UNPOPULAR OPINION: I like Elvis Presley. While I am not ashamed of this fact, I do understand that Elvis is a very polarizing character in the Black community.
Long before I knew about culture vultures and racial appropriation, I discovered Elvis, the actor. As a latchkey kid, I watched a LOT of television and I loved musicals. At some point, I stumbled upon a campy “Beach Party”-isk movie starring Elvis and I was hooked. I watched more of his films, listened to his music, and liked it.
I wouldn’t go so far as to call Elvis the King of Rock ‘N Roll. I know my history too well for that. But when I visited Memphis, Tennessee for a travel conference, Graceland – The Home of Elvis Presley, was at the top of my Memphis Must-See List.
I had a few conversations with locals on the subject. When I spoke with white Memphians in my age group, they felt that Elvis is no longer relevant. His music is too old and outdated. However, when I mentioned Elvis and visiting Graceland to some Black Memphians the response was visceral. To paraphrase many of them felt that Elvis has stolen enough from us (the Black community) and he’s still profiting off of us from his grave. Ergo, they had zero desire to ever visit Graceland.
I believe that both of those sentiments are true, but I still wanted to see and experience Memphis’ #1 tourist attraction for myself. And so…I did.
Once at the Graceland, I went to the Ticket office to purchase my tickets to decide what type of Elvis experience I wanted. The entry tickets were very expensive for me. I decided to purchase a ticket for a basic self-guided tour that included the Graceland Mansion and grounds tour. I opted not to pay the additional $5-10 to tour Elvis’s airplane.
We watched a brief movie about the life and legacy of Elvis and guests were ushered into an outdoor covered waiting area where we waited for a minibus to drive us across the street to the Graceland mansion.
Once outside of the famed front steps, a Graceland docent gave us a brief introductory explanation of how and when Elvis purchased the home and land and we were invited to start our self-guided tour. Each guest was given an iPad and a set of headphones for the tour. I was surprised to discover that tour is narrated by Elvis enthusiast, “Uncle Jesse” or John Stamos from Full House.
Stepping into Graceland felt like entering a 70s-time capsule. Each room is decorated in the kitschy 70s style that Elvis was famous for. The virtual aspects of the tour added context which helped to bring the rooms to life. I enjoyed the interactive features including photos and videos of Elvis in the rooms.
The most famous room in the house is the Jungle Room. It was decorated after Elvis’s favorite vacation spot – Hawaii. There’s green carpet everywhere… including ceilings. There’s also wooden furniture, and intricate wood carvings on display in this room.
The pool table room was interesting. Fabric covered the walls and ceiling. It reminded me of something out of a horror film. His TV room was bright yellow and blue. He apparently had three televisions going at all times, two to watch two different new stations and one for comedy.
After touring the mansion, you head outdoors to tour the grounds which included Elvis’s trophy room, his father’s office, a swimming pool, and the final stop was the Meditation Garden. Elvis and other members of his family are buried there. From here you take a min-bus back to the main building.
Museum and Shops
There is a museum and movie studio near the main building and entrance. In this area, you can tour Elvis’s cars, clothing, and other memorabilia. For an added fee you can also tour the Lisa Marie, Elvis’s airplane. There’s the Guesthouse, which is a hotel for visitors who want a more immersed Graceland experience.
In all the tour took me about 45 minutes from start to finish, not including wait time. I learned a great deal about Elvis, the person, and really enjoyed seeing the 1970s come to life. I paid about $75 for the Elvis Experience Tour which I think its a bit expensive. If you’re interested in visiting, you can find up-to-date ticket prices here. Overall, I really enjoyed my day at Graceland.
I’m not encouraging or discouraging anyone from visiting Graceland. I wanted to share my internal conflict and overall experience.
And in case you’re wondering, I believe I was the only Black person at Graceland the day I visited.
Would you visit Graceland?