“My District” gives NCSL members a chance to tell us about life in the places they represent, from high-profile events to the fun facts only the locals know.
The mansion that Elvis Presley used as a retreat is now an attraction that annually welcomes 500,000 visitors from around the world. Graceland, located in Memphis, Tennessee, is listed in the National Register of Historic Places and is second only to the White House among the nation’s most-visited homes.
Presley paid $102,500 for the home in 1957 and furnished many of the rooms in bright colors and the kitsch he loved. He died at the residence in 1977; five years later, the executors of his estate and his ex-wife, Priscilla Presley, opened Graceland to the public for tours. Later, the business entity Elvis Presley Enterprises acquired a neighboring shopping center that sold Elvis-themed items.
Presley’s only child, Lisa Marie Presley, inherited the estate on her 25th birthday in 1993, and started the Elvis Presley Trust to continue managing the estate. She eventually sold a majority stake in the business entity in 2005 but is still 100% owner of Graceland mansion. In 2017, EPE closed the shopping center and opened the $45 million, 200,000-square-foot entertainment complex Elvis Presley's Memphis. It features the Elvis The Entertainer Career Museum, Presley Motors Automobile Museum, restaurants, Discovery Exhibits and a pop-up exhibit commemorating the 50th anniversary of Elvis’s meeting with President Richard Nixon. New attractions include immersive and interactive experiences through virtual and augmented reality activities.
We asked Senator Raumesh Akbari (D), right, who represents District 29, where Graceland is located, about the world’s ongoing fascination with Elvis and the mansion.
Graceland went from being Elvis’s private retreat to a museum visited by people from around the world. What does Graceland mean to you and your district?
You don’t have to own “Blue Suede Shoes” or know every line to “Hound Dog” to know and appreciate Elvis Presley. Elvis, and the legacy his name carries still today, serves as an ambassador for the city of Memphis to the rest of the world. Very few cities have a landmark that popular or a former resident as famous as the “King.” I absolutely love to see people from every country you could imagine coming to Graceland and then branching out and experiencing all the other treasures that Memphis has to offer.
What’s your favorite room?
The Jungle Room is everything! It started as a practical joke. Elvis bought all this jungle-themed furniture and decorations to annoy his dad, but he ended up keeping it all for fun. You can still feel that energy and, when you step inside, it’s hard not to smile looking at the greenery, the animal knickknacks and even that thick, shag rug—on the ceiling!
But one of the best reasons to visit Graceland is that every time you go, you discover new details that put a little swing in your hips.
Graceland recently added exhibition space and other properties. What’s next for the landmark?
Elvis Presley Enterprises and the Graceland Exhibition Center are always developing new programming, creating new experiences, and hosting live performances and events. For instance, this summer, they’re collaborating with the Walt Disney Archives to bring a 10,000-square-foot traveling exhibit to Graceland that features original artwork, costumes and props that tell the story of The Walt Disney Company.
What else is great about your district? What would you like people to know that they might not know about it?
Whether it’s Sun Studio, the Stax Museum of American Soul Music or Beale Street today, Memphis has something for every music lover.
But I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the National Civil Rights Museum. There is no better place to learn about the African American experience and the civil rights movement in America. The museum complex is built around the former Lorraine Motel, the place where Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968. The museum’s curators have done an incredible job building immersive, engaging and informative exhibits that tell the story, the struggle and perseverance of Black Americans. The National Civil Rights Museum is a must-see!
The area is also represented in the Tennessee General Assembly by Representative London Lamar (D), District 91.
Nora Caley is a Denver-based freelancer.