It seems hard to believe, but Graceland, the former home of rock-'n'-roll-legend Elvis Presley and annually the destination of tens of thousands of love-struck pilgrims searching for the ghost of Elvis, is the second most visited home in America. Only the White House receives more visitors each year. A look around at the crowds waiting in various lines at this sprawling complex makes it clear that Elvis, through his many recordings, numerous movie roles, and countless concerts, appealed to a wide spectrum of people. Today, more than 3 decades after Elvis's death, Graceland draws visitors of all ages from all over the world.
Purchased in the late 1950s for $100,000, Graceland today is Memphis's biggest attraction and resembles a small theme park or shopping mall in scope and design. There are his two personal jets, the Elvis Presley Automobile Museum, the "Sincerely Elvis" collection of Elvis's personal belongings, the Walk a Mile in My Shoes video, and, of course, guided tours of the Graceland mansion. If your time here is limited to only one thing, by all means, go for the mansion tour. It's the essence of the Big E. All the rest is just icing on Elvis's buttercream-frosted cake.
Beyond the mansion are a number of exhibits that are today grouped together as the "Entertainment Complex". The Elvis Presley Automobile Museum includes not only his famous 1955 pink Cadillac, a 1956 purple Cadillac convertible, and two Stutz Blackhawks from the early 1970s, but also motorcycles and other vehicles. Accompanying this collection are videos of Elvis's home movies and a fast-paced compilation of car-scene clips from dozens of Elvis movies, which are shown in a sort of drive-in-theater setting.
A re-creation of an airport terminal serves as the entrance to the Lisa Marie and Hound Dog II private jets. The former was once a regular Delta Air Lines passenger jet that was customized (at a cost of $800,000) after Elvis purchased it in 1975 for $250,000. The Hound Dog II is much smaller and was purchased after the Lisa Marie was acquired.
"Sincerely Elvis" is Graceland's most revealing exhibit. This is a collection of many of Elvis's personal belongings. Here you'll see everything from some of Elvis's personal record collection (including albums by Tom Jones and Ray Charles) to a pair of his sneakers. One exhibit displays gifts sent to Elvis by fans. Included are quilts, needlepoint, and even a plaque made from woven chewing gum wrappers. The Entertainment Complex now houses a number of interactive exhibits, as well.
The Graceland exhibits strive to reveal Elvis the man and Elvis the star. Some of the surprising facts passed on to visitors include these: Elvis was an avid reader and always traveled with lots of books; Elvis didn't like the taste of alcohol; among his favorite movies were Blazing Saddles and the films of Monty Python.
Throughout the year there are several special events at Graceland. Elvis's birthday (Jan 8, 1935) is celebrated each year with several days of festivities. However, mid-August's Elvis Week, commemorating his death, on August 16, 1977, boasts the greatest Elvis celebrations both here at Graceland and throughout Memphis. Each year from Thanksgiving until January 8, Graceland is decorated with Elvis's original Christmas lights and lawn decorations.
Early risers should be aware that most mornings it is possible to visit Elvis's grave before Graceland officially opens. This special free walk-up period is daily from 7:30 to 8:30am. If you're buying a ticket for the whole shebang, allow at least 2 to 3 hours or more (depending upon your devotion to The King).