Graceland: Home of Elvis Presley

Graceland: Home of the King
Graceland: Home of the King

The history of the 13.8-acre property Graceland Mansion sits on is a little confusing. It seems that the various sources I looked at report it just slightly differently. From what I could ascertain through all the research, the property was either owned by Stephen C. Toof, the founder of the printing company S.C. Toof & Co., or his daughter Grace Toof. Over time it was transferred to Grace’s sister, Ruth Toof Brown, then passed down to her daughter and Grace’s niece, Ruth Brown Moore.

Ruth Brown Moore, and her husband, Dr. Thomas Moore, built the mansion in 1939. It was named Graceland Mansion in honor of Ruth Moore’s aunt, Grace Toof. The Moore’s later transferred the property to their daughter, Ruth Marie Moore Cobbs. It was Ruth Cobbs who made the now legendary transaction with Elvis Presley on what has since become one of the most famous places in the country. It is located about eight miles south of Memphis, Tennessee.

Elvis Presley
Elvis Presley

Elvis’s Rise to Superstardom

Born in a two-room house built by his father and uncle, Elvis came from very humble beginnings. The Presley home had no electricity, no heat, no running water, and no foundation. It was, however, filled with an abundance of love. His parents struggled to maintain jobs in difficult economic times, and, as a result, they moved many times during Elvis’s childhood.

The two constants in his young life were religion and music. His family attended the Assembly of God church, where Elvis was exposed to gospel music. His local community in Tupelo, Mississippi, was heavily influenced by blues music, which also interested him immensely. He would even listen to a local country music station on the radio when he could. Music, it seemed, was in his blood from a very early age.

He first performed publicly at the age of ten when he sang “Old Shep” in a contest at the Mississippi-Alabama Fair and Dairy Show. He won fifth place. Elvis’s parents, Gladys and Vernon Presley, gave him his first guitar when he was eleven years old and encouraged his musical interest. He would later dazzle his high school mates in a Memphis, Tennessee talent show and won the contest. 

Once Elvis graduated from high school in 1953, he set out to make a career in music. It did not take long for him to skyrocket from rags to riches. In January 1956, he recorded his first single Heartbreak Hotel. Within weeks it shot up the music charts and stayed there. This song became his first of many gold records. By the end of the year, he had five more hit songs, was appearing on television, made his first movie, and had swarms of swooning fans. The rest, as they say, is history.

Living room at Elvis's Graceland
Living room at Elvis’s Graceland

Elvis Buys Graceland

At twenty-two years of age, Elvis was able to afford to buy a home that could provide privacy from the throngs of fans intent on tracking him down. In 1957, just a year after skyrocketing to stardom, Elvis purchases Graceland for $102,500. His parents and paternal grandmother moved into Graceland in May 1957. Elvis followed his parents to Graceland in June 1957, after filming “Jailhouse Rock.”

One of the modifications he made was to the front gates. Elvis adorned the gates with musical notes and metal guitarists, which you can see still today. He also had a swimming pool installed and added a soda fountain. He also had a garden created especially for his mother, with whom he was very close.

Elvis made various changes to Graceland throughout the twenty years he lived there. One change made in the mid-1960s was to enlarge the first level to include a den called the Jungle Room.  In 1976, the Jungle Room was converted to a recording studio due to Elvis’s failing health. An onsite studio made it easier for him to record his last two albums. The room has since been changed back to the original Jungle Room. It is quite a unique room, with many wooden carvings, a green shag carpet, a waterfall, a tiki bar, tropical plants, animal statues, and so much more.

The Jungle Room at Graceland
The Jungle Room at Graceland

Over the years, Elvis and Priscilla bought other homes; however, Graceland was always where Elvis felt the most comfortable. It was here he would share special times with family and friends. It was here where he would spend twenty years of his life. It was here he would die.

