Elvis Presley Graceland Review
This was my 3rd time to make the pilgrimage to Graceland.
First Visit to Graceland
My initial visit to Graceland was way back in 1987 (about 10 years after his death)…and it was an awe inspiring place. The tour had a very a PERSONAL feel to it and the “compound” mostly consisted of a staging area across the street from Graceland Mansion where you would take a shuttle over to the house for the tour. They did have an Auto museum near the staging area with a few of Elvis’s cars. These tours back then were guided and of course no flash photography was allowed…which meant that it was difficult to get good pictures of the contents of his house since this was prior to affordable digital cameras and smartphones.
This was one of the first places I took Lee Ann to see when we first started dating and of course immediately Lee Ann started taking pictures with her small point and shoot film camera…for which the FLASH starting going off. The guide had to tell us to TURN THE FLASH OFF. After we got that under control, the rest of the tour was humbling, gaudy, interesting, revealing and most of all reverent. Everyone there was very respectful of the property, and you could hear a pin drop around the grave sites. I came away with a whole new perspective of Elvis’s life and how he spent his time at Graceland.
My Second Visit
I did not go back to Graceland again until about 2007. I decided to go in February or March when it was cooler and on a week day and early in the morning as soon as the tour opened. As I walked up to the ticket counter…I was the only one in line. I think there were only 3-4 people on the shuttle over to the Mansion, and my ticket costs about $65 to tour everything at Graceland including the planes.
Needless to say, my self guided tour was easy as I did not have to fight any crowds whatsoever. The tour was pretty much like the first one I took. The house looked the same (as you would expect) since they claimed the Mansion was kept in the condition and furnishings the same as when Elvis died. The trophy room was in it’s own building (and also many trophies in the Racquet Ball gym too). There were several buildings out back that housed artifacts and his jumpsuits and jewelry in them. But the automobiles and motorcycles were across the street EXCEPT for 3 automobiles which were under a carport at the side of Graceland.
The automobile/motorcycle museum located across the street from Graceland was laid out very well and and I think at the time there was a gift shop over there…and this was all located in a small “strip mall” like area. This is also where you bought your tickets and caught the shuttle bus to go to the mansion.
Some things I noted in retrospect during my second visit. As you walk into the mansion, immediately to the right is the living room/music room and I remember this really beautiful black piano sitting in the far left center corner of the room. On the right side of the room was a long solid white couch. There were lots of pictures and lots of mirrors and of course everything was “dated” to the late 1960’s and 1970’s.
After the living room, you are lead down a very short hallway (just underneath the staircase leading to the bedrooms upstairs) where there was a (I think) Mother-in-Law bedroom which you view from outside the room. At the base of the staircase was an impressive early picture of Elvis which was the same one as the first time I visited. Then they take you through the dining room with a crystal chandelier, a beautifully displayed dining room table, TV, and of course more pictures of Priscilla and Lisa Marie. Our next stop was the kitchen. A very plain looking 1970ish looking kitchen (famous of course for the peanut butter/banana sandwiches). Just past the kitchen was the Jungle Room and downstairs steps into his audio/video room on the left and the gorgeous poolroom on the right. From there you go up some stairs right up into the Jungle Room again and then exit out a side door into the back area of the compound where Elvis’s Dad, Vernon Presley had an office and some Elvis memorabilia. After
leaving the office building/smokehouse you walked up a sidewalk into the trophy room where you could see more Elvis mementos, including all of his Gold and Platinum Records…which was an impressive site on their own. After you exited the Trophy building you headed out to the racquetball court which was filled with even more trophies now and a few more exhibits. From there you were directed by the memorials and grave sites of Gladys, Vernon, Minnie Mae and Elvis Presley. A very solemn place.
My Last Visit to Graceland
For my last visit (August 11, 2017), I took my 18 year old Granddaughter to see the home of Elvis. When asked if she even knew who Elvis was, her reply was… “I wasn’t born under a rock”. So off we went. I knew this was gonna be a busy time to go because it was the DAY BEFORE they began “Dead Elvis Week”
As we got close to Graceland the first thing I noticed was all the construction going on across the street from the mansion and near the parking lot. The parking lot was almost full. But I could tell all the buildings in the staging area and the auto/motorcycle museum had been torn down and the entire area across from the mansion had been leveled. Now there was these big gates you walked through into a “mall-like” area with many large buildings, stores and a couple of eateries. It reminded me of an “amusement park”. People were everywhere and it was a very busy place.
We walked up to the ticket office and inside they had about 10 ticket booths. Up on the wall was the price list for the various tours they offered. The price of a tour had DEFINITELY gone up since the last time I was there. They had 3 different ticket options. The had the ULTIMATE VIP TOUR which was $139 per ticket and included EVERYTHING and no lines. The VIP Tour which was $93 with no lines, but did not include the planes ($5 extra), and the cheapest ticket for the Mansion ONLY was $57. It could be a fairly expensive day if you wanted all the bells and whistles. Since I was with my Granddaughter, I wanted her to truly enjoy the experience and so we opted for the VIP tour with the planes included ($203)… OUCH.
