MEMPHIS—About a year ago, we went to visit Elvis. My wife and I showed up on Elvis’ property around lunchtime and bought passes for the Graceland Mansion Tour. And I’ll admit, we were both excited to see the Hall of the Great King.
Elvis, you see, was a household name in my childhood home.
My father was an Elvis fan, my mother was a fan, and I had a cat named “King.” We had decorative Elvis ceramic plates hanging in our kitchen. My father knew all the words to “The American Trilogy” from the “Aloha from Hawaii Via Satellite” album.
I myself once dressed up like the King for Halloween.
Though, my costume left something to be desired. My mother believed in saving money and making costumes from household items.
Thus, I wore my mother’s satin bathrobe with sequins sewn on it, and she had rubbed black shoe polish in my hair. Her original idea had been to send me trick-or-treating with a guitar, but we had no guitar. So my father gave me a garden rake instead.
When I knocked on my first door, I played a C chord on my rake, then twirled the belt of my mother’s robe.
Our neighbor, Mister Jimmy, almost swallowed his tobacco.
So for the Graceland tour, we joined a clot of people who were buzzing with our same enthusiasm. We were all poised and ready for the touching, profound, and purely American, once-in-a-lifetime experience—a self-guided iPad tour narrated by former Full House supporting actor, John Stamos.
We toured the first floor of the ten thousand square foot home of Elvis Aaron Presley, listening to our headphones. And this house had it all.
The Trophy Building—a room filled with gold records.
The Racquetball Building—a full bar with a racquetball court attached.
The Pool Room—a full bar with a pool table attached.
The Jungle Room—a full bar with shag carpet.
The man beside me was named Jaron. He has taken this tour before. He didn’t need the headphones or iPad.
“You know, they’ve changed this place a lot,” said Jaron. “Didn’t used to be so commercial. It wasn’t about looking at all the expensive crap Elvis bought, it was more about Elvis, the real guy.”
And Jaron would know. He has been to Graceland nineteen times. He is an Elvis impersonator from Boise, Idaho. He hasn’t turned pro yet, but he’s waiting for his ship to come in. He has dreams of getting his own Vegas-style show together one day.
Jaron is sixty-three.
To be honest, it’s hard to choose the best part of the tour. There were too many high points to count. If you ask me, it would be a toss up between the Yellow Room—Elvis’ personal living room—and the clinically depressed Graceland staff.
When we entered the Jungle Room, a helpful Graceland security staff member approached the woman next to my wife and said in a very friendly, yet helpful tone, “I SAID, KEEP THE FRICKIN’ LINE MOVING, LADY!”
So it was a marvelous tour. Almost everyone who wandered the estate couldn’t help but point at things and say, “Ooooooooooooooooooooooooooo.”
It was hard not to do. The house was impressive. It was big, colorful, dated, and gaudy.
At the end, we were finally regurgitated into the Meditation Garden, the last stop on the Mansion Tour. This is the resting place of the King himself. It was magnificent.
A fountain trickled in a small, Roman-style garden.
There was a woman who knelt by Elvis’ grave and said a prayer. After she finished, she sang “Can’t Help Falling in Love” aloud. Her haunting, melodic voice was reminiscent of the late Elmer Fudd.
Her song drew a small crowd of onlookers. And by the time she started singing the “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” most of us were bowing our heads.
Jaron took a knee and closed his eyes.
I’m not going to lie to you. Seeing the home of Elvis was a lot like dying and waking up in a 1970’s Tupperware party hosted by Tammy Faye Baker. The shag carpet. The gold. The upholstery. It was something else. And it moved me, strange as that may seem. The commercialization of an innocent man moved me. I will always love Elvis, no matter how old I get.
So I’m glad I went on the tour.
I’m only sorry I didn’t bring a garden rake.