Other Peoples Homes (2) Elvis, Graceland, Memphis, Tennessee

In the words of Paul Simon, “I’m going to Graceland, Graceland in Memphis, Tennessee” and now I’ve been but, in my case, with a travelling companion several decades more than nine years old and a devoted fan of the “King of Rock and Roll”.Since Elvis Presley’s death in 1977, Graceland, the house purchased by Elvis in 1957 and in whose grounds he is buried, has become a shrine to the memory of Elvis and a centre of pilgrimage for thousands of fans who visit every year.Graceland was built on a hilly, heavily wooded thirteen-and-three-quarter-acre site on the two-lane Highway 51 connecting Memphis with Jackson, Mississippi, for a Dr. and Mrs. Thomas D. Moore. Over time the name “Graceland” came to refer specifically to the house but originally it applied to the entire area which was establish as a Hereford cattle farm in 1861, by S.E. Toof, the publisher of the Memphis Commercial Appeal. It was named after his daughter, Grace Toof. Ruth Moore, who built Graceland the house, was Grace’s niece who planned the house for her daughter, Ruth Marie, who played the harp and piano. Music seeped through it’s very foundations. The rooms were designed with an eye to future musical evenings and space was essential. A Commercial Appeal headline for Sunday, October 27th 1940 heralded the “Colonial Courtliness of Georgian Style Exemplified in Stately Graceland”. The home that has come to symbolise Elvis.The house was opened to the public in 1982. I understand about 650,000 people a year pass through the front door. Graceland has become one of the five most visited home museums in the United States and in 1991 gained the honour of being placed on the National Register of Historic Places.Joining one of the many shuttle tours that operate from downtown Memphis, I, personally was prepared to be disillusioned. Would it all be hype and tasteless, but hey, forever curious about other peoples tastes and extravagances it was a ‘must do’ visit. Surrounded by fellow travellers, devoted Elvis fans, who have all come to see not only where Elvis lived by how he lived, the tour began.The neoclassical façade of white Tishomingo stone with windows shuttered in contrasting green present a truly tranquil, elegant and stylish house. Entering through the Corinthian columns on the front portico, the “formal” Dining Room and Living Room are lavishly decorated in blue, white and gold colour scheme and given a spacious feel by the mirrors which are a predominant feature of both rooms. The centrepiece of the Dining Room is a spectacular Italian cut glass chandelier purchased by Elvis on an after-hours shopping spree at Belvedere Lighting in Memphis in August 1974. In the Living Room stunning peacock stained-glass windows designed by Laukhuff Stained Glass of Memphis, separate the Living Room from the Music Room. The same company that did the stained glass work around the front door and the stained-glass billiard light in the Pool Room.Moving into the Music Room, decorated predominantly in gold and white, a black Story and Clark baby grand takes pride of place. The most famous person to play it other than Elvis was James Brown who recalls singing gospel songs with Elvis. The wall mirror in the Music Room illustrates the fact that a lot of things were kept; things weren’t thrown away and trashed over the years. This mirror dates back to the Presley’s previous home on Audubon Drive where they lived prior to moving to Graceland. The stairway in the hall leads to the upper floor of the house that disappointingly is not open to visitors. I would have loved to have had a nose into the bedrooms and the four bathrooms. The chandelier over the stairs is the largest one of three in the house and the same design as the one in the Dining Room, in the Maria Theresa design. The third chandelier is Strauss crystal and hangs just inside the front door in the foyer.The TV Room, decorated in black and gold with mirrored walls was decorated in its present style by Bill Eubanks who also decorated the Pool Room across the hall. All the chrome, glass, chrome arc lamps and sectional black furniture are very much the style of the 70’s including a yellow leather topped bar and bar stools! The most spectacular feature of the Pool Room is the fabric used to cover the sofas, walls and ceiling. We are told it took something between 350 and 400 yards of fabric and three workmen about ten days to hang it. The room, with its French, Oriental and turn-of-the century European influences is an example of the Seventies American trend toward eclectic decorating, mixing styles of various eras and countries. A similar “retro” trend emerged again in the Nineties. None of the furniture is antique. Most chosen to complement the general décor including the reproduction Louis XV red leather chairs.All the pictures are either prints, some signed by artists, or – like the Toulouse Lautrecs, just regular commercial reproductions. The gold, green and peacock blue light shade over the pool table is again, the work of Laukhuff Stained Glass in Memphis and done in the revived Tiffany style. Possibly the most spectacular and unique room of the visit though is the Jungle Room. Added to the house in the mid-Sixties it functioned as a screened-in porch, then it was closed in completely and made into a family room or den. Legend has it that Vernon, Elvis’ father had been out and about and had seen some hideous furniture in a store in Memphis. Apparently, unbeknownst to Vernon, Elvis had seen the same furniture and had liked it because it reminded him of Hawaii. He bought a whole roomful of it. The big “monkey chair” is so enormous that one of the windows had to be removed to move it into the room. Much of the room’s décor seems to be tactile, as with the fake fur on the bar stools and the heavily carved wood, the exotic feathered mirror frame and the ornamental animals.The indoor waterfall completes the theme although we are told that it wasn’t turned on very often because it tended to make the carpet wet.

Finally the office. Housed in a building that was already there when Elvis bought Graceland. Vernon ran the office and had a staff of secretaries to handle fan mail and all the household and personal bills. Elvis gave a press conference sitting at his father’s desk in this office in 1960 the day after he returned from his tour of army duty in Germany. In photographs it is possible to see that it is the same desk, same blotter, lamp, filing cabinets and cards on top of the filing cabinet.It is recorded that when Elvis was a child he made a promise to his parents that “One day, I’ll buy you the prettiest house in Memphis, and I’ll pay you back for all you’ve sacrificed for me”. Graceland represented that to him. Both house and garden provided a fascinating visit. One I would have no hesitation in recommending to others and one I would happily repeat if I ever found myself back in Memphis, Tennessee.

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