On our road trip from Florida to Chicago, my big sister and I decided to stop by Memphis, Tennessee to visit Elvis Presley’s Graceland. I had visited Tennessee before, both Nashville, which is an amazing city filled with music, fantastic restaurants, and night life and Chattanooga, which is well, sort of the opposite of Nashville (sorry, “Nooga”). I had, however, never had the fortune to travel to Memphis or Graceland before.
My big sister is sort an Elvis nut, I mean she’s the –knows all the words to all the songs in all his movies– kind of nut. Needless to say, she was pretty excited and I’ve got to admit, it was quite gratifying to see her have her moment in the land of “the king”. Everything in Graceland is some sort of attraction, by that I mean, nothing is free or organic, really. It’s a bit like Disney World – complete manufactured delight! Which, honestly is just fine with me, but if you are looking to hob knob with the locals, you will need to wander down the road a spell. Downtown Memphis is only 6 miles away.
Graceland consists of Elvis’ 14 acre estate, a car museum, and a strip where you can board his two private airplanes, one of which is even adorned with a gold plated bathroom sink. The main attraction is the mansion that was once the actual home of Elvis up until his death (yes, he died there). This 23 room, 17,000 square foot mansion quite is remarkable because it feels more like a museum than a home. While on the tour, I got the feeling that Elvis, the person, had created this home as a kind of homage to Elvis, the legend. In other words, it seemed as though he had filled his home with things that he imagined a legend should have as opposed to the things that he really enjoyed.
No argument from me, though. I adore a recreation room – his is called the jungle room – that’s decorated with a fur skinned sofa and green grass carpeted walls and ceiling. This legend was clearly no slouch when it came to extravagance. It’s a pity the home is so dark inside. I’m not sure if just the dark 70’s décor or if this darkness is a glimpse into his state of mind – we’ve all heard stories about his bouts of moodiness and reported drug use. Surprisingly or maybe unsurprisingly, it’s rather easy to visualize drugs being used here, Graceland is kind of a psychedelic trip of its own.
Graceland was a thrill ride, but after a long day of marveling over someone else’s things, my sister and I were ready to get back to our travels. It was an enlightening but, truthfully, a rather exhausting and somber trip. Perhaps it was the memorial garden replete with the graves where Elvis, both of his parents, and an aunt are buried on the estate. While I was standing at Elvis’ bronze headstone, a monarch butterfly happen to land there, as sort of a bittersweet reminder of how fragile and fleeting life can be. Perhaps the somber tone was also due to the unspoken heartbreak that rested within the visitors that day, people who had traveled from near and far to visit the home of their beloved idol.
There was this one particular fan (not my sister) who seemed to be following me. All throughout the car museum, the trophy room, the jungle room, the gravesite, she seemed to be right next to me. In her southern drawl, she kept repeating the same five words, “that man sure could sang”. As soon I’d round a corner and was sure that I had given her the slip, I’d get a few moments of peace and quiet before I’d hear, “that man sure could sang”. She really was like a broken record, both in her words and demeanor. I kept wondering does she think, that because of my age, that I don’t know that Elvis had a lovely singing voice? Hey Lady, I’ve watched YouTube and antennae TV, I’ve heard him sing!
But now that I’ve had some time to reflect on the essence of Graceland, I think that perhaps she was trying to convey to me less of what her opinion was about the quality of Elvis’ voice but more about how his music spoke to her. Maybe in this monumental home of the artist that meant so much to her, those five words were all she could muster.
I’m not sure that I have ever visited an attraction that holds a such personal affinity or significance for its visitors like this place does. For most of us, when we die, all of the possessions that are so important to us are sold or given away and eventually the memory of us begins to fade. The fans and loved ones who created Graceland were clearly determined to ensure that the memory of Elvis never fades. Everything is so well preserved that you almost feels as though he might walk into the room at any moment, ask you to have a seat and offer you a glass of sweet tea. It truly is a rare thing to experience. If you ever get the chance to visit Graceland, I highly recommend it.