Sunday, 27 January 2008


Exec summary if you don't want to scroll through all the waffle:

- it's surprisingly small

- it's extremely sanitised

- it's still quite fun and interesting, even for non-Elvis-fans like me

- The best bit is the house itself - the planes/cars/suits/etc can be safely left off your list of things to see, unless you're a plane/car/tacky-suit nut.

So Rod and I shelled out USD32 each and spent last Saturday at Graceland in Memphis. It's one of those things you've just got to do (once). Here's a tiny selection from the photos I took and some accompanying waffle. Please note all facts are taken from my sieve-like memory and not checked, so are probably a bit wrong.

First up, the actual "Graceland" mansion. It's across the road (the Elvis Presley Memorial Highway) from the rest of the tourist stuff, which is a nice touch.

Elvis didn't have it built: it was built in the 30s by some business guy, and named after his daughter. Elvis was only about 22 when he bought it.

The first thing that struck me was the size. I was expecting a huge mansion with imposing columns and so on. In reality, you can see larger houses with more impressive entrances on many suburban streets in Memphis. Even the rooms inside are normal-size, with normal-height ceilings and so on. Maybe this is more a statement on the expansion of "normal house" size over the decades though. I don't mean to say it's a small house: it's two storeys and has a basement too, and there are (smallish) columns outside and a (one-car-wide) sweeping driveway. It's quite a bit bigger than my apartment, anyway :0).

The grounds are smaller than they were in Elvis's time, but there are still a few fields with some horses and a gardeny area. I saw a squirrel; first one since I've been here. I imagine most of them are hibernating (it was below freezing the whole day). It would have been very peaceful here in the 70s, provided you kept the fans away.

Thus, into the house. We were bussed across from the tourist-stuff side, and issued audio guides with headphones, thus neatly cutting off conversation with our fellow tourists, and firmly instructed not to take flash photographs, necessitating a few minutes of technological confusion while everyone worked out how to turn their flashes off.

We only got to see the ground floor and the basement. The top floor, containing the bedrooms and bathrooms, has apparently been maintained in 1977-style, but it's off limits. We didn't get to see the loo Elvis died on, or even his bed.

The living room, a marvel of 1970s tack in cream and blue, with stained glass and so on. My Nana would love this room.

Then the room I was particularly interested in, the Jungle Room. Kind of a disappointment: I wanted decadence, I wanted louche style and extravagance, I got tiki-carved wooden furniture, green shag carpet and a big teddy bear. A jungle as imagined by a six year old. Quite a nifty waterfall though.

There was a bit more of the decadence I was hoping for in the basement display, including this beauty:

The bad-boy edge was taken off by its positioning between his and Priscilla's wedding attire and Lisa Marie's crib and toys.

There were at least a hundred white jumpsuits in cases around the place, illustrating the journey from simple, very skinny outfits early in his career through to glittering, widely belted, bejewelled suits in the later years.

Speaking of the later years: Elvis got really fat and sweaty in the late 70s, but you'd never know it from a tour of Graceland. This shot in a video tucked away in one of the back rooms was the only hint I could find that he had ever been less than lithe. Also, no mention of how he died. It's as if God took him up because he was just too good for this world.

And when that happened, those left behind created this gravesite, and left, and still leave, garlands and wreaths and posies and clippy koalas and little notes and big posters:

Elvis's planes

In keeping with the "they did things smaller in the 70s" theme, here's his plane. Every two-bit CEO over here probably has a bigger company Lear now, but at least the seatbelt buckles are plated in gold on this one :-). It probably looks cooler without the plastic condom-ing every surface. Here's a pic of me outside the plane, to prove I didn't just grab these photos off the web. And the other two shots are specifically for my Dad, who will probably look up the tail number immediately and may also be able to tell me what's up with the weird thing on the engine's rear end.

Elvis's cars

There were a couple of dozen of them, and I do have photos of them all, but only this one shows that deep down, he really did have style:

It was a day of glitter and gold records, and a lingering sense that we could never have such a big star again:

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