Memphis, Tennessee—I’ve just seen Graceland. Pinch me.
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 has 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 highpoints 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 pointing at things and saying, “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.
But I’m glad I went on the tour.
I’m only sorry I didn’t bring a garden rake.
Brenda Schiesser - June 15, 2018 6:06 am
Sounds like you really enjoyed your tour. I have driven by Graceland many years ago. My ex-husband use to live in Memphis and he has sat on the fence and watched Priscilla work her horses. Thought I would lose it when you wrote “was a lot like dying and waking up in a 1970’s Tupperware party hosted by Tammy Faye Baker.” LOL!
Kelly - June 15, 2018 9:26 am
Thank you for giggles with my coffee this early morning. Reminded me of the time my former husband talked me into going to a local hotel to see Elvis impersonators for his sister’s birthday (she and the King shared birthdays). Lord knows, I would give anything to have had a cell phone to record that night – words cannot express…
Linda Brown - June 15, 2018 10:50 am
Loved it. I too was a great fan of his.
Lew Culpepper - June 15, 2018 10:51 am
I’m crying!! Every word is true. So funny. Thanks!
Carol evans - June 15, 2018 11:04 am
Love it. Laughed aloud!!! The Elmer Fudd comment….
Howard Humphreys - June 15, 2018 11:12 am
Guess everyone should take the tour once…Saw Elvis once way back in Houston at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo..Took my kids at that time and Elvis was in his fading years…The show was in the Astrodome…
Donna - June 15, 2018 11:15 am
SO Funny Sean! “… played a C Chord on my rake… ” slayed me flat laughing and just kept on strumming from there. Thanks for sharing your humor! This road trip has been good for your soul hasn’t it?
John - June 15, 2018 11:34 am
Thank you, thank you verrrry much!
Nancy Rogers - June 15, 2018 11:48 am
I had just turned 16 years old, working the front counter at a Wendy’s on hwy 19-41 in Jonesboro, Georgia the day Elvis died. I remember it well. This was back in the days of no cell phones and few pay phones. I remember grown women pulling in and coming up to the counter sobbing, wanting to use our phone to call relatives (they had just heard the news on the radio). I remember quite a few grown men, teary eyed, telling me that the “King” was dead. I may have been a die hard Bruce Springsteen fan at the time but even I knew and recognized it was the end of an era. “Long live the King.”
Carole Lea - June 15, 2018 12:24 pm
Great story, as usual Sean. Love your writing. The commercialization of Elvis was, in my opinion, a lead cause of the sad spiral to his death. Sad. But Graceland is a very interesting place to tour.
Harriet - June 15, 2018 12:32 pm
That Tupperware line has me laughing out loud early this morning. I’ve enjoyed your trip and think it’s been good for your soul.
Leisa T - June 15, 2018 12:40 pm
My husband and I went to Graceland nearly 30 years ago. This has to be the best description I’ve ever read! Our daughter lives in Memphis and I’m sure I’ll have to suppress my laughter (again) when we do the tour with her!
Marsha - June 15, 2018 1:01 pm
Thank you so much for giving me a reason to get up every morning!
Jerrie Jay - June 15, 2018 1:08 pm
I blew coffee out of my nose when I got to Elmer Fudd.
Charlu Kent - June 15, 2018 1:16 pm
My mom took me to Sedona to be an extra in Elvis’ movie, Stay Away Joe. I could ride bareback, n hadn’t “developed “, so coulda looked native America. Didn’t get I in the movie but caught a glimpse of the King. It’s a cool memory….my favorite song is “His Mama Cried”.??❤️??
Sue Cronkite - June 15, 2018 1:31 pm
When Elvis first sang on the radio from Memphis, Roger Thames was there for The Birmingham News. He said Elvis kept asking him: Mr. Thames, you sure they can hear me in Tupelo? Wasn’t too long after that the world could hear Elvis. Get his Gospel CD. The real person that he was shines through.
