Graceland opened to the public on June 7, 1982.
That was 40 years ago.
Seems like a significant number.
When Elvis died on Aug. 16, 1977, he was only 42.
He had lived at Graceland for 20 years. So, the house, in a way, has been home to Elvis’ legacy for twice as long as it was home to Elvis.
How to tell the story of Graceland? Here’s one way: 40 facts to mark that 40th anniversary.
Actually, you’ll find many more than 40 facts below. But the list is numbered 1 through 40, for the sake of symmetry and convenience. (In any case, math never was my strong suit; neither, according to his 6th-grade report card, was it Elvis’.)
40 facts about Graceland
1. The Graceland name predates the mansion. Owner Stephen C. Toof, a Memphis commercial printer, named his “Graceland Farms” property for his daughter, Grace, who inherited the land when her father died in 1894.
2. Grace’s niece, Ruth Moore, referred to in newspaper reports as a “socialite” and “musical prodigy,” and her husband, Thomas Moore, a doctor, built the Colonial Revival (sometimes called “Classical Revival”) mansion in 1939. Before Elvis expanded it, the house contained 10,266 square feet.
3. Elvis purchased Graceland — the house, the barn and the 13.8 acres of land — on March 19, 1957, for $102,500. The home’s Whitehaven location was relatively isolated and rural, unlike Elvis’ previous address at 1034 Audubon Drive in East Memphis. Elvis immediately began adding to the mansion, expanding the house to 17,552 square feet and 23 rooms. The mansion would be his Memphis home for 20 years.
4. Lisa Marie Presley is the sole owner of the Graceland mansion and its original grounds. Under the terms of Elvis’ will, she inherited the property in 1993, when she turned 25. (Meanwhile, Elvis Presley Enterprises, a corporate entity of the Elvis Presley Trust, manages Graceland’s operations as well as most other business dealings related to Elvis, his legacy and his likeness.)
5. Graceland was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on Nov. 7, 1991. It was the first rock-and-roll-related site to be so honored.
6. Graceland was declared a National Historic Landmark on March 27, 2006. Again, it was the first rock-and-roll-related site to be so honored.
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7. The Historic Landmark documentation provides a detailed, even literary description of Graceland: “The house was constructed at the top of a hill, almost at the center of the property in a grove of oaks, with rolling pastures in front and behind it, and a western exposure towards the Mississippi River. A curving driveway, bordered by a six-inch concrete curb lined with small electric lights along the outside edge, approaches from the state highway at the foot of the hill and forms a large loop that passes in front of the house and returns back down the hill.”
8. The document continues: “The house is a two-story, five bay residence in the Classical Revival style with a side-facing gabled roof covered in asphalt shingles, a central two-story projecting pedimented portico, and one-story wings on its north and south sides. The front and side facades of the central block are veneered with Tishomingo limestone from Mississippi…”
9. The familiar pink Alabama fieldstone wall that fronts the property was erected in 1957, to protect Presley’s privacy and discourage trespassing fans. (It has not been entirely successful; see fact No. 15.) Since Elvis’ death, the wall has served as a graffiti magnet and message board, with fans scrawling sometimes very personal sentiments or adding artwork tributes to the King to almost every available space on the rough but conveniently pale stone.
10. Built and erected by the Tennessee Fabricating Co. and Memphis’ Dillard Door Co. at a total cost of about $2,700, the famous custom-built gates of Graceland — a “special double drive way gate,” to quote the work order — were installed on April 22, 1957. With their stylized representations of a guitar-strumming Elvis set against a pattern of musical staffs and notes, the gates suggest the entryway to a musical heaven. The gates were restored in 1990 by the National Ornamental Metal Museum.
11. In a testimony to Elvis’ influence, the City Council on June 29, 1971, unanimously approved a proposal to change the name of the five-mile stretch of South Bellevue between South Parkway and the Mississippi state line to “Elvis Presley Boulevard”; the street address of Graceland thus became 3764 Elvis Presley Boulevard. The first sign was put in place during a January 1972 ceremony that was attended by Mayor Wyeth Chandler and Elvis’ father, Vernon Presley.
12. A highlight of any Graceland tour, the ornamental stained-glass peacocks that flank the open doorway between the living room and the music room were added by the Laukhuff Stained Glass Company of Memphis in 1974.
