MEMPHIS, GRACELAND & THE LORRAINE MOTEL
Updated: Aug 16
The extraordinary legacy of Elvis Presley has moved on from his music to a state of iconic beatitude. To visit Graceland (without an 's') is to attend the shrine of someone who touched the hearts of so many at a post-war time of hardship and denial. It was he who tore up the old musical script and led a new generation into what was to become a social revolution, the Sixties. To be honest, it was those that followed him, the Beatles, Stones, Dylan, et al, who carved the shape of that indulgent new world but it was Elvis, his music and his gyrations that set it all in hip-swiveling motion. We did not know what to expect as we arrived at the Graceland RV Park. We feared tacky and exploitative. But we were all wonderfully surprised. The verdict - Graceland fully deserves its place on every tourist bucket-list.
It is superbly organized. Everyone is given an I-pad which guides you every step of the way. The house is fairly small, with narrow staircases to negotiate but they cleverly make you assemble across the road, inevitably named Elvis Presley Boulevard, and then board you on to small buses to drop you off right at the front entrance. By doing this, you can explore the house with just a handful of others, giving you plenty of time and space to take it all in. But this is one occasion when pictures do a far better job than any amount of words, so let us take you on a quick guided tour.
This is where you are dropped off, right at the entrance.
As you enter the small hallway, the living room is on the right...
.... and the dining room on the left.
Trying to photo-bomb Elvis
Elvis' parents' downstairs bedroom.
In the basement TV room.
The pool room in the basement.
Elvis had three staff working in an office in the garage
The unimposing rear of the house...
...looking out onto the paddocks where Elvis had his horses.
The modest pool by the side of the house.
Georgie and a life-sized Elvis
A touching moment. A message written on a neckerchief that Elvis sent to his daughter Lisa-Marie from Long Beach, California.
Elvis is buried at Graceland with his father, mother and his paternal grandmother who outlived them all.
Elvis was a twin. His elder (by 30 minutes) brother Jessie was tragically stillborn but was always remembered.
Elvis' bigger private jet, the Lisa Marie
The lounge in the jet
The 30,000ft dining room
The mile-high bedroom - with groupies.
The smaller jet...
... and interior
Memphis has an air of forward movement about it. Unlike New Orleans, which seems cut-loose and drifting aimlessly by the Mississippi river, Memphis seems to have caught the current and is steering itself to a bright future. There has been so much regeneration while preserving its fascinating history. Music still has a powerful presence here and is the big contributor to the city's pride and confidence. And the most famous music factory was the Sun Studio, originally the Memphis Sound Service, squeezed into a small, insignificant corner building that outpunched its musical weight beyond all measure. Elvis started here. Johnny Cash and Roy Orbison worked their magic in these studios. Under the genius that was Sam Phillips, songs like "That's All Right" by Elvis, "Great Balls of Fire" (Jerry Lee Lewis), "Blue Suede Shoes (Carl Perkins) were all born here.
The sun shines down on its eponymous studio.
The entrance hall, now with a bar.
Key West has Duval Street. New Orleans has Bourbon Street - and Memphis has Beale Street. All the action is concentrated in just a 100 yard strip but, boy, do they pack it in. Go on any Wednesday night when the Harley Davidson phalanx roar in.
Eat Drink and Be Happy on Beale Street
A rare sit down.
The world's greatest aficionado on Elvis, our pal David Wade, recommended the steaks in the Blues City Cafe. Be careful what you wish for.
MARTIN LUTHER KING
On April 4th, 1968, Martin Luther King was staying at the Lorraine Motel on a visit to Memphis to speak on non-violent protest. He was standing on the balcony outside his room 306 at 6pm when a shot rang out. Mortally wounded, he was carried back into his room by his loyal friends, including Jesse Jackson, and he died a short time after. The bullet had been fired by James Earl Ray from a building across the street. Ray was later captured at London's Heathrow Airport and extradited back to the US where he spent the rest of his life in prison.
Today the motel has been turned into the 'National Civil Rights Museum', but, to be honest, it is the morbid curiosity of this historic assassination that captures the mind.
The wreath on the left marks the spot where MLK was gunned down.
The view out of the assassin's boarding room toilet window, evocatively opened six inches, just enough through which to aim a rifle.
THE PEABODY DUCKS
No trip to Memphis is complete without calling in on the famous Peabody Hotel, where the Peabody ducks retain their residency. They allegedly live in a penthouse suite but are brought down in the elevator of this grand establishment at 11am each day and are then marched back at 5pm. It is a bizarre ceremony dating back to the 1930s that attracts hundreds throughout the year.
The Duckmaster and minder