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August 31, 2008

Elvis's followers keep his memory alive at Memphis mansion

elvis-presley-gold-suitelvis-presley-militarygraceland-peacock-stained-glass-windowGraceland is a treasure trove of Elvis memorabilia, including a collection of his gold records, his famous gold suit and many of the everyday furnishings of his Memphis, Tenn., home.elvis-presley-gold-recordselvis-taking-care-of-businessheartbreak-hotel-elvisgraceland-fountain
Used by permission, Elvis Presley Enterprises Inc.
Used by permission, Elvis Presley Enterprises Inc.
David Mudd
David Mudd
David Mudd
David Mudd
David Mudd
David Mudd
Graceland is a treasure trove of Elvis memorabilia, including a collection of his gold records, his famous gold suit and many of the everyday furnishings of his Memphis, Tenn., home.

When the King of Rock ’n’ Roll died Aug. 16, 1977, his ex-wife, Priscilla, was overcome with emotion—and doubts. She worried not just for her daughter, Lisa Marie—Elvis’ only child—but also for all the people around the globe to whom he meant so much. “How is this world,” she wondered, “going to survive without Elvis Presley?”

Thirty-one years later, Presley’s faithful followers keep his memory alive, especially when they visit Graceland, making the ultimate pop-music pilgrimage to one of America’s top five most-visited historic homes. Each year, more than 600,000 people tour the 17,000-square-foot residence on Elvis Presley Boulevard in the Whitehaven section of Memphis, Tenn. Some, like Nancie Craft, 52, of Houston, come twice a year: in January for Elvis’ birthday, and in August, around the anniversary of his death.

“It’s so nice to go somewhere where you do not have to explain to anyone why you’re an Elvis fan,” says Craft, president of an Elvis Presley fan club. “Why all of us want to know so much about this one man is still a mystery to me. But we go because it’s like a family reunion, and we all just feel closer to Elvis at Graceland.”

Built for a doctor
The “mansion,” as the home is commonly referred to, was built in 1939 for Memphis physician Dr. Thomas D. Moore and his wife, and dubbed Graceland for Mrs. Moore’s great-aunt. But today, everything about it, from the famed music-themed gates to the stained-glass peacocks in the living room and the “TCB” (Taking Care of Business) lightning bolts painted on the walls of the TV room, reflects Elvis and his often eclectic decorating tastes.

Presley bought the property for $102,500 in March 1957 as a home for himself and his parents, Gladys and Vernon. Visitors taking Graceland’s “audio tour”—available in eight languages—even hear Elvis’ voice as they walk through the home, grounds, outbuildings and the Meditation Garden where Presley and his parents are buried.

“It’s the most unique historic home tour you’ll find anywhere in the world,” boasts Kevin Kern, media relations manager of Elvis Presley Enterprises. “At other historic properties, you might hear someone impersonating the voice of a president, but our tour offers you the opportunity to hear from the people who lived there—not only Elvis, but also Priscilla and Lisa Marie. And you can listen to recordings of Gladys and Vernon and Elvis singing. When you’re actually hearing the people who lived and breathed inside those walls, it becomes a very real place.”

And how. In this perfectly preserved time capsule of the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s, it’s easy to imagine Elvis cutting up with his friends in the Jungle Room, instantly recognizable for its “fur”-covered, Polynesian-style furniture and lime shag carpet. And in Elvis’ parents’ bedroom, where time stopped with Gladys’ death in 1958, you can almost see her getting ready for the day, with her colorful dresses lined up in the open closet as if she’s trying to decide which one to wear.

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