Thirty-four years ago, Graceland became a memorial shrine. The day before, August 16th 1977, the King of Rock and Roll had died in it, his home.
Even pulling into the parking lot, though, I had quibbles. “Our money will be going straight to Priscilla and Lisa Marie’s pockets,” I said, “there’s starving children who need this money.” Still, we bought our tickets and went in.
Oh, I hope the starving children can understand the cultural value of Graceland. It is wonderful. Not just the place itself but those touring it and those working in it. It is Mecca for American culture in the latter half of the 20th century.
Our tour group shuffled through the house, oohing and aahing over the opulence, the excess, the fact that Elvis the King sat in these rooms. The tour guide was informative and clearly enjoyed her job. She was a child when Elvis died but she “got” him – the house, the magic.
Then the outbuildings, the museums of Elvis stuff. His collections of firearms and police badges are laid out in glass cases. There are rooms of display cases filled with gifts he was given. His costumes, his gold records. There’s every award and honourable mention he received from anyone anywhere. Presumably there’s museum curators working behind these public rooms, sorting, preserving, cataloguing a life of a man.
You can tour the grounds. A paddock near the house had about six horses in it. A couple of them would remember Elvis. The others were Lisa Marie’s and Priscilla’s. They came charging over to the fence, looking for treats. I pulled handles of grass, fearful I was going to be yelled at but no one said anything. The horses happily munched the grass.
Quite close by is Elvis’ grave. The true believers circle around it, taking pictures, looking down misty-eyed. They stay there a long time.
Beside the parking lot, near the entrance, Elvis’ planes are parked. The smaller one is called the Lisa Marie, both have TCB with a lightning bolt painted on them.
My favourite moment happened while standing in line for the Elvis memorabilia museum. Over on the lawn by the house, a small elderly dog was tottering around with an elderly woman. I asked a young man checking tickets about the dog. “That’s Edmund, Elvis’ dog,” he said, “he lives with Elvis’ aunt.” I asked who the lady was. “She’s a maid and her job is looking after Edmund.” When I asked if I could go closer, he said no. “It’s really for your safety. He’s a nasty little dog.” I liked his candor but wondered if that was why he was doing crowd control in the blazing sun rather than leading tours inside.
The pictures of Edmund and the horse paddock are mine from 1990. My cousin Andrea Hutchison very kindly let me use photos from her 2011 trip to Memphis.