Graceland guests all shook up over additions to Elvis Presley's estate

By Susan R. Pollack
Special to The Detroit News

Memphis, Tennessee – Soon after my evening arrival at the Guest House at Graceland, I lined up with other hotel guests at the peanut butter and jelly station, just off the lobby, which opens for one hour nightly at 10 p.m.

Some were dressed casually in shorts, others in comfy white hotel bathrobes over pajamas. And all seemed eager to pay homage to Elvis Presley by making their own free, bedtime version of his favorite sandwich, topped with sliced bananas.

“It’s awesome,” declared Ervin Campbell, 60, of Columbus, Ohio, as he slathered peanut butter on bread. “I’m a huge Elvis fan and visiting Graceland is a bucket list item for me. I’m not sure why we waited as long as we did.”

The pool at the Guest House, a 450-room resort hotel, is within walking distance of Elvis Presley’s museum-home in Memphis.

You don’t have to be a diehard fan of the King of Rock ‘N Roll to enjoy a getaway to Memphis and Graceland, Elvis’ mansion estate that has added multiple new attractions in recent years to broaden its appeal.

From the Guest House at Graceland, a 450-room resort with Priscilla Presley-designed VIP suites and perks like the peanut butter sandwich bar, to Elvis Presley’s Memphis, a new $45 million entertainment and exhibit complex showcasing his phenomenal career, costumes, lifestyle and legacy, there’s much to discover about one of music history’s biggest icons.

Making your own version of Elvis Presley's favorite sandwich is a nightly perk at the Guest House at Graceland.

Upcoming special events, such as the anniversary of Elvis’ birth, pump up the excitement. Elvis would have turned 85 next Jan. 8 (he died in 1977 at age 42), and Graceland is throwing a birthday bash Jan. 8-11.

Themed packages are sold out but visitors may book rooms and tours a la carte and join free events including the “Elvis Presley Day” proclamation ceremony, a birthday cake and coffee session, a Graceland Archives sneak peek and special exhibits in the 464-seat Guest House Theater, where complimentary Elvis movies are shown most nights at 7 p.m.

Free viewing hours also will be expanded in the Meditation Garden, behind the mansion, where visitors file past the gravesites of Elvis and family members, including his stillborn twin, Jesse Garon. It’s not uncommon to see fans of both sexes cry at the site, which is dotted with floral tributes and stuffed animals.

During my recent introduction to Graceland, I joined several guests eating their PB&J sandwiches in the lobby of the 3-year-old Guest House, under a white, mirrored ceiling inspired by Elvis’ rhinestone-studded capes. We sat in asymmetrical plush chairs that “are designed to look like the collars on Elvis’ jumpsuits,” said Anna Hamilton, the hotel’s night manager, who wears an Elvis wristwatch and leads tours of the $92 million resort.

The mirrored ceiling in the lobby of the Guest House was inspired by Presley's rhinestone-studded capes.

Live piano music wafted from the Lobby Lounge (try the Blue Suede cocktail), and, just out the door, hotel guests relaxed by the pool or the heart-shaped “Burning Love” firepit.

Back in my room, I was mesmerized by the Elvis TV channel featuring his music in eras from the '50s through the '70s. After falling asleep to early Elvis -- “Jailhouse Rock” and “Love Me Tender” – I was ready to explore nearby Graceland, the star attraction, the next morning.

Boasting up to 600,000 annual visitors, the museum-estate opened in 1982 and was designated a National Historic Landmark in 2006. It’s the second most visited house in America, after the White House.

With interactive iPad tours in nine languages, including Portuguese and Mandarin Chinese, Graceland welcomes throngs of international visitors. The recorded tour, narrated by John Stamos, is interspersed with the voices of Elvis and his daughter, Lisa Marie Presley.

Elvis bought the southern Colonial-style mansion in 1957 for $102,500 with proceeds from his first hit, “Heartbreak Hotel.”

My favorite spot in the 23-room time capsule is the white living room with peacock-themed stained-glass windows framing the adjoining music room with its 1950s TV and baby grand piano. Elvis loved the storied Jungle Room with green shag carpeting, indoor flagstone waterfall and Polynesian-style wood furniture reminiscent of Hawaii.

Another head-turner is the billiards room, whose couches, walls and ceiling are done up in more than 350 yards of pleated cotton fabric. The racquetball building recently was restored to its 1977 look and the trophy building has been updated with personal items including family photos, Priscilla’s wedding gown, Lisa’s childhood toys and Elvis’ collection of police badges.

Gold records, jumpsuits and cars are on display at Elvis Presley's Memphis, a new exhibit complex at Graceland.

“He never threw away anything,” observed Guest House night manager Anna Hamilton. And nowhere is that more apparent than in the new museum complex called Elvis Presley’s Memphis. Visitors could spend hours checking out his pink Cadillac and other cars, motorcycles, ski boats, jumpsuits, gold and platinum records and much more.

I especially enjoyed exhibits about his stint in the U.S. Army in Germany, and “Icons,” highlighting 25 artists he influenced. As John Lennon famously said: “Before Elvis there was nothing. …  If there hadn't been Elvis, there wouldn't have been the Beatles." 

If you go:

The annual Christmas at Graceland celebration gets underway Thursday (Nov. 21) with a free tree-lighting ceremony and performance by country music star Chase Bryant, plus the world-premiere of the Hallmark Channel movie, “Christmas at Graceland: Home for the Holidays” in the new Soundstage at Graceland.

Graceland’s third annual Holiday Concert weekend, Dec. 13-14, features Elvis’ Christmas favorites and performances by Memphis Symphony Orchestra members, night tours of Graceland and a Jingle Bell brunch.

Through Jan. 11, Graceland will be decked out with Presley family Christmas décor, including red velvet drapes in place of the usual blue velvet versions. 

The new Graceland Exhibition Center is hosting major exhibits: “Journey to Space,” through Jan. 5, and “Expedition: Dinosaur,” through Jan. 11.

Or, plan ahead for Graceland’s annual Elvis Week, commemorating his death on Aug. 16, 1977. Capping 2020’s nine-day event will be the Aug. 15-16 Candlelight Vigil when thousands of fans traditionally gather overnight to listen to music and, candles in hand, file past his gravesite.


Beyond Elvis:

Memphis offers other don’t-miss attractions, including:

·         the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel, where Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated in 1968.

·         Sun Studio, the legendary “birthplace of Rock ‘n’ Roll,” where tour guides detail the story of Sam Phillips’ and stars including Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis.

·         Beale Street, to hear blues and jazz day and night.

·         the Memphis Zoo’s red pandas.

·         the Peabody Hotel’s daily duck parade.

·         The Arcade, Memphis’ oldest restaurant for sweet potato pancakes, and Central BBQ for slow-smoked pulled pork.

Information: memphistravel