Christmas at Graceland

Situated on 14 acres just ten minutes away from downtown Memphis, the white-columned estate that once belonged to Elvis Presley is the second most visited home in America, after the White House. Open to the public since 1982, it was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1991 and became a National Historic Landmark in 2006.

Presley moved into the home in 1957 and lived there with his parents, Vernon and Gladys Presley. Unfortunately, his mother didn’t get to enjoy the lavish lifestyle for long before she died in 1958. Vernon Presley remarried in 1980 and Elvis’ stepmother, Dee, and her children moved into Graceland. Eyebrows raised worldwide in 1962 when Elvis moved in Priscilla Bealieu, a teenager from a military family that he met while stationed with the U. S. Army in Germany. After her arrival, Elvis built the Vernon Presley family a home adjacent to Graceland. Elvis and Priscilla were married in 1967 and had a daughter, Lisa Marie, in 1968. They divorced in 1973. Priscilla Presley moved to a Beverly Hills mansion where she still lives today.

In 1977 Elvis died suddenly at Graceland. Priscilla Presley served as executor of his estate. At that time, Graceland cost $500,000 a year in upkeep and those expenses were affecting 9-year-old Lisa Marie’s inheritance. Priscilla checked out other famous houses that had been opened to the public and hired a CEO to turn Graceland into a moneymaker. She became the chairwoman and president of Elvis Presley Enterprises, which later transferred to her daughter. When Graceland opened to the public in 1982, the enterprise’s fortunes soared.

In 2005 Lisa Marie Presley sold 85 percent of the business side of her father’s estate. She kept the Graceland property itself and the bulk of the possessions inside the home but she turned over the management of Graceland to CKX, Inc., an entertainment company that also owns 19 Entertainment, creator of the American Idol TV show. The company plans to turn Graceland into an international tourist destination on par with the Disney or Universal theme parks and double the mansion’s 600,000 annual visitors. However, their first project is to improve the tourist area around Graceland, which is located in an economically depressed area.

Tours currently begin at the ticket office, located across the street from Graceland. After buying an admission ticket to Graceland, visitors board a van that drives through the famous gates of the mansion. Priscilla narrates an audio tour. Visitors enter through the front door; the living areas and the kitchen are first on the tour. Next is a trip to the basement, where Elvis’ media room, bar and billiards room can be found. Returning back upstairs through the famous Jungle Room, visitors then go outside. Behind the house is Elvis’s racquetball building and his original business office. The highlight for many visitors is Elvis’s trophy building which showcases his massive collection of gold records and awards, stage costumes, jewelry, photographs and other memorabilia. The tour ends with a quiet visit to the Meditation Garden where Elvis and members of his family have been laid to rest and a van ride back to the ticket office.

Despite repeated requests from visitors, tours of the upstairs have not been available and there are no plans to include this area on future tours. Priscilla and Lisa Marie Presley decided they would show only the portions of the home that Elvis opened to his visitors. The upstairs was his private area and they feel it would be disrespectful and inappropriate to open it to tours.

Along with these personal feelings is the matter of logistics. The upstairs hall is not large enough to accommodate crowds so another staircase would be need to be used as an exit. This would radically alter the house.

Additional fees are charged to see Elvis’ car collection, his two airplanes (Lisa Marie, a Convair 880, and Hound Dog II, a Lockheed JetStar,) and “Sincerely Elvis,” an exhibit with home movies and other personal items. These exhibits are near the Visitors Center.

Elvis loved Christmas and his original decorations are still used today. It’s still a tradition to keep them up until Elvis’ birthday on January 8.

Christmas trees would be placed in several rooms along with other decorations. Outside on the front lawn Elvis first had a large Santa, sleigh and reindeer with the message “Merry Christmas to All, Elvis” suspended above it. In the mid 1960s, Elvis switched to a life-size nativity scene along with lighted aluminum trees along the front of the house. The winding driveway was outlined in hundreds of blue lights and blue draperies in the front rooms of the house were replaced with drapes in a holiday shade of red.

A full schedule of Christmas 2008 festivities began with the Graceland Annual Tree Lighting Ceremony on Friday, Nov. 21. In addition to the decorations, special exhibits will be on display until January 11, 2009. Visitors can see a few items from Elvis’ wardrobe including an outfit worn while signing autographs in Las Vegas in 1970. Home movies of young Lisa Marie opening her Christmas presents and playing with her toys will be shown. Four of Elvis’ guitars — a 1956 Gibson J200, a white Fender bass, a black Gibson J200 and a Fender acoustic — will be displayed. Another exhibit will be Christmas gifts given to Elvis by friends and family. Highlights include a cigarette case that plays Surrender that was the first Christmas gift Priscilla gave Elvis at Graceland and a portable television Gladys gave her son in 1957. Holiday festivities conclude with a four-day birthday celebration Jan. 8-11, 2009.

Elvis would have been 74 on Jan. 8, 2009.
For More Information:

3734 Elvis Presley Blvd.
Memphis, TN 38116

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