Elvis Week — the annual August ten-day celebration in Memphis of the all things ‘The King’ — culminates in a candlelight vigil at Graceland.
The event sees fans carry candles up the sweeping drive to Elvis’ beloved home and back down again. The vigil always takes place on August 15 and can last well into the following day — the anniversary of Presley’s death in 1977. No-one is turned away. The vigil continues until every fan has been accommodated.
I’ve been waiting years for the opportunity to pay my respects at the home of Elvis — entertainer; rock singer; movie star; popular culture icon. When the home first opened to the public in 1982, Priscilla Presley was reportedly unsure whether there would be much interest. To date, 19 million visitors have crossed the welcome mat at the antebellum-style front door — and following a recent visit, I can now proudly be counted in that number.
Here are some tips for planning a visit to Graceland, and what you can expect.
There are a number of ticket packages and guided tour options available at the mansion. Opening hours vary, but generally it’s 9am to 4pm and quite often Graceland is closed on Tuesdays. Check the website. You will need at least three to four hours to really make the most of your visit, depending on how much of an Elvis fan you are. There’s a lot of memorabilia to see.
Step inside Graceland and the first thing that strikes you is how modest the home is in terms of size. There’s a single staircase leading to the upper floor (off-limits to visitors). To the left is a formal dining room that leads through to the kitchen and den; to the right the formal lounge room and a small music room holding Elvis’ baby grand piano. Given the number of visitors to Graceland each year, it must get a little crowded on occasion. Today though, we pretty much have the place to ourselves.
The decoration is absolutely, gloriously, unashamedly kitsch. It’s fabulous. From the sky blue and gold trimmed curtains to the box-like 70s TV in the corner — there’s a visual feast to savour everywhere you look. The stained-glass peacock windows are especially retro. Think Austin Powers, and then some.
There’s a naivety and innocence about the house. It’s almost make-believe in a way. For example, the staircase bannister is made of wood and painted gold. It’s not expensive brass or marble as you might expect in a Hollywood star’s mansion, but somehow Elvis and Graceland manage to carry it off.
The Brady Bunch-style kitchen is orange and brown with carpet on the floor (this is the 70s remember). A narrow staircase leads down to the basement, which, perhaps due to the limited space upstairs, was converted into two additional entertainment rooms — the psychedelic TV room (an absolute highlight of the house) and the fabric-festooned pool room which has to be seen to be believed.
Exiting the house from the back, you can visit the racquet ball court which has been converted into an exhibition space for the many gold records awarded to Elvis for album sales — most of them posthumously. A nine foot high solid glass statue presented by RCA occupies pride of place. It must weigh a ton. I’m guessing the staff at the mansion were thrilled the day that one was dropped off at the front door.
Further on is the kidney-shaped pool with its small diving board and the meditation garden where visitors can pay their respects at the graves of the Presley clan — Elvis, his mother Gladys, father Vernon and Grandmother Minnie Mae (who outlived them all). There’s also a plaque commemorating Presley’s stillborn twin brother — Jesse.
So what does Graceland say about Elvis? Everyone who visits will have a different answer. For me, this is a home Elvis clearly revelled in — gold-painted wooden banisters and all. I’m guessing the star would have been extremely proud of his pad and it was probably a source of great joy in the toughest of times. That’s what home is all about.
Do you have any tips for planning a visit to Graceland? We would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below.
Additional images: Bigstock
Adam Ford is editor of The Big Bus tour and travel guide and a travel TV presenter, writer, blogger and photographer. He has travelled extensively through Europe, Asia, North America, Africa and the Middle East. Adam worked as a travel consultant for a number of years with Flight Centre before taking up the opportunity to travel the world himself as host of the TV series Tour the World on Network Ten. He loves to experience everything a new destination has to offer and is equally at home in a five-star Palazzo in Pisa or a home-stay in Hanoi.