13. Also in 1974, Elvis remodeled two basement hang-out rooms. Painted and decorated in yellow and black, the “TV Room” is notable for the three television sets built into the south wall, so Elvis could watch all three commercial networks at once (presumably, he wasn’t much of a PBS fan), and for the spooky white monkey statuette on its center table. (The figure inspired “Porcelain Monkey,” an Elvis lament by singer Warren Zevon: “Hip-shakin’, shoutin’ in gold lamé/ That’s how he earned his regal sobriquet/ Then he threw it all away/ For a porcelain monkey.”) Even more challenging to the eyeballs is the “Pool Room,” its claustrophobic interior dominated by a central pool table and its walls and low ceiling covered in close to 400 yards of vividly multi-colored pleated fabric.
14. On Nov. 24, 1976, Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis’ contemporary and onetime rock-and-roll rival, was arrested at about 3 a.m. outside Graceland, after he drove up to the gates in his Lincoln Continental Mark IV and demanded to see Elvis, while “screaming and yelling and waving a Derringer in the air” (according to the testimony of a guard at the gates, as quoted in The Commercial Appeal). Police confirmed that the Killer’s “two-shot .38 caliber Derringer” was loaded (as, apparently, was Lewis).
15. A less troublesome trespasser was Bruce Springsteen, who, on April 29, 1976, after making his Memphis concert debut at the old Ellis Auditorium, took a taxi to Graceland, accompanied by E Street Band guitar player “Miami” Steve Van Zandt. According to an oft-repeated story, when the Boss saw a light on inside the mansion, he had an urge to meet the King. As Springsteen told a concert crowd in 1985, when introducing a cover of Elvis’ “Follow That Dream”: “I said, ‘Steve, man, I gotta go check it out.’ And I jumped up over the wall and I started runnin’ up the driveway, which when I look back on it now was kind of a stupid thing to do because I hate it when people do it at my house… Guards came out of the woods and they asked me what I wanted. And I said, ‘Is Elvis home?’ Then they said, ‘No, no, Elvis isn’t home, he’s in Lake Tahoe’. [Which was true.] So, I started to tell ’em that I was a guitar player and that I had my own band, and that we played in town that night, and that I made some records. And I even told ’em I had my picture on the cover of Time and Newsweek. I had to pull out all the stops to try to make an impression, you know. I don’t think he believed me, though, ’cause he just kinda stood there noddin’ and then he took me by the arm and put me back out on the street with Steve.”
16. In addition to rock-and-rollers, Graceland attracted many animals. Pets owned by Elvis included Scatter, a chimpanzee, and Bambi, a squirrel monkey. Some exotic animal gifts were donated to the Memphis Zoo, including two wallabies, sent by Australian fans.
17. The animals with the longest history at Graceland were horses. Elvis’ reputed favorite was Rising Sun, a golden palomino. Mare Ingram was a mare, named after Memphis Mayor William B. Ingram. Some other horses owned by Elvis and housed in Graceland’s air-conditioned barn included Flaming Star, Thundercloud, Star Trek and a Tennessee Walking Horse named Ebony’s Double, which was the last horse Elvis bought.
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18. After rigging the Jungle Room into a home studio, Elvis made his final recordings inside Graceland, in February and October 1976. Featuring members of his touring band, including such legends as guitarist James Burton and drummer Ronnie Tutt, the sessions provided the foundation for the singer’s last two studio albums, “From Elvis Presley Boulevard, Memphis, Tennessee” and “Moody Blue” (which was released less than a month before the singer’s death), and yielded the last three Top 40 pop chart singles of his lifetime: “Hurt,” “Moody Blue” and “Way Down.”
19. Built in 1975, the two-story racquetball building behind the mansion contained an upright piano. Elvis sat at that piano not long before he died on Aug. 16, 1977, performing “Unchained Melody” and “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain.” Later, upstairs at Graceland, Elvis’ girlfriend, Ginger Alden, discovered Presley on his bathroom floor. He was taken to Baptist Hospital on Union Avenue and pronounced dead.
20. Elvis’ funeral was held on Aug. 18, 1977, at Graceland. The eulogy was delivered by Jackie Kahane, a standup comic who opened many Presley concerts in the 1970s. At Vernon Presley’s request, a public viewing of the body was held in the foyer of the mansion the day before, attracting 10,000 to 25,000 mourners. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of other fans congregated during the week along Elvis Presley Boulevard.