Edna B. - June 15, 2018 1:35 pm
I’ve never been to Graceland, so I really enjoyed your tour experience. Thanks for the morning giggles. You have a super day my friend, hugs, Edna B.
lfshurden - June 15, 2018 1:57 pm
If you’e seen it once, you don’t need to go back for some sites!
Judy - June 15, 2018 2:03 pm
“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.”
This made me laugh out loud! Hilarious. ?
Thank you Sean.
Pat - June 15, 2018 2:17 pm
I’ve been to Graceland and enjoyed the ” big, colorful, dated, and gaudy” furnishings. A throwback for me from my early married years. President Harry Truman’s Little White House in Key West still has the dated furnishings…very interesting!
But on the other hand, Elvis unfortunately, was another troubled soul like so many others who left us too soon.
Brad Campbell - June 15, 2018 2:24 pm
This was awesome! I’ve been through the Graceland tour 2 or 3 times, and my wife has been even more. I love your descriptions. They were perfect.
Jan - June 15, 2018 2:41 pm
I am of the generation who loved Elvis. I saw him on tour once in his later years. He was not at his best but I am still glad I saw him perform live. The day he died is one of those days that is etched in my memory. I was a nurse, studying for my B.S.N. and in the middle of final exams or I would have headed straight to Memphis to be one of those crying at the gates of Graceland. I still love his music and I agree his Gospels are some of my favorites. But watching the video of his televised performance of Vegas will always be the real Elvis to me! Thanks for the memories this morning!
vickip65 - June 15, 2018 3:40 pm
?. Love it ! Thank you !
Marty from Alabama - June 15, 2018 4:16 pm
This is a good one. Reminded me of the time we took our two kids up there. It had not gotten as commercialized yet. Our son, about 10 years old, was an Elvis fan and he was loving every minute of it. Our daughter was a teenager and probably glad there was no one there that knew us. Anyway, today’s post was just down right funny and I needed some funny today. Everybody does. Have a good trip the rest of the way home and be safe.
Linda Chipman - June 15, 2018 4:52 pm
I consider myself very fortunate to remember Elvis from the beginning – on the Dorsey Bros show! I’ve been a fan ever since and think he is still the best singer ever. I was lucky enough to see him in the ’70’s and then several more times. There will never be another like him in my opinion.
Jack Quanstrum - June 15, 2018 7:24 pm
Love the story. Truly the king!
Janice Takashima - June 15, 2018 8:27 pm
Sean, I love your efforts to find the gratitude in our upside-down world.
I’m 74 and my dad, before he passed, told me a memory that he had of 11 year old me asking him if it was all right with him if I liked Elvis. It was 1955 and I had sent in an application to Col. Parker to become a member of the Elvis fan club. My dad said that it was fine with him, but he quietly wondered to himself what kind of a dad he was that his oldest daughter thought she had to ask his permission to “like” an entertainer.
My family is of immigrant Scandinavian Lutheran stock and pretty well settled into the Pacific Northwest after a brief sojourn in Iowa by my first generation American ancestor after his stint with the Union army. That was where my paternal grandmother was born, the first in our family to come into the world on US soil. The rest of my grandparents came here by ship, so our American memories are tinged with Nordic values. We are pretty sanguine about our likes and would probably never be caught weeping at Graceland.
I look forward to your daily stories celebrating ordinary folks and their extraordinary souls.
Marisa Franca @ Allourway - June 15, 2018 10:07 pm
I can’t say I was a rabid Elvis fan. I liked his music and I thought he was so very talented. And we say it so many times — they start their fame too young and then something goes wrong. And, Sean, we know it just isn’t the big stars. So sad.
KAREN - June 15, 2018 10:24 pm
I love your humor and discriptions of Elvis home. I have never been but for some reason, I thought exactly the way you wrote you discribed it. You made me laugh and I thank you! Now I will have to go see for myself someday when traveling through Memphis. Thank you for making my day!!
