Graceland.
Crossing the big bulls-eye to reach the ticket windows.

Graceland

Field review by the editors.

Memphis, Tennessee

Elvis Presley has been dead for 40 years (maybe), yet he seems more lively than ever at Graceland. Deceased superstars such as Liberace and Roy Rogers have inspired attractions that have flourished, then foundered as their fans aged and expired. Graceland, Elvis's home, hasn't even slowed down; it's expanded, with its spinoff attractions taking over most of the surrounding Memphis neighborhood. Many of Graceland's current visitors -- fans of The King -- weren't even born when Elvis was alive.

Elvis Presley and family graves.
Elvis fans click away at The King's grave. Above his head flickers an Eternal Flame.

Cheerfully disorganized in life, Elvis would be amazed at the clockwork precision of a Graceland tour. You purchase a ticket, line up at an assigned spot at an assigned time, are ushered into a theater to watch an introductory video, are given tablets and headphones (your robot tour guide), board one of a fleet of mini-busses, are driven to the Graceland mansion, then snake your way through the house trying to operate your tablet and not jostle all the other tourists.

Piano room.
The Music Room: probably decorated by Priscilla. Graceland has gaudy, crazy rooms, too: probably pure Elvis.

Our mini-bus driver offered two insights: "Everything in the house is original," and, "If you walk in the house and smell food, you know the family has been there." It's true; wife Priscilla and daughter Lisa Marie occasionally visit after hours. The house was smell-free during our tour, but we did see an iron skillet on the kitchen stovetop, perhaps the same one used to fry Elvis's infamous late-night peanut butter and banana sandwiches.

One of Elvis's first luxuries was this 1955 pink Cadillac, which he gave to his mom.
One of Elvis's first luxuries was this 1955 pink Cadillac, which he gave to his mom.

The Graceland mansion is quaint by modern celebrity standards, a cozy 1970s rock 'n' roll Shangri-La in a creaky 1930s house. There's shag carpeting on the ceiling of the Jungle Room, and it's not even the wackiest room on the tour: that honor goes to either the game room with its pleated paisley walls and ceiling, or the media room with its three side-by-side TVs and decor straight out of A Clockwork Orange.

Remember: this was Elvis's idea of a perfect house.

Despite the occasional giddy flamboyance of the Graceland mansion, everyone on our tour was respectfully quiet. When they spoke, it was in whispers.

But the mansion is only a small part of the Graceland experience. You walk out a back door and wind through several outbuildings, including the former smokehouse where Elvis fired his guns, and the racquetball court where Elvis worked up a sweat only hours before his death. The old slot car building (Elvis had an entire wing of the mansion for his slot car layout) has been converted into a mini-museum of Elvis treasures, such as his desk with a built-in 8-track player, and his photo ID for something called the Colorado "Organized Crime Strike Force."

Lisa Marie jet.
For $5 extra you can tour the Lisa Marie, with its plastic-wrapped furniture and gold-plated bathroom sink.

Then it's on to Elvis's grave -- possibly the most photographed burial plot in history -- and back onto the bus.

Watching the king.
"How did my head get over there?" The Aztec Sun jumpsuit was the last that Elvis ever wore in concert.

While freeing yourself from the tablet and headphones you're driven across the street to Elvis Presley's Memphis (opened March 2017), a tour-member-only mini-mall of specialty museums. Countless treasures are on display: the car Elvis drove the day he died; the bongos he received from Priscilla for Christmas (He was 24, she was 14); the TV he blew away with a bullet in Palm Springs. There's Elvis's gold lame tuxedo (later immortalized on the Elvis postage stamp) and the only three Grammys he ever won (all for religious recordings). Unlike the silence of the Graceland mansion, Elvis and his music are everywhere in the museums, booming from hidden speakers and flat screen video monitors to the accompaniment of screaming fans.

Elvis was a wreck for the final four years of his life (and he died young in the mansion's master bathroom) but downward-spiral Sad Elvis is nearly invisible at Graceland. That seemed all right to us. Graceland was, after all, Elvis's home -- the place he loved more than anywhere else on earth. Graceland (the attraction) ensures that he will always be at his best here: a slightly goofy boy-man who was never happier than when he was hanging out with his family or performing for his fans.

We noted that every tourist we saw at Graceland was smiling, because... well, it's Elvis. It's hard not to like a guy who thought that sequined jumpsuits were cool, or whose idea of a great gift for his mom was a pink Cadillac.

Also see: Tupelo, MS: Birthplace of Elvis

Graceland

Graceland

Address:
Elvis Presley Blvd, Memphis, TN
Directions:
I-55 exit 5B onto Elvis Presley Blvd, then south one mile. Entrance on the right.
Hours:
M-Sa 9-5, Su 9-4 (Call to verify)
Phone:
901-332-3322
Admission:
$58 for mansion + museums. Plus $10 to park.
RA Rates:
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