When S.E. Toof, owner of the Memphis Daily Appeal, established a 500 acre farm in Whitehaven, near Memphis, during the Civil War, he could not have had the faintest idea of how his acreage would be regarded more than one hundred years later. By naming his daughter Grace and leaving the farm and house to her, he was spawning an empire and enterprise that old “Toofy” could never have dreamed possible. No one could have seen the future it beheld.
On Grace Toof’s death, the land now called Graceland passed to her niece Ruth Moore, who along with her husband built the mansion that stands there to this day. Ironically, even back then, the house was designed in part for for musical performances due to the musical talent of their daughter Ruth Marie, who played the harp and piano.
Ruth Marie eventually became the principal harpist for the Memphis Symphony Orchestra. When her husband died in 1957, she sold the house and it’s surrounding 14 acres to a very different type of musician. Elvis Presley, then 22 years of age, paid $100,000.00 and lived there for the remaining 20 years of his life, Graceland becoming synonymous with the man and his legacy.
When Elvis died in 1977, he had left his estate to Vernon his father, Minnie Mae his grandmother, and his daughter Lisa Marie. Vernon died in 1979 and Minnie in 1980 leaving young Lisa as the sold heir. Upon Vernon’s death, three co-exectutors were appointed, the National Bank of Commerce in Memphis, Elvis’ accountant Joseph Hanks, and Priscilla Presley who was divorced from Elvis at the time he died and who was Lisa’s legal guardian.
The estate was not broke but there was certainly a cash flow problem. Elvis’ Aunt Delta was living in the mansion handling the security, maintenance, taxes and upkeep and as a result the house was just sitting, costing a fortune each year. So rather than let it sit and drain the estate, or sell it, it was decided to make it pay for itself by opening it to the public. That decision was made in December 1981 and it was opened on June 7th, 1982. That year, Jack Soden was hired by Priscilla to run Graceland and eventually the executives set up the corporation that today is known as E.P.E. Elvis Presley Enterprises. Jack Soden remains the Chief Executive Office of E.P.E. to this day.
Clearly Graceland and it’s wonderful history is an integral part of the Elvis Presley story. Elvis and Graceland cannot be separated even in death. They are an eternal team – and good teams are hard to find. His home must always be treated with the utmost respect and dignity and the functions held at Graceland, along with he exhibition halls across the road must be a reflection of that relevance and respect. But often relevance is overlooked and respect is still to be earned. Let’s examine whether these two important factors are on display at Graceland. In other words, are Elvis fans getting true value for their performance dollar during a visit there?
2018 ended with a “Holiday Crafts Exhibition” in December, complete with a home decor specialist. 2019 was barely underway when Graceland hosted a … wait for it … a General Hospital Fan celebration weekend. Old Toofy would likely turn over in his grave. Adding to the irrelevance will be a Boy and Girl Scout invasion of Graceland in April. Across the road at the Presley exhibition halls you can see the inevitable array of colorful jumpsuits along with gold and platinum awards stacked so high most are unreadable. Further on you are greeted with a KISS costume, a Jimi Hendrix outfit, a Justin Timberlake white suit, a Bruce Springsteen jacket, a Joan Jett outfit, a James Brown guitar and jacket, a Dolly Parton dress and guitar, a Keith Richards jacket, along with Robert Plant and Marty Stuart items. But it doesn’t end there. Future exhibitions will focus on items from the Prince estate as well as numerous offerings from Marilyn Monroe. All have, or will be displayed without one piece of non reflective glass in sight, something that is standard fare in most top collections.
These exhibitions, while possibly slightly interesting, have little to no direct relevance to the eternal legacy of the greatest and most recognizable cultural icon America has ever produced. Why are they there? They represent a a nonsensical, non-ethical and totally irrelevant path that E.P.E. seems hell bent on taking. When such a path is combined with disregard for the long lasting beauty of Elvis records and covers from all over the world, that borders on a total lack of understanding and awareness of the legacy Presley has left.
I’ve added only two photos. Keep in mind the rarest, most collectible and most beautiful Elvis records in the world don’t come from America. They are born of love from the the many countries represented in the photos. After you have looked at the photos for awhile, then think of KISS, Hendrix, Parton, and the rest because in 500 years from now we will not be having this conversation. Not simply because none of us will be here but because by then the artistic and intrinsic beauty of the Elvis covers shown here will be proudly on display while irrelevant material will be aptly consigned to oblivion. Beauty lasts an eternity.
When I visit Graceland in it’s present state, it is almost as though Colonel Tom Parker is still running the circus by flashing the name of Presley without ever earning the important moral right to do so. Granted, Parker had his place and was a marketing genius who revolutionized American pop culture at the time. But like other geniuses in American history, he was possessed with a dark and destructive impulse often crossing the line that contributed to the demise of the very source of his creative power – Elvis Presley.
One cannot view Colonel Parker without seeing the best and the worst of America. How sad is it that the money orientated and mindless commercial world that he created way back then, now seems to go hand in hand with the irrelevant offerings being showcased at Graceland in 2019.
As one of the 600,00 expected Graceland visitors each year, what will you remember from your visit? What impact will be made and how will it relate to the man to which we give deserved respect and honor, same as he so freely showed throughout his all too brief career?