Elvis slept here, and yes, Elvis died here. Twenty-five years ago, in fact -– on Aug. 16, 1977. And although Memphis’ favorite son has left the building, Graceland continues to draw more than 600,000 visitors a year, with an overwhelming majority of those tourists making their first pilgrimage.
But the millions who have already passed through the doors of the demure mansion on Elvis Presley Boulevard might consider a return to sender. Elvis Presley Enterprises, which manages the estate, opened the spacious kitchen (wood paneling galore) for viewing in 1995. Prior to that, Elvis’ aunt Delta Presley Biggs lived in the house, even while tourists wandered through it. She spent most of her time in the kitchen, until her death in 1993.
In 1998, Elvis Presley Enterprises opened a bedroom on the first floor, where Elvis’s parents, Vernon and Gladys slept. Delta moved into the bedroom in her later years, and the restoration features a purple-and-poodle décor. Despite the velvet rope, a strategic placement of mirrors makes it easy to glimpse the whole room.
The first-floor bedroom is now visible just after seeing the lavish living room, with two colorful, peacock stained-glass windows separating it from the music room. Adorned with countless knick-knacks, the dining room still welcomes guests, who may be tempted to pull up a chair and feast on a peanut-and-banana sandwich from the kitchen, the next stop on the pre-taped headset tour.
In the basement, Presley and his friends often gathered in the blue-and-yellow TV room, complete with three televisions, his signature TCB logo, a small bar, and a blue couch with 19 pillows. Or they might have played a round in the wildly decorated pool room, with 350 feet of loud, paisley fabric on the walls and ceiling.
Coming up the stairs, it’s the unforgettable, Hawaii-inspired Jungle Room, with a built-in, custom-designed waterfall. Because of the shag carpeting, the acoustics of the Jungle Room allowed Presley to record two albums there.
Elvis Presley Enterprises recently renovated a carport to house a new exhibit of furniture from the upstairs rooms, as well as other mementos from his life. Check out that bed -– white fur, circular, and with a television in the canopy! Look at that big desk with Elvis’ own books on it -– Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet right next to The Warren Report! Dig that turquoise-handled Colt. 45 -– with an “E” decorating one side of the grip and a “P” on the other!
A master of spectacle and reinvention, Elvis remodeled the house frequently after purchasing it for $100,000 in 1957, at the age of 22. However, his premature death sealed in the ‘70s vibe forever.
Oh yes, his death.
Presley famously died in a bathroom on the second level of the house, of a drug-related heart attack, at 42. No one is allowed to go upstairs, out of “personal sensitivity,” says Todd Morgan, director of media and creative development for Elvis Presley Enterprises.
“Elvis was a gracious host,” Morgan says. “What you saw as a guest of Elvis is exactly what Graceland shows to the world every day.”
Oh, come on. … Please?
“Never,” Morgan adds. “We never will. We haven’t even given it the slightest consideration.”
When Elvis died, thousands of fans mobbed the wall outside the mansion, and a few were invited by Vernon to pay their respects, as he lay-in-state in the foyer. Though Vernon initially purchased a tomb for Elvis in a mausoleum next to his mother, they were both moved to Graceland after vandalism at Forest Hill Cemetery.
Today, Elvis is buried in the Meditation Garden, where an eternal flame flickers above his final resting place, near the graves of Vernon, Gladys and Vernon’s mother, Minnie. A plaque honors the memory of Elvis’ twin brother, who died at childbirth and is buried in his birthplace of Tupelo, Miss.
At sundown on Aug. 15, one day before the 25th anniversary of Elvis’ death, his acolytes will line up peacefully along Elvis Presley Blvd., candles illuminating their tears, patiently waiting their solemn moment at the gravesite. Morgan expects between 5,000 and 7,000 visitors in the week leading up to the anniversary.
“It’s not something we created,” Morgan says. “It’s become a global phenomenon. And in a major anniversary like this, we expect an unbelievable turnout.” He notes that on the twentieth anniversary, the last fan made it to the gravesite at 8 a.m., 11 hours after the welcoming remarks.
It started this way: One year after his death, Presley’s fans wanted to recapture their moments spent with the King, who often signed autographs by standing on a stump and leaning over the stone wall outside the mansion. They informally gathered outside the gates with candles. In 1979, one of the fan clubs organized a very small candlelight ceremony.
When the house opened to the public in June 1982, a fan club leader asked Graceland’s CEO, Jack Soden, to open the gates on Aug. 15 and allow the fans to walk up the driveway to the gravesite with candles. Soden agreed, and the tradition continues to this day.
“We make a promise that the gates will stay open until the last person who wants to make that walk has done so,” Morgan says, “and we never renege on that promise.”