I felt a little out of place when I first arrived at Graceland, the famous home of Elvis Presley. I had been warned of the Elvis impersonators who would be roaming the grounds and the women who would be shedding tears over Elvis’ grave. I felt like an imposter, visiting this sacred rock’n’roll landmark when not only was I not an avid fan of Elvis, I didn’t even know that much about him.
It wasn’t long, though, before I realized that you don’t have to be an Elvis fan to enjoy Graceland. Indeed, I may have even enjoyed it more than some visitors because I went in with a completely open mind and a blank slate. I saw my visit as a chance to learn all I could about this often revered, yet often ridiculed figure. By the time I left nearly three hours later, I realized there are several reasons to visit Graceland – regardless of how much you know about Elvis.
1. Take a trip back in time.
Stepping into the Graceland Mansion, I didn’t find myself thinking “wow, Elvis lived here.” Instead, I found myself marveling at this home that sort of reminded me of the house on the Brady Bunch. Well, at least the kitchen did. The living room and bedrooms were surely much more extravagant than anything the Brady’s would have enjoyed and of course there is no way Carol would have gone for a room with green shag carpet on the ceiling like the Jungle Room. Regardless, it was interesting to see the decades-old décor, including the old black and white television sets and actual vinyl 45s.
2. Get to know Elvis.
Even if you are an Elvis fan extraordinaire, I would think you might learn a little something from the displays in the Trophy Building adjacent to the mansion that chronicle the ups and downs of his music and film career. And if you are a complete Elvis novice like me, you will learn a lot! I had no idea what a movie star Elvis became or that he took such a long break from performing live. While I vaguely knew he was controversial in some respects, I had no idea that Ed Sullivan initially refused to have Elvis on his show. And I had no idea that he initially appeared in Vegas to horrible reviews. I was so intrigued that I actually bought an Elvis biography before I left Memphis.
3. Admire Elvis’ car collection.
Elvis had a pretty impressive collection of cars, especially Cadillacs. A few dozen of his favorite vehicles are on display at the Elvis Presley Car Museum across the street from the Graceland Mansion. The museum is accessible with the purchase of a Platinum Tour (just $4 more than the basic tour) and includes beauties like his famous Pink Cadillac, several Rolls Royce sedans, a Mercedes Benz limousine and even a John Deere tractor that Elvis used on his ranch and at Graceland.
4. Learn about 1968.
If you’re like me and were born in the 1970s or later, the year 1968 may not mean a whole lot (especially if your school was like mine and covered US history from World War I to the present in about 3 days). Which is a shame because 1968 was a pretty pivotal year in United States history. The ’68 Special exhibit at Graceland Crossing (again, accessible with the purchase of a Platinum Tour) focuses on Elvis’ television special in 1968 that launched his career comeback, but a chronology of national events during the year is what caught my attention. The Vietnam War was well underway. Civil rights and anti-war protests were taking place throughout the country. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. The Civil Rights Act of 1968 was signed. Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated. Seeing it all laid out emphasized the year’s importance and set the stage for my visit to the National Civil Rights Museum the following day.
If You Go
Before heading to Graceland, it’s important to realize that there is much more to see than just the Graceland Mansion. The Platinum Tour (which is what I did) costs just a few dollars more than basic admission and gives you access to the mansion, the car museum and the ’68 Special Exhibit, as well as to Elvis’ two custom airplanes and exhibits about Elvis’ Las Vegas comeback performances, his homecoming to Tupelo, Mississippi and his strong connection with Hawaii. You can easily spend 3-4 hours taking it all in.
Graceland is located a few miles away from downtown Memphis. If you haven’t rented a car, you have a few options to get there. One is to take the city bus, route #43, which leaves from several stops around downtown and takes about 40 minutes. Another option is the new Memphis Hop-on Hop-off tour which includes Graceland among its stops. At a cost of $20, though, and a limited schedule, I wouldn’t recommend it. Finally, a free shuttle runs between Sun Studio, the Rock’n’Soul Museum and Graceland, but it doesn’t start running until around 10 or 10:30 a.m.
Thank you to the Memphis Convention & Visitors Bureau for providing me with a complimentary Platinum Tour pass to Graceland. Opinions, as always, are my own.