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Elvis Presley and the Graceland Estate

In March of 2006, Elvis Presley’s Graceland estate was raised to the level of Washington’s Mount Vernon and Jefferson’s Monticello. It officially became a National Historic Monument.

Of course, long before the Secretary of the Interior made this public announcement, Presley fans worldwide had made his home a popular tourist destination; Graceland already attracted more than 600,000 people every year. The designation of his home as a national landmark celebrates his widely-known contributions to American culture and music history.

Elvis Presley is among the most influential figures in 20th century music and pop culture. He was most famous as a musician and was indicted into three halls of fame: the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Country Music Hall of Fame, and the GMA Gospel Hall of Fame. No other artist has been honored by all three establishments. Presley also triumphed on television and starred in 33 movies.

Shortly after his rise to stardom, Elvis felt a need for privacy. In 1957 he moved out of working-class East Memphis and purchased the 14-acre Graceland estate. The price tag: $103,000 – easily purchased with proceeds from his first hit record, “Heartbreak Hotel”. Graceland would be Elvis’s primary residence for the next 20 years. His parents lived there too, as did his wife-to-be Priscilla Beaulieu and eventually their daughter, Lisa Marie. Elvis Presley died in an upstairs Graceland bathroom in 1977.

The Graceland estate is located south of downtown Memphis and is just a few miles north of the Mississippi border. The grounds were named after Grace Toot, the daughter of the home’s original owner. Grace inherited the property while it was still farmland. She gifted the land to a niece, Ruth Moore, who had the mansion built.

The colonial-style mansion is constructed of tan limestone with white columns. Two stone lions seem to guard the front entrance. Elvis Presley expanded the living space from about 10,000 square feet to 17,000 square feet. He is known for his extravagance and a unique sense of design; some call it kitschy. The home reflected Elvis well; he became so comfortable there that when he traveled, his hotel rooms were pre-decorated with furniture sent from Graceland.

Elvis’s indoor and outdoor estate expansions were considerable. For privacy, he constructed a fieldstone wall around the grounds. (Today it is full of visitors’ graffiti.) He added a wrought-iron privacy gate to the outside drive; it’s decorated with iron musical notes. He installed a swimming pool with adjacent jukebox in his parents’ bedroom, and the famous Jungle Room has a waterfall. Elvis also kept several televisions in the basement and was known to watch three simultaneously.

Today, audio tours begin at the lion-flanked portico. Visitors then see Elvis's room, and then downstairs to the basement to see side-by-side TVs, a bar, and a billiards table. The tour continues upstairs in the Jungle Room. Elvis memorabilia are displayed throughout, with his sequined jumpsuits being especially prominent.

Elvis died at Graceland in 1977. Medical reports vary; he apparently had a drug-induced heart attack. He was buried at a public cemetery but people attempted to rob his grave. Presley’s remains were moved to his mansion’s Meditation Gardens, where the performer joined his deceased parents and grandmother. The August 16th anniversary of Elvis Presley’s death is a particularly popular time for Graceland visits. Despite a downpour of rain through Memphis, the twenty-fifth anniversary of his death drew a procession of 40,000 people.

After Elvis’s death, Priscilla Presley managed the property and greatly increased its value by promoting tourism. Graceland opened to the public in 1982. The Presley's’ daughter, Lisa Marie Presley, inherited the estate when she turned 30 years old. She kept the mansion but sold 85% of the grounds to a private management company in 2005. The new owner, CKX, Inc., plans to make Graceland a theme park on par with Disneyland.

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