21. Originally interred about four miles north of Graceland inside the Forest Hill Cemetery Midtown mausoleum on Elvis Presley Boulevard, the bodies of Elvis and his mother, Gladys Presley, were moved to the Meditation Garden at Graceland on Oct. 2, 1977. The move came after the Aug. 29 arrest of three men in a plot to steal Elvis’ body from Forest Hill and hold it for ransom. With its circular pool, fountains, stained-glass panels and Ancient World-looking columns, the Meditation Garden had been constructed in 1964 and ’65.
22. Five people are buried in the Meditation Garden. Using the spellings that appear on the grave markers, these people include Elvis Aaron Presley (“Aron” is the way the name appears on Elvis’ birth certificate, marriage certificate and driver’s licenses); Elvis’ father, Vernon Elvis Presley; his mother, Gladys Love Smith Presley; his grandmother, Minnie Mae Presley; and the grandson he never met, Benjamin Storm Presley Keough, the son of Elvis’ daughter, Lisa Marie Presley. The Garden also contains a marker for Elvis’ stillborn twin, Jessie Garon Presley, who was buried in an unmarked grave in Tupelo. (“Jessie” is spelled “Jesse” in most other sources.)
23. The gravesite is the focus of the annual Candlelight Vigil that draws thousands of fans to Graceland every year, to promenade to the Meditation Garden on the anniversary of Elvis’ death. The vigil originally was a fan-generated event, but it soon was embraced by Elvis Presley Enterprises and made the centerpiece of Graceland’s annual “Elvis Week” August activities. The first vigil was held in 1978, when fans from the Austin, Texas-based Elvis Country Fan Club traveled to Graceland to pay their respects to the King by lighting candles outside the gates.
24. Family members continued to live at Graceland after Elvis’ death, including Vernon Presley, who died in 1979, and Minnie Mae Presley, who died in 1980. But the hardiest post-Elvis Graceland resident was Delta Mae Presley Biggs, known to family and fans alike as “Aunt Delta.” The sister of Vernon Presley, Aunt Delta moved to Graceland in 1966, after the death of her husband, and continued to live in the mansion even after it was opened to the public, until her death on July 29, 1993, at 74. During this time, the Graceland kitchen and bedroom frequented by Delta remained off-limits to tourists; they were added to the tour after her death.
25. Graceland was opened to the public on June 7, 1982. Admission was $5. Attendance through the end of that year exceeded 330,000 — well above projections. Now, the cheapest available Graceland ticket that includes the mansion tour is $77 (or $44 for a kid, 5-10); yearly attendance is about 500,000.
26. On Feb. 22, 1984, Elvis’ two private jets — the Lisa Marie and the Hound Dog II — arrived in Memphis and were transported down Elvis Presley Boulevard to their present location, across the street from the mansion. The Lisa Marie is a Convair 880 with a cruising speed of about 615 mph that seats about 28 people; Elvis bought it from Delta Airlines in 1975 for $250,000 and fitted it with a private bedroom with a queen-size bed; four televisions; and a 52-speaker stereo system. The Hound Dog II, which can host only about 10 passengers, is a Lockheed JetStar.
27. In 1994, the live tour guides that had been a fixture at Graceland were replaced by “audio guides” — audiotapes with headphones that visitors wear as they tour the mansion. The audio guides are available in nine languages: English, German, Italian, Dutch, Portuguese, Spanish, Japanese, Mandarin Chinese and French.
28. On May 30, 2016, Graceland welcomed its 20 millionth visitor since its conversion to a tourist attraction. Accompanied by husband Robert Greenoak, Tiffany Greenoak, 31, of London, England, was designated lucky No. 20,000,000. “We played Elvis music at our wedding, so for us as a couple, this trip to Memphis has tremendous meaning,” said Mrs. Greenoak. The couple was given a private tour and received a congratulatory phone call from Priscilla Presley, who was married to Elvis from 1967 to 1973. (Priscilla’s wedding took place not at Graceland but at the Aladdin Hotel in Las Vegas.)
