Roads Traveled with Linda L. Osmundson
My high school years were filled with Elvis Presley; his music and movies. I loved the candid pictures of his naturally radiant smile rather than the sexy serious looks of promotional shots. Fans looked up to him because of his generosity to those less fortunate, or the gifts he gave to unsuspecting individuals. Once his Las Vegas days and concerts in later years included news of substance abuse, women, and more explicit gyrations, some fans dropped away, including me. Still, I grieved upon hearing of his early death. So the only place I
wanted to visit in Memphis was Graceland, the Colonial Revival-style mansion where he lived with his parents.
Free buses circle the city, pick up travelers and transport them to sites like Heartbreak Hotel, Sun Records, Graceland, and more. Early on, Elvis purchased land across the road from his home. Graceland Plaza now houses the Elvis Presley Automobile Museum, Sincerely Elvis Museum, shops, and his Lisa Marie private jet. Our limited time only allowed a tour of Graceland.
We boarded another bus, were given audio sets, and told how to program them. Only small groups of people entered the mansion at a time. In the meantime, everyone took pictures of the grounds and house; at no time were pictures free of other visitors. Yet inside, people courteously stepped out of others’ camera views.
Since the metal gates stood open for bus access, I never saw how they resembled an open songbook with guitar playing outlines of Elvis. During his life, fans waited outside the gates in hopes of seeing him. The guards and Elvis always created a sense of warmth, camaraderie, and welcome. He often stopped to sign autographs. Occasionally, a fan jumped over the stone/brick wall or wooden fence. Guards gently ushered them out. The most famous of those fans was a young Bruce Springsteen. Elvis wasn’t home and the guards didn’t believe Springsteen was a singer enjoying his first touch of fame.
Once inside, the upstairs private quarters of Elvis and his family, his office, and wardrobe room have never been a part of the public tour, which began in 1982.
Special décor filled the rooms at our Christmas time visit. A fake white tree full of small white lights and burgundy ornaments that matched the seasonal velvet drapes complimented the living room furniture. The music room sported satin gold drapery. Other times of the year, blue draperies with gold fringe hang in the living and dining rooms.
In the dining room, the same burgundy drapes trimmed in white fringe set off the table with gold napkins. The kitchen was reminiscent of those in expensive 50s homes. Elvis added the den called “Jungle Room” to the main floor. Ornate carved wood tables, faux fur upholstery, green shag carpet on floor and ceiling, waterfall wall, and tropical plants reminded him of his filming in Hawaii; also typical of a 70s style. In the basement a more modern black and yellow décor graced the TV room, while printed draperies covered most of the billiards room walls and ceiling.
Several buildings sit near the mansion. The Trophy Building exhibits his gold/platinum records, honor plaques, clothing, military uniforms, his and Priscilla’s wedding ensembles, and other stage wardrobes while the Racquetball Building holds brown leather furniture, exercise equipment, and more exhibits of clothing and awards. Outside the mansion are a patio and kidney shaped pool. Two fans once climbed the wall and swam in the pool. Elvis came along and told them to be careful before he went on about his business. Other buildings housed horses and golf carts for touring around the grounds.
A Meditation Garden includes a wrought iron fenced circular pool and fountain, halfway surrounded by four graves – his father, mother, paternal grandmother, and Elvis. An eternal flame burns at
the head of Elvis’ grave. A small marker names Elvis’ twin brother who died at birth and is buried in Tupelo, Mississippi. Near the graves, a marble cross behind a sculpture of Christ sits atop a base of several steps adorned with two kneeling angels.
If I ever return to Memphis, I’ll take in other Elvis sites and perhaps stay at Heartbreak Hotel.