August 18, 2000
Elvis Week proves Presley's still The King
By TOM WILLIAMS
Elvis is the king.
He was in the king in the 1950s and early 1960s when he was the driving force behind
the new rhythm and blues sound that would become known as rock 'n' roll.
And he is still the king, 23 years after his death.
Hundreds of thousands of his fans came from all over the world during the past week -
they call it "Elvis Week" in Memphis - to remember Elvis Presley at Graceland. There
are concerts, trivia contests, Elvis double features at a local theatre and even a
candlelight vigil at Graceland that started on Tuesday and lasted until the early hours
of the next morning. Elvis died on August 16, 1977.
If you are already an Elvis fan, you probably know the impressive numbers. He had 51
gold records in a career that lasted just over 20 years. For 94 weeks during those 20
years, one of his songs was No. 1 on the bestseller list. And he also turned out 31
Elvis came from poverty and, probably for that reason, spent his money freely. And you
can see both the beginning and the end with a visit to the South.
First, in Tupelo, MS, the house in which he was born stands as a small shrine. And that
is a literal description. It is a two-room house that easily would have fit inside each of
the rooms at Graceland.
They have built a small museum behind the Presley house in Tupelo and a memorial
chapel beside it that was constructed just two years after his death. In fact, they have
a seperate celebration of their connection to Elvis in Tupelo - The Elvis Presley Festival
- in early August.
It is only a short ride from Tupelo to Memphis to visit the places where Elvis advanced
from a young boy who had won a talent show to the Entertainer of the Century. The
Presleys made that move in 1948.
Graceland is probably the second most famous mansion in the country, surpassed only
by the White House. It is a beautiful, Southern building surrounded by acres of ground.
Horses generally run in the pasture behind the house and ornamental gates that are
decorated by musical notes dominate the front entrance.
The sidewalk in front of Graceland is covered by personal messages from fans, in all
languages. At first glance, you think it is graffiti. But then you read some of the
inscriptions and realize these are heartfelt expressions that have been left there over
the past quarter-century.
At one time, the property across the street from Graceland was the home of some rather
cheesy businesses. One guy was even selling what he claimed were vials of Elvis'
Elvis Presley Enterprises - under the guidance of his ex-wife, Priscilla, and her
management team - has purchased that property and they use it to enhance the
experience for Elvis fans. It has become, in effect, the Elvis Mall.
There are, of course, complete collections of Elvis' CDs and videos. They have books,
food, photos and apparel. There is also the Auto Museum, spotlighting his impressive
collection of cars. You can tour his two custom jets - the Lisa Marie and Hound Dog.
And there are a number of video presentations.
They have also added a hotel to the complex. You guessed it - Heartbreak Hotel. The
rates are reasonable (though there are four two-bedroom suites that go for over $400 a
night) and every room contains a portrait of Elvis.
Downtown, on Beale Street where Elvis would go to listen to the great blues musicians,
almost right across the street from B.B. King's club, is Elvis Presley's Memphis. It is a
restaurant specializing in Southern cuisine and featuring live entertainment.
And Sun Records - where it all started for Elvis, Johnny Cash and many others of the
era - is still standing just a few blocks away.
But, the centerpiece of any visit to Memphis is Graceland.
It is quite a building though, quite frankly, there are more spectacular homes in Margate
or Stone Harbor. But this one is much as it was in 1957 when Elvis purchased it. And it
was magnificent for that era.
Inside there is a comfortable living room, dominated by a piano that was frequently at
the center of some impressive jam sessions.
There is the dining room, with a prominent television (Elvis had more than two dozen in
the house), where family and friends gathered regularly. By the way, almost every
restaurant in town offers his favorite snack - peanut butter and banana sandwiches. And
they are mighty tasty!
The tour includes the jungle room, with leopard-skin patterns everywhere, and the game
room. Out back, you visit the office of his father, Vernon, who managed the fan club.
There are the racquetball courts and weight room in another building.
And then there is the trophy room. This building once housed a gigantic slot racing track
that Elvis loved to play with. But it has become a museum that includes hundreds and
hundreds of awards and collectibles.
One small, but interesting, item is a receipt for nine, brand new Cadillacs he purchased
one night from a local dealer. Two were for relatives, six for friends and the other was
given to a woman who was in the auto showroom at the same time. When he realized
that she couldn't afford to buy a car, Elvis gave her one.
The tour ends with the meditation garden, which includes the graves of Elvis, his
mother and his father. There is also a memorial for his twin brother, who was stillborn.
There is no access to the second floor of the house, where family members
occasionally reside. It is reported that Elvis' bedroom featured three televisions and
three sets of drapes on the windows, because of his need to sleep during the day.
Don't think, however, that Graceland and Elvis Presley Enterprises are stuck in the 50s.
Your tour of Graceland includes a portable tape player and headphones that provide
you with a great deal of interesting information - professionally produced in eight
different languages. And their recently redesigned Website (www.elvis.presley.com)
even offered live online coverage of Tuesday night's candlelight vigil.
There are other special events coming up at Graceland. Special Christmas lighting and
decorations highlight the area from Thanksgiving until Elvis' birthday on January 8. But
the tours and shops are available virtually all year 'round.
Elvis Presley is undoubtedly the most revered entertainer in history. In fact, no other
person in the 20th century created the type of devotion that visitors see when they visit
Tupelo or Memphis.
When you plan your next vacation, give the Elvis Tour some consideration.
Be sure to read The Sandpaper in the Ocean City
area and The Beachcomber in the Wildwood area throughout the summer
months for similar features.