When it was time for our shuttle to leave, they gathered the VIP people together (about 10-15 of us) and marched us through a “picture staging” area where they took your picture for purchase later on in the tour. We were then loaded on the shuttle and took the short ride over to the mansion where the buses were lined up and a line was outside the mansion door. Our bus went to the back of the mansion where we left the bus and then we were ushered into a small air conditioned theater for a 6 minute film about Elvis. After that, they took us to the front of the mansion for entry in front of the line, however after that we were pretty much on our own and the “VIP” status kinda LEFT US.
For the most part the inside of the house tour was basically the same as the first two times I visited Graceland. I could tell that some “aging” had occurred to some of the house…little things like some of the venting grills appeared rusted and I noticed more wear and tear on parts of the walls (after all, there are hundreds of thousands of visitors every year), but nothing I saw was too alarming and the house pretty much looked the same (except for the living room). However, once outside the mansion there were MANY changes.
The Many Changes of Graceland
Leaving the mansion and approaching the office of Elvis’s Dad Vernon Presley it looked the same, however once inside, although the office part looked the same, all of the jumpsuits, artifacts and jewelry were gone. Still it was neat to see all of the 70’s equipment…even including an old AB Dick copying machine. Attached to the office was the smokehouse/gun range and then you exit out of there to a sidewalk that lead to the OLD Trophy building. This was where all the gold/platinum records were located (but now gone). Newly updated, this building now houses some photos, older Elvis artifacts, TV’s and movie posters. Once you exited this building, the next stop was the memorial and grave sites. This was the last part of the mansion tour.
Now we boarded the shuttle back to the staging area compound which also held the automobile/motorcycle museum as well as several other museums related to Elvis and also the airplanes.
As soon as you got off the shuttle we were directed into a small store that had a copy of the picture they of us and offered the purchase for a 5×7 and a couple of wallets for $40 (seemed kinda steep since it was a digital photo and printed on an inkjet printer…probably $2 in supplies)…anyway. It was an experience, so I made that purchase too. After leaving the picture buying booth, the first museum was the automobile museum where they had some of Elvis’s cars very well displayed. Next to that museum was the motorcycle museum which also had some other forms of transportation (go cart, golf carts, dune buggies, etc).
I think all in all there were about 6-8 different buildings/museums. Some of the museums included
artifacts and things I had never seen before and was pretty interesting. Some of the more impressive things I remember from these museums were the military uniforms he wore, some of his personal items, a TV with a bullet hole in it…one of his record players, displays with his jewelry and ESPECIALLY an entire section with his jumpsuits. This area had many more jumpsuits than were previously displayed in my earlier visits. And finally a museum that had his trophies and gold/platinum records. These were displayed on a wall (estimating) that had to be 30 feet tall and maybe 60 feet long with nothing but gold and platinum records…a truly epic display.
The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly
The good is that you still have the ability to see Graceland in all it’s glory and pretty much the way Elvis left it when he died. The mansion alone is well worth the cost of admission if you are an Elvis fan. Do it now though.
The bad…Unfortunately compared to my first two visits, my experience this time was more akin to a carnival and lost a LOT of the “personal attachment” you felt when touring the properties. I feel that Graceland is NOT the same as it once was…it’s kinda like it lost its innocence and has become too commercialized.
And the ugly is that although Graceland is a shrine of great importance to his fans, the mansion itself was built in 1939 and is beginning to show signs of disrepair (my opinion)…I saw several signs of rust on the
vents, wallpaper and wall coverings starting to fray and come unglued. Basically, after more than 30 years of hundreds of thousands of visitors every year…the wear and tear is really beginning to show on the property. NOW in the next couple of years will be the time to see this before I fear they will shut it down for major repairs and overhaul…at which time I think it will again be stripped of even more of it’s personal connection to Elvis. At some point in the near future, I’m afraid it will become known more as an “amusement park instead of a shrine to “The King”.
Some Final Thoughts
First and foremost. If you have NEVER seen Graceland. GO. See it. Spend the money. But go during the off peak season (early spring or late fall to avoid crowds). I know that earlier in my comments I said it felt like a carnival or amusement park, but please, PLEASE don’t let that stop you from visiting Graceland…it’s still a special place. It’s just that it is quickly losing the intimacy it once had when it first opened to the public.
And although I was slightly disappointed on this visit, there were actually more items to see and some of it was more professionally displayed (although professionally displayed usually means it loses that personal feeling), and in spite of all the commercialization…it’s still Graceland. And it is truly the greatest tribute to a Rock and Roll Icon in Music today.
Go. Say you saw it…before it’s gone or turned completely into an amusement park.