“I’m going to Graceland, Graceland
I’m going to Graceland
Poor boys and pilgrims with families
And we’re going to Graceland.”
— Paul Simon, 1986.
As part of Spring Break last month, I decided to meet my visiting English mum in Memphis, a musical mecca of sorts as well as being very influential in the history of U.S. Civil Rights over the years.
My main impetus was to visit Graceland, the former home of Elvis Presley and declared National Historic Landmark. Interestingly, it’s also the second-most visited house in the U.S., after the White House (current inhabitant notwithstanding) with more than 650,000 visitors each year.
The city is also quite central to the places from where each of us were traveling, so there were multiple reasons for going there. Mostly, though, if I am honest, I wanted to see the Elvis stuff. I’m not this huge Elvis SuperFan or anything, but I did grow up as a kid seeing his movies and hearing his songs on the radio. The only Elvis I could see in my mind was him in his later days when he was a tad overweight and wearing his white rhinestone jumpsuit get-up so I was very interested in learning more details.
We started off with the mansion tour (the Graceland place), and although filled with visitors, it wasn’t too busy or cramped and visitors are kept moving for most of the time. (You can hang out if you’d like, but most people tended to keep moving once they’d got enough.)
Curiously, the actual home is very modest considering that Elvis was one of the biggest rock n roll stars on the planet, but the more I learned about him, the more I realized that this modesty wasn’t all that surprising for the man.
(And compared with the overkill commercial consumption of celebrities (and certain politicians) of today, it’s all rather understated. His mum was in charge of the interior decorations which I think was just sweet, btw.)
The general feel of the place is that of a shrine more than a museum. So many of the people who toured while we were there were almost holy in their approach to seeing this house, and most people tended to whisper their comments to each other, similar as one does in other rarified environments.
I thought that this home was especially meaningful when I learned how the early years of Elvis were impacted by poverty and other social ills. For Elvis to live in such a house must have seemed like a dream to them all at times.
Once we’d been through the mansion and had had enough there, we went across the road (via shuttle) and landed in the large lot that houses the rest of Elvis’ things and Elvis memorabilia (all of which are included in the admission price). It’s all really very well done, and although not cheap, it’s thoroughly worth the rather spendy ticket price to see this side of Elvis.
Also, on this side of the street are the food and drink places with loads of Elvis-titled dishes etc. (The food place was called Gladys, in tribute to his mum whose cooking Elvis loved…Yes. You could have a fried sandwich just like Elvis liked.) Lots of yummy young-Elvis pics to look at as well. 😉
(I think what helped to make this Elvis visit such a good experience was having done my homework prior to arrival, so I was at least familiar with some of his life.)
Highly recommend doing that. I think prepping for a travel trip like this one by reading ahead is like seeing the difference between normal TV and HD. You suddenly see all these details that you didn’t know were there all the time.
Memphis, of course, is home to more than just Elvis. Other places related to the industry include Staxx Records and the small but very influential Sun Studio where loads of musicians have recorded their music. Both Sun Studios and Staxx are quite a way from Graceland, but not crazy far. Just take an Uber and it’ll work out. It worked out about $12/one way. (Energy-wise, we were both done after doing Graceland, so we went back to the hotel for a snooze and something to eat. zzzzz. 🙂
(Part Two of this Memphis trip report to come in a day or two….)
Here’s the title I read to prep for the trip: Elvis Presley, Reluctant Rebel: His Life and Our Times – Glen Jeannsome, David Luhrssen and Dan Sokolovic (2011).