Grave of Elvis Presley at Graceland
Grave of Elvis Presley at Graceland

Interesting Facts About Elvis

  • Aron was the middle name written on Elvis’s birth certificate; however, he preferred the traditional, biblical spelling of Aaron.
  • Elvis was very shy as a child; he valued his privacy highly as an adult.
  • Vernon and Gladys Presley were very poor and often unable to maintain steady jobs. Vernon Presley spent about nine months in jail for altering a check when Elvis was a toddler, causing more hardship on the family.
  • Elvis had a pet chimpanzee named Scatter.
  • Elvis only performed at the Grand Ole Opry one time, on October 2, 1954. The Opry was not impressed. The Opry talent manager advised Presley to quit music and return to his job as a truck driver.
  • From a very young age, Elvis dreamed of becoming a police officer. He achieved this dream when Sheriff Roy Nixon appointed him as a Special Deputy with the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office.
  • Elvis was a very kind, generous person. He regularly gave to others. If someone said they liked one of his possessions, regardless of what it was, they often received it as a gift. He was always using his wealth to help those less fortunate.
  • Heartbreak Hotel, recorded in January 1956, was Elvis’s first hit single and gold record. It isn’t just about heartbreak; the lyrics originated from a news story about a man who committed suicide.
  • Out of all the #1 hits and gold records he had, Elvis only won three Grammy awards during his life. All three were for his gospel music, not rock ‘n roll.
  • Elvis was a black belt in karate and studied it throughout his adult life.
  • Elvis was so much larger than life that he even left fellow artists star struck. When the Beatles first met Elvis in the mid-1960s, they were so amazed at meeting their idol they were literally left speechless.
  • Despite his worldwide fame, Elvis only performed in three cities outside of the United States, all of which were in Canada (Ottawa, Toronto, and Vancouver).
  • Elvis has sold over one billion records worldwide.
  • He was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll, Country Music, Rockabilly, R&B, and Gospel Halls of Fame.

Graceland Today

In 1982, Priscilla Presley decided to open Graceland up to the public. It has remained so since. The home appears as it did in the 1970s when Elvis was alive. The Trophy building has been converted to somewhat of a museum that provides excellent detail of Elvis’s life and contains various objects that belonged to the Presley’s. Graceland is reportedly the second most visited house in the country, behind only the White House.

TV Room at Graceland
TV Room at Graceland

Walking into Graceland Mansion is literally like taking a step back in time. It appears as it was when he was alive, so you take a step back into the 1970s. For those of us living in that time, it will not only bring back many memories but show how his style differed from ours. For you younger folks, be sure to check out the electronics including the televisions, telephone, and security system. I had to smile at the progress we’ve made over the years.

Elvis, his parents, and his paternal grandmother are all buried on the property in the meditation garden. Elvis was originally buried at Forest Hill Cemetery; however, even in death, he could not be left alone. As a result, they moved both his and his mother’s bodies back to Graceland, where they could rest in peace. His father and grandmother were also buried next to Elvis as they each passed away.

Presley Family Graves at Graceland
Presley Family Graves at Graceland

Touring Graceland

The mansion is only one part of the overall experience of visiting Graceland. Be prepared to spend several hours here if you want to explore all that is Elvis Presley. In addition to the mansion, his grave, and surrounding property, you can see his planes and a museum containing his prized cars. There is also a museum containing his many different awards and gold records, suits, and movie posters. These all provide great opportunities to discover more about the legend, his life, and the person he was.

Visitors do not get to see the whole mansion, only specific rooms on the first and lower levels. The tour includes the living room, his parents’ bedroom, dining room, kitchen, the Jungle Room, TV Room, and the Pool Room (the fabric walls are fascinating). Also included are Vernon Presley’s office, the trophy building, the pool, and the meditation garden, where Elvis and family members are buried. I appreciated the effort taken to provide detailed information, pictures, and mementos that educate visitors about Elvis as a person.

Very Colorful Pool Room at Graceland
Very Colorful Pool Room at Graceland

In May 2019, a new exhibition center opened. This center opened after my visit to Graceland, so I did not have the opportunity to see it. It is supposed to contain a changing line up of showcases to entertain and educate the public. Exhibits that have already been on display include vintage motorcycles and a tribute to Elvis’s friend, Muhammad Ali.

Finally, there are about eleven shops to stock up on souvenirs, t-shirts, and other paraphernalia related to the King. At the end of this busy day, your feet would undoubtedly hurt, and your stomach would be growling. Close the time out at Graceland by relaxing at one of the dining facilities and grabbing a bite to eat.

Just one view of the many awards Elvis was given
Just one view of the many awards Elvis was given

Address:

The GPS address is 3717 Elvis Presley Boulevard, Memphis, TN

Website:

https://www.graceland.com

Graceland Tour Hours*:

  • March – October:  Mon-Sat from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm (last mansion tour begins at 5:00 pm)
  • March – October:  Sun 9:00 am – 4:00 pm (last mansion tour begins at 4:00 pm)
  • November – February: Mon-Sun from 9:00 am to 4:00 pm (last mansion tour begins at 4:00 pm)

*Note:  Graceland is closed on Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, and occasionally on New Year’s Day. Please visit Graceland.com for schedule and hours.

Elvis's famous pink cadillac
Elvis’s famous pink cadillac

Sources

  • Graceland/Elvis Presley Enterprises, I. (No Date). Graceland, The Home of Elvis Presley. Retrieved October 4, 2019, from https://www.graceland.com
  • Tillery, G. (2013). The Seeker King. Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House. Retrieved October 4, 2019
  • Watson, S. (2013). Elvis Presley: Rock & Roll King. Minneapolis, MN: ABDO Publishing Company. Retrieved October 4, 2019

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