The Great River Road

Old Man River, Father of Waters, “body of a nation,” Big Muddy—by any name the mighty Mississippi cuts a mythic figure across the American landscape.

In Search of Elvis

Scratch the surface of Memphis, and you’ll always turn up a little Elvis, like pennies and pocket lint in an old sofa. That guy behind the counter? His mom used to give piano lessons to Elvis’s stepbrothers. That woman at the next table? Her after-school job was in the Libertyland amusement park, which Elvis would rent out in its entirety just so he could ride the Zippin’ Pippin’ roller coaster for hours on end. A frequent Graceland visitor during the Elvis years collected fuzz from the shag carpet to give to friends; maybe the woman paying for her coffee still has her tuft. Even the owner of the greasiest old pizza joint will tell you how Elvis would come in with his band, “back when he was nothin.’” Get used to it: Elvis is everywhere.

The font of all this meta-Elvis-ness is, of course, Graceland (3734 Elvis Presley Blvd./US-51, 901/332-3322 or 800/238-2000, daily), about a mile south of I-55 amid a clutter of burger joints and muffler shops. At age 21, flush with his early success, Elvis paid $100,000 for Graceland, which was one of the more fashionable houses in Memphis in 1957, and seeing what happens when Elvis’s poor-white-boy taste and Hollywood budget run amok is well worth the price of admission. You can buy tickets to each part of the Graceland complex or splurge on a $37 combination Platinum Tour ticket that gives admission to the mansion as well as the other “collections,” such as the King’s private jet or his car collection. Many of his cars, including his famous pink 1955 Cadillac, are arrayed as if at a drive-in movie, with a big screen playing his race car scenes from Viva Las Vegas on a continuous loop—it’s my favorite stop in the whole shebang.

A visit to Graceland says very little about Elvis’s music (though there is a room showing off an 80-foot wall full of gold and platinum records) but speaks volumes about his mystique. Elvis is buried on the property, alongside his father and mother, in the Meditation Garden.

 

Graceland (3734 Elvis Presley Blvd./US-51)