Angie - June 15, 2018 10:53 pm
Oh. My. Goodness. That was SO good! And poignant. The Tammy Faye Baker line is priceless. I literally LAUGHED OUT LOUD. You have such a way with words. You have the gift to describe things in ways that are just so wonderfully creative! I enjoy your writing so much. Some days your articles make me cry, but then the next day you send one that makes me laugh. But I know one thing is for sure… every time I read your words, I finish with a smile on my face, no matter what, even before I realize it. Always a smile. And I am thankful for that… and for you!
Bob - June 15, 2018 11:28 pm
But did you see the ducks at the Peabody?
Tawanah Fagan Bagwell - June 16, 2018 4:59 am
I love Memphis and Graceland. You really need to see the Peabody sucks too. I haven’t been in years and want to see how they have changed the display at Graceland since adding the big hotel and museum across the street. I loved your story.
Jack Darnell - June 17, 2018 1:16 am
Our tour was nothing like that. But that was just after it opened!
Dave - June 17, 2018 5:28 am
How does a man of 63 impersonate a man who chose to never get out of his 50s. I guess since it is an admitted impersonation you can do whatever- maybe his act is done in a coffin, I’ve seen a couple of Elvis wannabees in tourist traps who looked exactly like I imagine Elvis looks right now in the memory garden box. Tammy Faye & Tupperware ha.
Susan - June 17, 2018 2:24 pm
I will never look at a garden rake the same way.
Anna Ehrhardt - June 18, 2018 12:20 pm
Elmer Fudd really!!!!!! I love the Tammy Faye and Tupperware. You have a way with words.
Leigh Wanless - June 19, 2018 11:36 pm
I am one of the oddball folks who never thought Elvis was “all that” although his gospel music was beautiful. Growing up in Dothan, my best friend’s brother had every album Elvis ever recorded and played them incessantly. Your irreverent take on your tour of Graceland had me in tears of laughter!
Lisa - June 20, 2018 8:09 pm
Your description is on the money. In March this year I took my two grandchildren, 6 and 8, to see Elvis’s little bitty birthplace in Tupelo, MS and then on to Graceland in the same day. They saw his humble beginnings and then what his lifestyle was like after his success. We listened to Elvis’s music the entire trip and they love him. Someday I will tell them the rest of the story.
Cynthia Graham - June 21, 2018 6:03 pm
Sean, I work just down the road from Graceland. I pass it everyday. I am amazed at the people who come from everywhere to see Graceland. Next time y’all are in Memphis let me know. We’ll have a dinner for you. Thanks for visiting Memphis. Come back soon.
Larry Carter - August 12, 2018 7:32 am
Dumbest $45 bucks I ever spent (and worth every penny ?)
Sam Seetin - August 12, 2018 7:34 pm
Interesting accounting my untutored genius nephew. Recall going to 1957 Elvis concert in Spokane with my girl friend who was absolutely determined not to get excited by his moves. She lasted 5 seconds before screaming hysterically during Elvis’ opening song “You ain’t Nothing but A Hound Dog.” TCB
Jess From Athens, GA - December 28, 2018 12:50 am
When I was in junior high school waaaay back in the dark ages, there were two factions among us kids: those for Elvis and those for Pat Boone. Some thought Elvis uncool and a bad influence on us kids; others thought Pat Boone was almost angelic and saintly. Me personally I favored Elvis. I still listen to his music on occasion. He sure could sing like nobody’s business.
Jess from Athens, GA - January 25, 2019 6:44 pm
The big thing when I was in junior high was the “battle” between fans of Elvis and the fans of Pat Boone. Elvis wasn’t thought to be the purest man alive; whereas, Pat Boone was considered a wonderful human being, almost saintly. The older I got the more I liked Elvis’ singing. Just before Elvis died I saw a report on the nightly television news…it was a story from Russia about what a spoiled, over-indulgent life Elvis lived. I was shocked at his passing, he was way too young to have died. It seems no one cared about taking care of Elvis, not even himself. He certainly didn’t live a healthy life style, which is too bad because he was a wonderful entertainer.