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How Graceland Works


Graceland: The Elvis Years
Fans leave the famous front gates of Graceland in the 1960s.
Fans leave the famous front gates of Graceland in the 1960s.
Michael Ochs/Getty Images

There are really two Gracelands.

There's the Graceland museum, a highly-toured time capsule of 1970s luxury and style. The tour opened in 1982 and has been an incredibly popular tourist destination ever since. Even the street the house sits on bears Elvis' name. The area across the street that houses an Elvis auto museum and his two private jets, the Hound Dog II and the Lisa Marie, is known as Graceland Plaza. Thanks to The King's ex-wife, Priscilla Presley, Graceland is big business, pulling in more than 750,000 visitors each year [source: USINFO].

Then, there's the Graceland that was Elvis' private retreat and safe haven that he bought at the (love me) tender age of 22. It was where he celebrated holidays and family meals, held impromptu jams with other musicians and shot pool with his buddies. It was the house where he raised his only child, Lisa Marie and where his beloved mother, Gladys, spent her final days. Elvis cherished his privacy and Graceland was his only stop when he wasn't on the road, touring packed houses filled with adoring fans. It's hard to imagine Graceland as a private residence now, but fans of The King in the 1960s and 70s can tell you that Elvis himself would often head down the driveway to sign autographs for his fans, sometimes on horseback.

Graceland was a home that was alive and always buzzing with activity. Even back then, Elvis Presley was an industry, and it took a lot of people to manage the business. Elvis' father Vernon headed up the day-to-day management of Graceland, handling the renovations, repairs and monthly bills. Vernon and two secretaries worked out of the business office in a building adjacent to the main house. Vernon was a tough customer who looked out for his son's safety and privacy as best he could. A sign on the business office door still reads:

Please read and observe. No loafing in office. Strictly for employees only! If you have business here, please take care of it and leave. Vernon Presley.

All of the holidays, especially Christmas, were cherished times at Graceland. Blue lights lined the driveway and front facade. Elvis had more than one Christmas tree inside, but the main tree sat in the dining room beyond the head of the dining table. The draperies were switched out to red velvet, and holiday music played almost nonstop. Staying true to his Christian roots, Elvis had a life-sized nativity scene in the front yard for all of Memphis to enjoy. The Elvis Presley estate still maintains these traditions today, and Christmas is one of the busiest seasons for Graceland tours.