Pop quiz: What’s the second-most visited private residence in America?It’s the Memphis, Tennessee home of The King—i.e. Elvis Presley. (The White House tops the list.) As its 600,000-some visitors each year can attest, something about Graceland’s—and The King’s—aura inspires pilgrimages.
One of those pilgrims is Kathie Bryson, a nurse from St. Louis, Missouri, who has been to Memphis 20 times for Elvis-themed vacations. When she comes back this year, she’ll get a treat: the 23-room residence-turned-museum with a penchant for shag carpets, porcelain monkeys, and stained glass is celebrating its 70th anniversary.
Highlights include a special exhibit that includes original architectural drawings, Elvis's down payment check, and the deed to the mansion. In addition, new exhibits are slated to arrive in March: “Elvis in Hollywood” will focus on the 31 films Elvis starred in (making him the highest-paid actor at the time), and “Elvis Lives: The King and Pop Culture” will be an interactive trivia exhibit. Also, the Elvis Presley Automobile Museum will be adding Elvis’s 16-foot ski boat, “The Gladys,” named for his mother.
Elvis, of course, was far from stardom and wealth when Graceland was built. Its original owner was Memphis newspaper publisher S.E. Toof, who purchased the 13.8 acres and named the estate for his daughter, Grace. Toof’s niece erected the Colonial style, white-columned mansion in 1939, and Elvis acquired the secluded property in 1957 for $102,000. A swimming pool, racquetball court, and jungle room with furry furniture and indoor waterfall were just some of the modifications he made.
When Lisa Marie (Elvis’s only child) turned 25, Graceland was signed over to her, but because of large property taxes was turned into a museum in 1982. It has since been declared a National Historic Landmark.
Today, gawkers can traipse through Elvis’s living room, kitchen, media room, and see into the bedroom of his beloved parents. The King’s grave is outside (fans flock to it every August 16th for the anniversary of his death), along with the graves of his parents and a memorial for his twin brother who died at childbirth. There’s Elvis’s trophy building, his gold-heavy plane (the “Lisa Marie”), and—for fans who want to tie the knot, Elvis-style—the Chapel in the Woods.
Of course, many Elvis fans don’t require the excuse of a major anniversary to visit. They come year-round, some dressed up (usually in the type of bedazzled jumpsuit favored by the older Elvis), some bearing shrines dedicated to The King, and some with a strict attitude toward their Elvis-worshipping. For all the times she’s visited, however, Kathie Bryson doesn’t take herself too seriously. “People just assume all Elvis fans are kooks,” she says.