there was. Many times.
**Walking in Memphis is a dad jam. A total ’90s banger. And one of my stepdad’s favorite songs. Let it rip while you read this blog post.
Just when we thought things couldn’t get weirder, we went downstairs. That’s where people had all the fun.
The TV Room
The yellow room was dubbed the TV room, as it had a whopping 3 very small TVs–probably a lot for the time–a yellow bar, a wraparound couch with white and yellow pillows, a mirrored ceiling, and Elvis’s TCB lightning bolt design painted on the back (yellow) wall.
TCB = Taking Care of Business…in a Flash!
The Game Room, AKA Fabric Row
Then you enter the pool and game room. It has fabric on all 4 walls AND the ceiling. How the designer did this is beyond me. It’s like being wrapped in a quilt–it’s all-encompassing. All I could think about is how dusty it must get.
Outside are the horse stables, the trophy room where Elvis and Priscilla had their wedding reception, the office, the racquetball court, the swimming pool, and the meditation garden–where Elvis, his parents, and his grandmother (the last surviving family member to live at Graceland) are buried.
It’s wild to reflect on such a tumultuous life, recognizing that Elvis was one of the most famous–if not THEE most famous–Rock ‘n’ Roll stars of all time.
And now I’ve seen Graceland and its mind-blowing decor, and made it home (barely) to tell the tale…from my house, which I may never leave again.
Self-quarantined in San Diego