Like most good Americans, I like Elvis. Yeah, he was a bit of a nut burger, and his later persona was a little over the top, but dang it, he was The King. You think The Beatles, or Michael Jackson, or Justin Bieber were the first guys to turn a huge sold-out crowd into a blubbering mass of screaming idiots? Hell no. Elvis did that. He’s the biggest, most enduring entertainer in history. And he even served in the U.S. Army. You just gotta have a soft spot for the big guy.
Each year, some 1.4-jillion fans make their way to Graceland, Elvis’ mansion in Memphis, Tenn. The place still looks about like it did when Elvis died in 1977, and people want to cast their eyes upon the stuff that Elvis cherished when he wasn’t on the road. Oh, and did I mention that there is a car museum there?
I was in Memphis for a wedding over the weekend, so naturally, we had to make the pilgrimage through those famous iron gates. I mean, you don’t get a chance to check out Elvis’ cars very often.
Well, that’s not exactly true. Long before there was a blog, I was attending car auctions and museums. And it seems like one out of every five has some old Lincoln or Cadillac that Elvis purchased for one person or another. They say Elvis bought a lot of cars for people, and that’s obviously true, because those things are all over the friggin’ place.
Based on that, you would have to believe that the Graceland car collection would be a humdinger. Well, it is sort of interesting, but I wouldn’t call it overly spectacular. There weren’t all that many cars in it, and the ones that were weren’t as outrageous as you might think.
Naturally, the most famous car is the pink ’55 Cadillac Fleetwood Sedan that Elvis gave to his “momma” when he hit the big time. There have been all kinds of models and toys made of this car over the years, so it looked really familiar sitting there under the flood lights. There was an old video showing the Presleys driving around Graceland in it after a rare Tennessee show storm, so that was kind of fun. It was a pretty nice old car, and neat to think that it still lives at the same address that it did when it was new.
There was also a ’56 Eldorado Convertible that Elvis bought new for himself. Legend has it that Elvis squished some grapes on the original white surface to explain the shade of purple he wanted to the body man. Anyway, it looked resplendent under the neon of the mock drive-in display. Unfortunately, Graceland doesn't let you use the flash on your camera, so my pictures of this car look pretty dark.
There were a couple of Stutz Blackhawks on display, a ’71 and a ’73. The ’73 was supposedly built for Frank Sinatra, but Elvis swooped in and charmed it out of the dealer before Ol’ Blue Eyes could take delivery. They say Elvis really liked the Stutz, and drove it somewhere on the day he died. I saw a photo of Elvis taking delivery of the car in 1973, and it shows the grille but not the wheels. Clearly, the grille and nose has been changed a little bit since then. I can only hope that the wheels were also changed along the way, because those basket-type fake wire wheels are not befitting of The King.
Other standouts included a ’56 Continental that appears in many period photos of Graceland, A ’69 Mercedes limousine that shuttled Elvis around Los Angeles, and a ’70 Mercedes 280 SL that Elvis bought for Priscilla.
For the most part, these cars aren’t perfect. Not only have they been sitting around stagnant for the last 35 years, but much of that time was spent outside under a carport. Elvis might have been a car guy, but he didn’t have an enclosed garage. Even after his death, the cars were displayed under the carport for many years. Early pictures of Graceland show a huge garage area, but that apparently disappeared somewhere along the way. The enclosed museum is a fairly recent addition.
After you get through the car pictures in the slideshow, I’m including some of the pics from the actual mansion tour. To that end, I figured I’d describe that a little bit, even though it isn’t car-related.
First of all, visiting Graceland is expensive. We’re talking about spending anywhere from $35.00 to $70.00 per person, depending on what package you get, plus ten bucks to park. And don’t forget to bring money for souvenirs, because there are lots of places to buy them.
The area around Graceland is rough. Apparently, Elvis’ song “In the Ghetto” was about his own neighborhood. You don’t want to get lost around there at night, or stop for gas, or grab something to eat. It’s no wonder there’s a rock wall around the place.
Surprisingly, Elvis’ house wasn’t really that big. I mean, it was actually kind of homey. It isn’t the massive, scary, impersonal place that I expected. It only has five bedrooms, an average kitchen, and a relatively small swimming pool. Heck, I know people around Kansas City that live in more impressive homes now.
But it is a time capsule. Unfortunately, Elvis died in 1977, which was one of the tackiest times in the history of interior decorating, but it’s still fun to look at. I’m not going to get into detail on every aspect of Graceland here, but the shag carpeting, the televisions, the light fixtures, and so on were quite modern … for 1977. I’ll bet this place was really cool when it was built in the 1950s.
And of course, there’s all kinds of neat memorabilia to look at. Lots of sparkly jumpsuits that Elvis wore on stage, including, to my wife’s extreme pleasure, the one he donned in the “Aloha from Hawaii” television special. You’ll also see gold records, awards, copies of checks that Elvis wrote to charities, movie costumes, and so on. If you ever wanted to see any kind of Elvis artafact, they had anything and everything here. It actually was pretty cool stuff.
We also saw some crashin’ action. Right in the intersection in front of the famous Graceland gates, a Toyota Camry and a brand new looking Chevy Equinox tried to share the same space. All the Graceland employees were talking about it. I guess somebody was distracted by the beauty and reverence of The King’s estate. Too bad one of them wasn't driving a Mary Kay Cadillac--that would have made front page news!
So do I recommend that you check out Graceland for yourself? Sure. Why the heck not? It’s one of those things every American should see once, like Mount Rushmore or the Grand Canyon. Am I going to make it a point to go there again? Eh, probably not, but I'm glad we went.
The slideshow below has car museum pictures first, followed by the usual touristy photos from inside Graceland, as well as some shots of Elvis’ airplanes that are parked there. Or, click this link for a better version of the slideshow. Thank you. Thank you very much.