The Dichotomy Of Elvis’ Graceland, America’s True House Museum
It’s big, it’s loud, it’s full of color and pattern and imbued with the outsized personality of its most famous owner. Graceland, Elvis Presley’s home in Memphis, Tennessee, is the second-most visited house museum in the U.S., with over 600,000 visitors a year. Only the White House sees more tourists.
But while the White House is formal and grand, Graceland is famously folksy. Take its Jungle Room, a pool room dressed in acres of pleated chintz and family pictures everywhere. We get glimpses into Elvis Presley’s persona: Who else would have dared build a fieldstone waterfall on the north wall of the Jungle Room? Or create a navy blue and gold TV room with lightning bolts on the wall, where three TVs played all the time?
It is a delicious irony that this breaker of taboos and traditions, this crooning, shouting and swiveling pioneer of rock and roll bought a house that could not be more traditional.
Built in 1939, the house came with the name when Presley bought it in 1957, when he was 22. Graceland is a two-story, five-bay Colonial Revival house set on a rise above what was then an avenue of genteel homes about nine miles from the center of Memphis. The façade is faced with Mississippi limestone and fronted by a projecting two-story pedimented portico; it has Corinthian columns, dentil molding in the pediment, and a central, small, leaded oval window. Pilasters on the front facade match the Corinthian columns at the corners of the portico. The doorway has a broken arched pediment, full entablature and engaged columns. Above the main entrance is a window with a shallow iron balcony.
Windows on the first floor include 12-over-12 double-hung lights set in arched openings with wooden panels above, and six-over-six double-hung windows on the second floor.
Four stone steps flanked by two large lions approach the neoclassical house from the circular front driveway.
The warren of wings added to the house over the years is invisible from the street. So are the stables, the fountain and the Meditation Garden that contains the grave sites of Presley, his parents, grandmother and stillborn twin brother. Were it not for the wrought-iron front gate shaped like a book of sheet music and the constant flow of visitors, we might believe that this traditional house is the home of an unexceptional, nice young family.