As you can see in the above poster, Graceland opened to the public on June 7, 1982. Last Saturday was June 7, 2014, thirty-two years later, and my original plan was to post an ElvisBlog article on that day commemorating the anniversary. Then, my cat nearly died and it took three days for her to get out of danger. So, this post is a week late.
When I first saw this photo, I thought it was a shot from Elvis Week. But it was taken on the day Graceland’s gates opened and let the public inside for the first time. Look at that crowd. What a pent-up demand the fans must have had to get a look into Elvis’ world.
This is an aerial view taken on opening day. The tree cover is so heavy that you can barely see Graceland mansion in the upper right-hand corner. What you can see is the crowd massed at the gate, continuing down along the fieldstone wall, continuing beyond the property line down the street and then around the corner into a residential street for a considerable distance.
This is Elvis Presley Enterprises CEO Jack Soden at the ribbon cutting ceremony. Soden is still in that position and has overseen many changes at Graceland and especially across the street at the welcome center.
The woman in the picture is Elvis’ Aunt Delta Mae Biggs (Vernon’ sister). She and her mother Minnie Mae were living in Graceland when Elvis died, and the estate allowed them to stay there as long as they lived. Minnie Mae died in 1980, and Aunt Delta passed away in 1993. She had occupied Vernon and Gladys’ former bedroom, so it was not part of the tour when Graceland opened. After her death, the room was converted back the way it was when Elvis’ parents lived there. It and the kitchen were then added to the tour.
That’s about it for pictures relating to the opening of Graceland to the public, but there are some other unusual ones in my Graceland file, so let’s look at some.
This newspaper article makes it clear that there was no veil of secrecy surrounding Elvis’ interest in buying Graceland. One paragraph in it is interesting. Elvis had been very impressed with comedian Red Skelton’s home in Hollywood. While filming a movie, Elvis had apparently seen Skelton’s hilltop house with a mile-and-a-half drive from the gate and garages for his eleven cars. Elvis is quoted in the article: “This is going to be a lot better than Red Skelton’s house, when I get it like I want it.”
This is interesting, too. It is the original mailbox dating back to when Graceland was built in 1939 on Highway 51.. Of course, the address is now 3764 Elvis Presley Boulevard.
Although the Graceland house was built much later, the original 500 acre property was a working farm dating back to Civil War times. You can see that as late as 1942, registered Hereford cattle were raised and sold on the property.
The first owner was S.E. Toof, and he named the estate (the house did not yet exist) after his daughter Grace. Her niece and husband built the house, and their daughter sold it and 13-3/4 acres of land to Elvis.
There have been several versions of this Graceland map over the years. For example, Graceland Crossing in the upper right-hand corner was not there when I last visited Graceland. Formerly, it was a nondescript shopping center of independent merchants.
Now, go back to the map again. What’s the most prominent feature? It’s not Graceland, which is squeezed into a little space along the right edge. It doesn’t show the pool, Meditation Garden, Vernon’s office, the racquetball building, the horse barn and other things that make the fan experience of visiting Graceland special. What the map does show in detail is Graceland Plaza across the street.
The map lists a total of fourteen stores and three restaurants in Graceland Plaza and Graceland Crossing, but just seven attractions (Graceland plus six exhibits/museums). Something just seems out of balance with this.
Next time I get to Memphis, I’ll take in the newer exhibits and probably have a meal at Rockabilly’s Diner, but the main attraction to me will always be this.
© 2013 Philip R Arnold, Original Elvis Blogmeister All Rights Reserved www.ElvisBlog.net
Elvis, Elvis Presley, and Graceland are registered trademarks of Elvis Presley Enterprises, Inc.