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Ever since Graceland opened its distinctive, music-inspired gates to the public in June 1982, the Memphis mansion has served as a pilgrimage destination for Elvis Presley fans and just about everyone else. And though it’s been more than 40 years since Elvis graced its halls, staff members keep the place looking almost exactly like it did when he lived there—down to the (now empty) spice containers in the kitchen cabinet. Here are nine facts you might not have known about rock ‘n’ roll’s most famous estate.
1. Graceland is named after one of the original owners.
Before Graceland became part of rock ‘n’ roll history, the land belonged to the Toof family. S.C. Toof was a 19th-century businessman known for his printing company, and his daughter, Grace Toof Ward, was the plot’s namesake. Grace herself owned a few hundred acres of the land, which had passed to her sister, Ruth Toof Brown, by 1939. Ruth and her husband then gave a chunk to their daughter—also named Ruth—and her husband, Thomas Moore. The couple constructed a stately mansion on the property and named that Graceland, too.
2. Elvis bought Graceland when he was only 22 years old.
Ruth and her husband divorced in 1952, and she then sold the house—along with 13.8 acres of surrounding land—to a 22-year-old Elvis Presley in March 1957 for $102,500. Elvis had already been living in Memphis and his fame had recently skyrocketed, so Graceland offered some much-needed privacy. At the time, he was busy filming Jailhouse Rock (1957), so his parents and grandmother actually moved into the mansion about five weeks before he did.
3. Graceland played host to a lot of animals.
Elvis and his family owned plenty of common pets and farm animals, including dogs, chickens, ducks, hogs, horses, and donkeys (the donkeys stayed in the empty pool while workers finished building Graceland’s perimeter fence). Elvis also owned a turkey named Bowtie and a mynah bird that picked up its favorite phrases from one-sided telephone calls, like “Elvis is asleep” and “Elvis isn’t here.” A couple of primates occupied Graceland, too: a chimpanzee named Scatter and a squirrel monkey named Bambi.
For other animals, Graceland ended up just being a stopover. Elvis donated his peacocks to the Memphis Zoo because they kept pecking the paint off his cars. Two wallabies, sent by Australian fans on separate occasions, were also given to the zoo.
4. Elvis kept Graceland’s kitchen stocked with very specific items.
Elvis’s affinity for fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches has been well-documented, but it wasn’t the only snack he wanted on hand. The Graceland kitchen (which is carpeted) always had to have banana pudding, ingredients for meatloaf, fudge cookies, fresh orange juice, ice cream, brownies, shredded coconut, hot dogs, ground round steak, biscuits, and gum, among other things. There was also a button installed beneath the dining room table so Elvis could summon another dish without shouting.
5. Graceland’s Jungle Room doubled as a recording studio.
With its hand-carved furniture and waterfall running down one wall, the Jungle Room definitely lives up to its name. Back when Elvis frequented it, however, it was just called “the den.” It also made for a pretty good recording studio, thanks in part to the green carpeting covering both floor and ceiling. There, Elvis recorded his penultimate studio album, From Elvis Boulevard, Memphis, Tennessee, in 1976. The Jungle Room would also serve as a recording studio for future musicians, including John Cougar Mellencamp, Kid Rock, and Elvis’s daughter, Lisa Marie Presley.
6. Bruce Springsteen snuck onto the Graceland estate in 1976.
After a Memphis concert in 1976, Bruce Springsteen and E Street Band guitarist Steven Van Zandt were planning to head to a diner when their taxi driver mentioned that Elvis lived nearby. “You know where Elvis lives?” Springsteen said. “Take us there right now!” Upon arrival at Graceland, he scaled the stone wall and got as far as the front door before a security guard stopped him and said Elvis was out of town. “I said, ‘OK, well, can you tell him—and I generally don’t like to do this, but—that Bruce Springsteen was here? And he may not know who that is, but I was just on the cover of TIME and Newsweek,’” he recalled on The Graham Norton Show. “That’s as close as I ever got to Elvis Presley.”
7. Elvis’s aunt still lived at Graceland even after it became a museum.
The primary downstairs bedroom was originally occupied by Elvis’s parents, Vernon and Gladys (Gladys personally helped design the bathroom’s pink, poodle-covered wallpaper). By the 1980s, they had both passed away, and Vernon’s sister Delta had moved into the bedroom. When Graceland opened to the public in June 1982, that room was simply left off the tour. Delta continued living there for more than a decade, while thousands of people filed through the house, gawking at the relics of all her deceased family members. She passed away in 1993, and her bedroom was added to the tour the following year.
8. There are two airplanes at Graceland.
Elvis’s total airplane tally came to five, and two of them—the Hound Dog I and the Hound Dog II—are available to tour at Graceland. Hound Dog I, a Convair 880 he bought in 1975, is probably the more tricked-out of the two. Though the jet only cost Elvis $250,000, he shelled out another $800,000 or so to install a main bedroom, a sitting room, two half-bathrooms, a conference room, a stereo system, and plenty of luxurious furniture. He also called it the “Lisa Marie,” after his daughter, and “Flying Graceland.”
9. Visitors aren’t allowed upstairs at Graceland.
On August 16, 1977, Elvis died at age 42 from heart failure (possibly a result of prescription drug use) in the bathroom of his upstairs bedroom suite. To this day, that part of the house is off-limits to everyone but family members and Graceland staff. Angie Marchese, Graceland’s vice president of archives and exhibits, revealed during an Instagram tour that the bedroom hasn’t changed at all since Elvis lived there.
“It looks as if he just got up and left,” she said. “The record on the record player is the last record he listened to. There’s a Styrofoam cup that sits on a bookshelf. The bed is made. So, yeah, we really maintain it the way Lisa [Marie Presley] wants us to preserve it.” The record is an acetate disc that J.D. Sumner and the Stamps sent right to Elvis soon after recording it, but Marchese isn’t sure what song is on it—the label just reads “The Stamps.”
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