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29. On June 30, 2006, President George W. Bush became the first sitting U.S. President to visit Graceland when he, first lady Laura Bush and Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi took a private tour of the mansion, led by Priscilla Presley and Lisa Marie. The reason: Koizumi — who shares Elvis’ Jan. 8 birthday — is a Presley superfan. According to press reports, he said visiting Graceland was like a “dream,” and serenaded the Bushes and Presleys during the tour with song snippets, crooning, “Hold me close, hold me tight,” and “Love me tender.”
30. As chronicled on the “Celebrity Visitors to Graceland” snapshot gallery on the Elvis website, other notables who have visited Graceland in recent years include — to name just a few — Dua Lipa, Vanilla Ice, Tom Brokaw, Gilbert Gottfried, Dolph Lundgren, Chris Tucker, Taylor Swift, Lana Del Rey, Bill Nye (the Science Guy), demonic Kiss bassist Gene Simmons, the Foo Fighters and the pre-divorce duo of Russell Brand and Katy Perry. (Not pictured: Prince William and Prince Harry, who visited Graceland in 2014.)
31. Paul McCartney visited Graceland on May 26, 2013, and tweeted a picture of himself leaving a guitar pick on Elvis’ grave. He reportedly told onlookers the gesture was “so Elvis can play in heaven.”
32. The 450-room Guest House at Graceland opened on Oct. 27, 2016, north of the mansion on Elvis Presley Boulevard. The hotel space includes a 464-seat theater and four bars and restaurants. It effectively replaced the 128-room Heartbreak Hotel, a remodeled 1986 Wilson World lodge that Graceland remodeled and reopened in 1999.
33. A casualty of Graceland expansion was the so-called Graceland Crossing shopping plaza, an L-shaped strip mall of independent Elvis souvenir shops located across the street and to the north of the mansion. A popular Elvis Week hangout for fans, who gathered in a tent in the plaza parking lot to listen to performances by tribute artists (this reporter once ran into Jackson Browne there), the space was bought by Graceland and closed in 2017.
34. Located in a secluded space between the Guest House and the mansion, the Graceland Chapel in the Woods lived up to its “Love Me Tender” mission on Aug. 13, 2018, when Memphis-based Elvis fans Julie Guardado and Marc Caudel — who had met during Elvis Week 2015 — became the first couple to be married in the then-new chapel.
35. Also among the structures now on the grounds of Graceland is the Elvis Presley archive: a climate-controlled cinderblock building that houses much of the estate’s estimated 1.5 million documents, photographs, wardrobe items, musical instruments and other Elvis-connected objects.
36. The ambitious centerpiece of an attempt to expand the Elvis experience beyond the mansion, Elvis Presley’s Memphis opened on March 2, 2017. Located on the Graceland campus across the street from the house, the $45 million, 40-acre complex includes restaurants, shops, exhibit space and The Soundstage at Graceland, which has become one of the city’s busiest venues, hosting concerts by such artists as Tanya Tucker, X, the Monkees (with Michael Nesmith, just two months before his death) and the other Elvis, Costello.
37. Graceland is closed to visitors only on Thanksgiving and Christmas. However, on March 20, 2020, Graceland closed — like many public places in Shelby County — due to Health Department mandates related to the coronavirus pandemic. It reopened May 21, with a number of whimsical Elvis-themed cautions in place. “Don’t Forget to Social Distance” counseled the campus’ illustrated signs, which represented the recommended six-feet-of-separation as a measurement equal to “6 teddy bears,” “3 hound dogs,” “2 guitars” or “1 Elvis.”
38. Excluding the Guest House, Graceland has 231 employees — 160 of whom work fulltime.
39. In 2018, the Hallmark Channel holiday movie “Christmas at Graceland,” starring American Idol contestant turned country music hit-maker Kellie Pickler, became the first fiction film to be shot on the grounds of the Elvis Presley estate. A ratings smash for the channel, it inspired two HCU (Hallmark Cinematic Universe) follow-ups, “Wedding at Graceland” and “Christmas at Graceland: Home for the Holidays.”
40. From its 1982 public opening through May 2022, Graceland has attracted just under 23 million visitors, according to figures supplied by Graceland. With some 600,000 “guests” per year, the Elvis estate is the second most-visited “house museum” in the United States, according to Forbes. The first is the White House.