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The wonder of Graceland

Friday, September 21, 2018
Pics: Verus Ferreira

There are very few people who can be recognised globally by their first name. Elvis was one of them. You felt him even when you couldn’t see him, says Verus Ferreira, who visited Graceland and was left teary eyed

Elvis Presley’s Graceland was always on my bucket list, and when friends Renuka Rose and Marc Taube invited me and my family for a holiday to their home in Cleveland, I jumped at the offer, especially when they said we could visit Graceland. What I didn’t know was my adventurous friend Marc, pitching an idea of a road trip to Tupelo, the birthplace of Elvis, Nashville, Memphis (Graceland) and St Louis and back to Cleveland.

After soaking in the sights of Cleveland’s iconic Rock N Roll Hall of Fame, and other places, we were looking forward to the trip of a lifetime.

Well stocked for the jaunt in a four-wheel drive SUV, we headed out one early morning for a long drive to Columbus. A night halt and then onto Tupelo, the birthplace of Elvis. A tour ($18) takes you into the modest two-room shack, museum and Church. It’s hard to believe how humble Elvis really was and how great a star he went on to become.

Elvis’ Graceland lies near the Graceland Hotel on Elvis Presley Boulevard. There are many budget hotels nearby. It is advisable to book your tickets online to avoid serpentine queues. You can opt for The Ultimate VIP Tour ($169) that gets you a personal tour guide, a meal voucher, an exclusive lounge and a chance to view and hold some rare exhibits of the King. The pass also lets you make multiple return visits to the exhibits before closing time.  There’s also the Elvis Entourage ($96) and the most popular $59 Elvis Experience Tour. All tours have a mandatory interactive iPad.

Once on the tour you would be drooling over the man and his almost unbelievable, superhuman charisma. I went crazy to see the home where he had lived, breathed, sang, made love to Priscilla and years later breathed his last. Our eight-member group, (yes, I opted for the Ultimate VIP Pass), began just outside the museum, when we were bused across the street to a sweeping lawn and into the environs of the Graceland mansion. The two-storeyed limestone mansion with green shutters, white Corinthian pillars, and two white marble lions, beckons every visitor aka Elvis fan.

The living room has a 15-foot long white sofa, gold drapes and peacock-stained glass windows. A staircase leading to the first floor was out of bounds for visitors and probably is only accessible to Elvis’ wife Priscilla and his only child Lisa Marie.

You can feel Elvis’ presence as you wander though the mansion, maybe seated at his dining table. Move ahead and you have the kitchen with a vintage blender, fridge, microwave oven, wash basin and cabinets. The tropical rain forest evoking Jungle Room with stone walls and carved heavy wood Polynesian furniture also has part of the walls covered in a green shag rug with a non-functioning waterfall. You couldn’t miss out the Teddy Bear seated on the sofa nearby. His French dynasty-inspired Billiards Room (Pool room) was decorative to the core, with its tuck-and-draped ceiling made of 350 yards of heavy brocade fabric; the media room was all lemon yellow and black with a mirrored ceiling for good effect, where the ‘King’ sat and watched television—not one, but three TVs. There are a couple of LP records around with a white porcelain monkey on the centre glass table.

In the Trophy room, the walls are lined with silver and gold records, while his Racquetball building houses the piano that was used by him to entertain his friends. It’s the same piano he played the day he passed away on August 16, 1977, at the age of 42. A passage leads you to his father’s office where a host of exhibits are displayed. 

Elvis was a cowboy at heart. Out on the lawns you can watch horses graze, but none of these are Elvis’, namely the most famous Rising Sun, who was the last to die in 2005. After another gallery of exhibits, you then head outside to a kidney-shaped swimming pool that overlooks the Meditation garden, Elvis’ favorite space at Graceland. It’s where he lies buried alongside his parents Gladys and Vernon, Grandmother Minnie Mae and his twin brother Jesse, who died at childbirth. I spent a while in reflection of his great spirit. I couldn’t hold back the tears, but I wasn’t alone, diehard fans were weeping, staring at his grave, praying at his gravesite, feeling his presence. 

Back in the bus and across the road, the tour continues with the Museum exhibits that follows Elvis’ life and career gaining insights into his roots, influences and artistry, his movies and his life in the army. I swooned over every photo gushing about just how handsome he was. There’s lots to see, from his Automobile Museum that has over 20 cars, his 1955 Pink Cadillac or the black 1973 Stutz Blackhawk III, the car he used the night before he died. There’s the Lisa Marie Convair 880 aircraft, the fashionable outfits he wore on stage, one better than the other, it is all here. Elvis loved dressing up, just wearing what he liked and felt right; he became a fashion icon that everyone followed. Our tour ended with the secret room. Here our select group got a chance to see his comb, the necklace and ring he gave Priscilla, and the microphone he used. I almost wept with delight as I held the microphone. It was a magical moment for me, something I will always cherish for the rest of my life.

Before leaving don’t forget to pick your souvenirs from Graceland or the nearby merchandise shops.

The Elvis Presley story does not end at Graceland. Head to Downtown Memphis to visit Sun Studio where his career started. You learn all about the birthplace of rock n roll, you can even stand on the spot where Elvis stood (I unknowingly did), take a picture with the microphone Elvis, Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis used. You can also grab a bite or a beer at the BB King Bar or Hard Rock Café on Beale Street.

Elvis’ charisma, style and that deep melodic voice that measured every word is unforgettable. So rich, velvety. It was Elvis’ dream to sing. He taught us that dreams can come true.

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