The King's Castle

Text: Troy Hendrick • Photography: Troy Hendrick

A young couple living from job to job and paycheck to paycheck bore twin sons in Tupelo, Mississippi, on January 8, 1935. Gladys Love Smith Presley and Vernon Elvis Presley lived in a small, two-room house when the twins were born - the first died at birth, the second was named Elvis Aaron Presley.

In 1957, Elvis purchased what is now the most famous residence in the country, Graceland, for $ 100,000. The home, built in 1939 by Ruth Brown Moore and Dr. Thomas Moore, was part of an old, 500-acre farm, and they named the Colonial Revival-style mansion to honor an aunt called Grace. At that time, the property was located on the pastoral outskirts of Memphis, but the city essentially envelops Graceland in its urban setting today.

Elvis and his parents shared a very close relationship, and as a youngster he promised he would one day purchase the finest house in town for them. He made good on this promise with Graceland, and both of his parents lived in the mansion, sharing a downstairs bedroom that is on the tour. Other notable residents were wife Priscilla Presley, from 1967-1972, and their daughter Lisa Marie Presley, who spent her childhood roaming the home and grounds.

Entering this landmark is much more than taking a tour of the place that Elvis called home. Burning too brightly, he checked out too soon (in 1977), but many fans still feel his enduring presence at Graceland. Examples of his southern-boy style and playful ways are everywhere - from images of him riding down from the horse pasture to the gates to say hello to his ever-present fans, to the pictures of his go-carts and the motorized toys he and his buddies used to race around the property. Graceland remains the repository of Elvis's happiest moments, that cherished spot where he could kick back and be himself, surrounded by the people he loved.

Touring the main house is an immersion in the flashy style of the performer who made it cool to be flashy. Colorful and ornate draperies, stained glass, studded upholstery, and themes for each room bring Elvis's life as a performer right into his own home. Instead of it seeming self-indulgent or odd that he would select such a celebration of himself to decorate his living quarters, it lends credibility to his image. He did not apologize for himself with a modest private life - rather he accentuated the sincerity in his flamboyant style by decorating Graceland lavishly and indulgently. Elvis was Elvis. When he said "Thank you, thank you very much" to millions of people he was not repeating a catch-phrase coined by some promoter. Being inside Graceland creates the feeling that it all came naturally, that he probably said, "Thank you, thank you very much" in exactly the same easy manner whenever Lisa Marie passed him the butter at a family meal.

My favorite area of the house is the basement. The TV room is decorated in yellow and blue, with a mirrored ceiling. Three TVs are side by side in the wall because Elvis reportedly liked to watch all three nightly news broadcasts at one time. Near the entrance to the room is a bar fully upholstered in yellow leather, close to the poolroom where Elvis and his friends would lounge over drinks.

Coming back up from the basement, one enters The Jungle Room, a den where Elvis and his friends and family relaxed. Its moniker comes from the wild styling typical of the 60's and 70's. Ornately carved wood on the different pieces of furniture and a waterfall on the back wall lend the room a Polynesian feel. Most of the furniture is faux fur upholstery, and the carpet is a lime-green shag. Elvis had a projection screen TV in this room, but it has been stored to give visitors a better view. When Elvis performed or recorded at home, the Jungle Room was normally where it took place.

Several buildings on the grounds are also included on the tour. An office across the backyard adjoins a storage room that Elvis and his buddies once used for target shooting. Behind this structure is the horse pasture. A sidewalk through the backyard leads to the Racquetball Building, which now displays exhibits from the years of 1972 to 1975, as well as posthumous honors and awards received by the Elvis Presley Estate. The next stop is the meditation garden, where a small fountain bubbles near the graves of Elvis, his parents, and his paternal grandmother. Behind this area is the swimming pool. A trophy room is home to a large portion of memorabilia - all exhibits from his career between the years of 1958 to 1971.

Across the street from Graceland, a shopping center/strip mall appeared in the mid-60's. In 1983, the Graceland/Elvis Presley Estate acquired the lease and option to purchase this structure, converting it into the Graceland Plaza. It serves as the admissions area to the tour and holds two additional exhibits - the Elvis Presley Automobile Museum and the site where visitors can tour Elvis's custom jets, the Lisa Marie and Hound Dog II.

The Automobile Museum houses a wonderful collection of machines related to the Elvis persona. Most interesting, of course, is his collection of motorcycles. He owned and rode bikes from the beginning until the end of his career, and reportedly enjoyed riding through Memphis engaging in the occasional game of chase with his fans. The four bikes owned by Elvis at his death and on display are a '66 Harley chopper; a '76 Electra-Glide 1200, Liberty Edition; a '65 Honda Dream and a red-and-white '76 Harley Electra-Glide 1200, Bicentennial Edition. Also on display are the famous Pink Cadillac, a red '60 MG convertible from Blue Hawaii, a black '73 Stutz Blackhawk, a black '75 Dino Ferrari 308 GT4 Coupe, and all his converted, motorized go-carts and toys.

The cost to visit and enjoy all the estate has to offer is around $ 25. Food and lodging are located near or within the complex, including the famous Heartbreak Hotel, which also offers RV hookups. Graceland is located in Memphis, Tennessee. Click through to www.elvis.com for more information.