Graceland

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.

16 comments

  1. Naomi - June 17, 2019 11:25 am

    Nothing against Elvis but I have never been a “groupie”. What I have noticed is when a person grows up poor and eventually become rich, they go a little overboard on the gold and other “glitch” when they finally get to build a house. I have been by Graceland but didn’t take the tour. It’s actually sad to me that a young boy who grew up in church could go overboard with drugs, alcohol and women which caused him to die at the young age of 42. What a shame.

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  2. Naomi - June 17, 2019 11:27 am

    I forgot to mention that a man that my husband and I worked with when we worked for the federal government went to high school with Elvis.

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  3. Barb Fisher - June 17, 2019 12:44 pm

    Hi – I’m a brand new follower of your daily blog. Thoroughly enjoyed today’s offering. Was a big fan of Lewis Grizzard too – are you sure you two weren’t separated at birth?

    My husband and I visited Graceland once, and everything you describe was exactly as we saw it and came away with the same reaction. Gaudy!

    Keep on writing, Sean – I’m lovin’ this!

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  4. Karen - June 17, 2019 1:00 pm

    When I toured Graceland I was overcome by sadness. I agree with Naomi. He was a great talent, and it is such a sad shame that his life ended due to drugs and alcohol.

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  5. Bobbie - June 17, 2019 1:16 pm

    Wow! This took me back! The description of your family and their love for Elvis was me, except no Elvis plates on kitchen wall. I remember the day when the Hawaii show was to be televised…the biggest thing in tv history, for me anyway. My whole day was planned so as not to miss one second of it. Told the children we would eat early, they would be bathed and in pjs, snacks ready and all went as planned. We were glued to the tv for three hours, or however long it lasted. It was awesome! Like your Dad, I loved American Trilogy and How Great Thou Art. No one did it like Elvis, and no one ever will. Thanks for the memories Sean. Also the mental image of your costume that Halloween. I can only imagine 😆
    Wonderful writing as always. God bless.

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  6. Patrice Winemiller - June 17, 2019 1:50 pm

    As I am a big fan of Elvis, Graceland and EPE, I hate that your experience was less than spectacular. I would invite you to come back. With all the changes that have been made as of recent around the property, I believe that you would find a much more pleasant experience. The house itself will always have a 70’s vibe as that is the way he left it in so many ways. That is the wonderful joy of going into the home – knowing so many items are just as he enjoyed them there. Hopefully you and your family can visit again soon and you can write a better experience

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  7. Shelton A. - June 17, 2019 1:56 pm

    I hated Elvis as a kid…now I just intensely dislike him. Sorry, Sean. Just never, ever been an Elvis fan. Ooops, I forgot…I like his gospel album.

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  8. Janet Mary Lee - June 17, 2019 3:11 pm

    Beautiful drawing!! …Sadness and regrets of a life out of control. But oh that voice. There will never be another like it!!

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  9. Linda Moon - June 17, 2019 3:29 pm

    …..Wish you could’ve toured The Mansion in the days before it was a self-guided iPad tour narrated by a former TV supporting actor. BTW, I didn’t know Elmer Fudd had passed. Elvis and Elmer are both icons for me, each in their own unique way. I’m glad you memorialized both of these real guys for all us readers!

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  10. Linda Chipman - June 17, 2019 4:28 pm

    Been and Elvis fan since I was 13 years old and I’m 75 now. I remember him from the beginning on the Dorsey Bros. tv show, then on Steve Allen and from there to Ed Sullivan. He has always been and always will be the best singer ever. Just wish he had lived longer.

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  11. Pat - June 17, 2019 4:49 pm

    I agree the house is gaudy, but, that was high styling and profiling in the day. So in that respect I could appreciate the gaudiness. Also hate that he died as a tortured soul (like so many other young entertainers). They seem to have acquired too much too soon.

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  12. Jan Hilton - June 18, 2019 2:21 am

    There is really nothing like visiting Graceland when the International Square Dance Festival is in town. Starched skirts and bolo ties absolutely everywhere. I’ll never forget it.

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  13. Edna B. - June 18, 2019 11:19 am

    I’m still an Elvis fan. I loved his music when he began his career, and I still love it. I agree, he died too soon. You have a wonderful day, hhugs, Edna B

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  14. Michelle - June 19, 2019 2:32 am

    OMG! You just keep getting better & better. Have you compiled these stories into a book? It would be awesome if you did & would make wonderful Christmas gifts.

    Thank you for sharing your talent.

    Michelle

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  15. Estelle - June 21, 2019 10:03 am

    I have often wondered how different Elvis’s life would have been had his mother had lived. He wouldn’t have done anything that would have disappointed here. 💔

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  16. Livy Abele - June 29, 2019 2:39 am

    And I agree… God bless that sad man…

    Reply

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