Truly, one of the places I have always been most excited about wanting to visit is the home of the King of Rock and Roll, Elvis Presley.
Graceland is a huge tourist attraction and is actually on the list of National Historic Landmarks. Because of other constraints, my trip to Graceland was a short trip. We drove up there on a Wednesday morning and back on a Thursday afternoon. It’s about a 9 hour drive from Houston to Graceland. We got there Wednesday evening and checked into The Heartbreak Hotel. You have to stay there if you visit! No trip to Graceland is complete without it.
Just as in the song, “…the desk clerks dressed in black.” I suggest you make your reservations through the official Graceland website – they often offer good package deals if you book a room and your tickets to the mansion and museum together. Should you wish to splurge, the hotel has a few especially decorated Elvis themed suites. The hotel is virtually across the street from the Graceland complex, so you won’t have to worry about finding additional parking. Once in the hotel you’ll hear the XM Radio channel 18 playing. That’s the all Elvis station and it broadcasts from Graceland. Turn on a TV and you’ll see one of Elvis’ 31 movies playing.
There is a shuttle from The Heartbreak Hotel to Beale Street. Beale St. is the heart of old Memphis. It is on this street that you will find the old Sun Records where Elvis recorded his first record (That’s all right). The street also has some of the best restaurants, bars, and jazz clubs. THE place to go for Memphis barbecue is Rendezvous. The restaurant was started by Charlie Vergos in 1948 and has thus hosted Elvis and anyone else that came to Memphis. If you try their ribs, and you must, you will likely be taking advantage of their quick shipping options, once you return home. After filling up on ribs, head on over to B.B. King’s Blues Club or one of the many others, and enjoy some authentic Memphis blues. If the smoke starts to get to you, there are horse and buggy carts that will give you a ride around historic Memphis.
The next morning we made sure to be out before the crowds to get some good pictures of the gates to Graceland, sans other tourists. Across Elvis Presley Blvd. from Graceland is the tour complex that includes museums, stores, restaurants, and theaters. Amongst the museums are a collection of some of Elvis’ cars and his private plane, a Convair 880 christened the Lisa Marie. Elvis had the same team that outfitted Air Force One refurbish his plane. It even has a queen sized bed with goldplated seatbelt handles.
The house is not as large as one might imagine. There is a special feeling once one enters the house. The decor is exactly as it was when Elvis lived there. In reality it doesn’t look as goofy as it sounds. The jungle room, for example, looks pretty comfortable. Except for the cordons preventing tourists from sitting on the furniture, one could believe that Elvis was on tour and could come walking in with his entourage, at any minute. The tour does not go upstairs. That is still considered private and sometimes used by the family.
After working through the house and the office where Elvis’ father, Vernon, worked, there is the “trophy rooms”. There is the racquetball court that is floor to ceiling gold and platinum records. There are glass cases with famous Elvis costumes, such as the black leather from the 68 Special, the boxing robe from Kid Galahad, and a paisley shirt that looks almost exactly like a Robert Graham shirt that I own. There is also a large frame containing a sample of the checks Elvis wrote to local Memphis charities, in one month.
At the end of the tour is the garden. After stepping outside of the house I looked out at the open field and saw Elvis’ horses.
The view I had reminded me of footage I had scene in an Elvis documentary of him riding in the yard. We then walked around to the meditation garden that includes the gravesites of Elvis and his parents. As crowded as it was, there was respectful silence here. Fresh flowers, from around the world, arrive here daily.
We returned to the main complex for lunch. At the 50s style diner they serve some of the recipes that Elvis was known to enjoy, including the infamous fried peanut butter and banana sandwich. It is a damn fine sandwich. We then toured the car museum, which is a car lover’s dream and houses many cars, including an authentic pink Cadillac.
As I mentioned, earlier, we were on a schedule so we had to be on the road in the afternoon. That meant we did not get to make a sidetrip to Tupelo. Tupelo, about an hour and a half from Memphis, is the birthplace of Elvis Presley. The shack that Elvis’ father built and in which Elvis was born is still there and there is a self-guided driving tour to point out Elvis landmarks in the town.
Elvis absolutely loved Christmas. At Christmas, Graceland is fully decorated for the season. I would love to return and see that.
My girlfriend actually visited Graceland a few months before I did. She was returning, with her father, from a reunion in West Virginia. Although she likes Elvis’ music, she had never really thought of herself as a fan and had never thought of going to Graceland – they just happened to be passing through and figured, why not. When she got home and described the trip, it was obvious that Graceland had had an impact on her. It is a special place. Everyone should go, at least once.
UPDATE: In December, 2009, I visited Graceland for the second time and got to see how it looks at Christmas. Click here to see a few of those pictures. During that trip we also made it to Tupelo to see the house in which Elvis was born. Click here to read about that visit.