We’ve driven through Memphis before, but had never toured Graceland, Elvis Presley’s home. Tickets to explore his mansion are absurdly expensive! There are many tours available, depending on how involved with Elvis you want to be. The “Ultimate VIP” tours are $190! PER PERSON! We did the cheapest tour that would let you check out the mansion, cars and airplanes. (A guy has to keep his priorities straight!)
It is entirely coincidental that I’m posting this on Elvis’ birthday. Funny how some things work out!
I’ve heard that when someone called Elvis “The King”, he would sometimes point up to heaven and say “No, He’s the King”. So I wondered if Graceland referred to God’s grace in some way… nope. Grace Toof Ward bought 323 acres in 1894, with her mother adding 191 acres to it in 1901. It remained undeveloped, and was referred to as “Grace’s Land”, eventually shortened to “Graceland”. In 1939 her sister bought the property, and it was eventually divided between her three children, one of which built this home. The original mansion was built for $42,500 and the estate was called “Graceland Farms”.
Elvis had grown up in a home his father built, called a “Shotgun House”… supposedly because it was so spartan that you could shoot a shotgun from one end to the other and not hit anything! He always said he wanted to buy a really nice house for his parents. They found this home in 1957, showed it to him, and he bought it for $100,000. Renovations started immediately, and his parents actually moved in before he did, as he was in Hollywood filming at the time.
The house is pretty much as he last decorated it (he changed interiors frequently). The couch below was custom made for this large living room.
The crazy colors and patterns in the kitchen definitely are from the 70’s!
This is the famous “Jungle Room”. Green shag carpet on the floors and on the ceiling! Massive and strange furniture and weird artifacts… a strange room.
He heard that Walter Cronkite watched newscasts on three TVs at a time, so Elvis had three installed in his media room. He also watched all networks’ news simultaneously.
The pool room is entirely covered in an Indian fabric which supposedly took months to install.
Elvis got into racquetball, and spent a fortune building his own court, with adjacent music room and a pinball arcade above. At Graceland, there is a nice placard in the racquetball court saying on August 15, 1977, Elvis played in the court, then hung out with friends in the music room, and finally went up to bed, never to wake again. This nicely sanitized story seems at odds with other versions of events. In Graceland I didn’t see any references to the prescription drug abuse that most all other accounts admit played a huge part in his failing health. There is little doubt that his drug habits both ruined and shortened his life.
One of Elvis’ first additions to Graceland was a pool on the south side of the house.
He built a “Meditation Garden” behind the house, where they say he liked to enjoy some quiet time. After he was buried next to his mother in Forest Hill Cemetery, people were taking souvenirs from the gravesite and there were actually attempts to steal his body, so his father had both bodies moved to the Meditation Garden at Graceland.
There are more gold and platinum records than can be believed (or counted!) The TV below was presented by RCA to Elvis for having sold 50,000,000 records between 1956 and 1960. All that and he gets a TV…
The Good Stuff
OK, I know you have been waiting through all the above junk till we get to the good stuff – the cars! Elvis bought cars like most folks buy ketchup. Or whatever. He did love cars, and had the means to buy whatever suited his fancy. I will present below some of my favorites. Like most of them…
I believe the purple Cad below is a 1957. Like most of his cars, he had it customized – I don’t think Cadillac had the exhaust pipes running down the side of the car.
This is a 1973 Stutz Blackhawk. I didn’t appreciate these cars when they came out in the 70’s… they were trying to resurrect the Stutz name, but had no relation to those classic Stutz vehicles built in the early 1900’s. Another problem for me was that this is just a fancy Italian body placed over a Pontiac chassis, engine and drivetrain. It looks like celebrities didn’t share my distain – the list of famous folks buying this car is so long it would double the size of this already too wordy blog if I were to share it.
This famous pink ’55 Cadillac was one of the few that Elvis kept for his lifetime.
The Dino was Ferrari’s mid engine sports car. The Ferrari name was actually not used on this car – It had a V6 engine, as compared to the V12 that “proper” Ferraris had.
The Continental Mark II was successor to the fabulous Continentals from the 40’s. It was the most expensive car built in America, and was aimed at competing with the Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud. Its starting price was roughly $100,000 in today’s dollars, and yet parent company company Ford lost money on every one sold on this entirely hand-built car. (Almost $10,000 in current dollars!) Shortly after this Continental was merged into the Lincoln line, and became just another Lincoln model.
This gorgeous ’60 Cadillac convertible was the height of tail fins. Absolutely beautiful, if a bit ostentatious.
The black 1960 Rolls-Royce below was the first of several for Elvis. After he sold the white ’66 Rolls, it was owned by Michael Landon and Charlie Rich.
His cars weren’t all worth mega bucks… the sign behind this MG implies it is an MGB, but it is really an MGA. Tremendous difference. This is a beautiful little MG. I’ve always liked MG’s, and actually had two MG Midgets. Fun, cheap (relatively) sports cars.
This was NOT Elvis’ first car, but it is a beautiful 600 series Mercedes Limousine. There is another one in white right next to it.
Elvis had far more vehicles – motorcycles galore and also some silly fun cars. The bright orange Jetstar below was a snowmobile converted with tires in front to run on land. It’s said he had multiples of these to race around Graceland’s property with friends. The pink Jeep brought back memories: Catalina island used to have these pink Jeeps to rent. And my sister had a toy pink Jeep (Maybe for Barbie?) complete with the fringe around the top. Very chic! And of course, he needed a real tractor – a John Deere.
In addition to several of his cars (!), a couple of his airplanes are on display. The Convair 880 was built in 1958, and flown by Delta till the mid 70’s. He bought it for a quarter million dollars, then spent almost another million customizing the interior.
Leather, suede and gold are everywhere – even seat belt buckles and bathroom sinks are covered with gold.
Quite a bit less ostentatious is the Lockheed JetStar. Elvis didn’t use it much; it was more for an advance team to prepare the way on nationwide tours.
Cherryl said the whole Elvis thing left her a bit sad. Sorry for this young kid, who was just having fun doing music he liked, and at age 19 was caught up in a huge music making, money making machine that left him dizzy. You get the impression his whole life, he was performing to everyone else’s expectations, and never really knew who he was or what he really wanted to be. Rather sad.
Beale Street, Memphis, Tennessee
I guess if you’re into Blues music, you know Beale Street – “Home of the Blues”. Between the weather and COVID precautions, the place was a bit like a ghost town. We didn’t learn much about the Blues.
Tom Sawyer Campground
We stayed in West Memphis, which is on the Alabama side of the Mississippi. Our campsite looked right onto the river, and we enjoyed seeing some HUGE barges being pushed along.
It rained pretty much all the time we were in Memphis, and I wondered a little about the mighty Mississippi flooding. It didn’t. But on a couple of buildings in the campground there were signs indicating that flood waters came halfway up the second story in 2011. Incredible!