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MY THIRD VISIT TO MEMPHIS - 2019
Célia Carvalho, August 2019
celiamcarvalho@gmail.com

The first time I went to Memphis (and Tupelo) was to fullfill a long time dream, of several years. It happened in August 1997, when I was 27 years old and 20 years had gone by since Elvis left us physically. I went with two friends – Sandra Raquel and Lu – who also shared the same dream.
 

At the time I thought that for everything to be really perfect, I had to be there with a mate, boyfriend or husband who shared my same tastes and someone who would understand me, without having to explain anything (as if, by explaining, to those who don’t like the same, they would understand...).
 

After 19 days spent in the King’s lands, I returned to my country, in Portugal, with mixed feelings: happy for having fullfilled my dream, but sad for having to come back and wishing I could return. Besides... at Elvis’ gravesite, I had promised him that I would be coming back. I didn’t know when, but I would.
 

And, five years later, I did. This time in August 2002, when 25 years over Elvis’ death had gone by, I returned with another friend, Olga Susana, to fullfill her dream. According to her, it was her “trip of a lifetime”, being an Elvis fan since she was a little girl and from his generation. As she had locomotion difficulties and she didn’t speak English, only with a companion would be possible to fullfill her deram. I was happy to be the one helping her in that regard.
 

I’ve returned to Portugal, after 11 days, feeling that maybe I wasn’t going to return anymore, because it’s a complicated and very expensive travel to make (I had to work and save a lot for those trips during some years). But always thinking that I felt very fortunate and blessed, since being an Elvis fan, like so many millions more, I had already been in Tupelo and Memphis TWICE.
 

Life went by... in fact, as I’ve founded, with other friends, the Elvis fan club (Elvis 100% - Still Rockin’!) in January 2001... almost all the existence and history of that same fan club had gone by up until today. And many things happened in my professional and personal life, as well as in the lifespan of the fan club. The world keeps on turning... and 18 years are still a good bunch of years.

 

What I couldn’t have imagined was that in that span of time I would end up with someone beside me whom I’ve known for many years and who has his tastes (including being an Elvis fan since he was a little boy) and way of thinking almost equal to mine. But someone with whom I had crossed just a few times because of all those turns that life and the world keep on doing. Fate would make us remeet again 18 years after we saw each other for the last time, both single and with 42 years of age. That age... so emblematic to all of us, who love Elvis. We are together ever since and, 8 years after sharing the same life, Jorge wanted to go to Memphis. If he didn’t want to go there, I wouldn’t go anymore and it would be okay for me, since, as I’ve said before, I had already been there twice, which is more than most fans can even dream about. But, as he decided he wanted to go... there we went!

It happened in August 2019, when 42 years over Elvis’ death have gone by... the same years we both had when we remet and remained together. And the experience was totally different for several reasons: first, because I ended up realizing my secret dream of being there with someone beside me who fully understands me without any further explanations (something absolutely wonderful!); and second, because, as most Elvis fans know, since 2016 until today, everything surrounding Graceland has been changed, with great investments done by the city of Memphis. Therefore, everything was different since the last time I had been there, 17 years ago. What did I feel regarding those differences...? And I shall point them out first:

1)    The first great change done around Graceland was the building of a new hotel, the Guesthouse at Graceland, that stands two numbers before the mansion, in the Elvis Presley Boulevard and which has 450 bedrooms (and there  are already projects to increase it in 100 more! – it already won several quality prizes);

2)    The second big change was the demolition of the Heartbreak Hotel, on the other side of the street, facing the mansion, in order to build a big parking lot that would serve as support to the hotel and the next great investment, which was...;

3)    ... a gigantic entertainment complex, that would house several museums dedicated to Elvis’ career, with permanent and temporary exhibitions, restaurants, shops, the planes, etc. For that purpose they have demolished the old fashioned buildings that stood precisely in fronf of the wall that surrounds Graceland, on the other side of Elvis Presley Boulevard, since they were obsolete and without any capacity to exhibit everything that Elvis Presley Enterprises and Graceland have regarding Elvis’ belongings (kept in the Graceland Archives). And neither did the mansion had that capacity.

On the aftermath of all these big changes, everything looked different. The new hotel added great beauty to the Elvis Presley Boulevard, since it’s really beautiful, functional and spectacular (even though much expensive). The old buildings that were demolished gave room to landscapes filled with grass and gardens with trees. And now, when we’re inside the walls of Graceland, we don’t even see any buildings, nor groups of people, nor shuttles to take people up and down for the guided tours to the mansion. We only see the greenery of nature. Which was what Elvis always wanted from the beginning. When he bought Graceland, it was like this. But then he went to serve the Army, for two years. When he came back, shops and houses by other people had already been built on the other side of the street. At the time he even complained, saying he was very sorry that he hadn’t bought the lands in front, in order to prevent that sort of thing from happening. Now, after so many years, everything looks like Elvis wanted it to look.
 

And the big entertainment complex stays behind rows of trees that are lined throughout the brook that flows alongside the boulevard, making it impossible to see when we are visiting the mansion. However... when we cross the small bridges that give us access to it... we see the enormous group of buildings, which is really spectacular, extremely well organized and makes it very hard for me to put into words to describ e it, because it’s so wonderful.
 

But before visiting the complex, of course we had to go to Graceland first. It was my eight visit to its inside and Jorge’s first. I was pleased to see that everything remains very well kept and taken care of. Regarding the house itself, the part that was used by the family, looks exactly the same. The sole differences that I found (and which I knew already existed) were: the Trophy Room does not contain part of Elvis’ clothes, awards and gold discs anymore. Now it houses a small exhibition about the humble beginnings of the Presley family in Tupelo, as well as furniture pieces that have been removed from upstatis (which is not open to visits), like from Lisa Marie’s bedroom and Elvis’ office. And everything looks very light. Before these changes, it was sort of “cluttered” and we coulnd’t see things with this kind of harmony and easiness.
 

Another different aspect was found on the room that separates Vernon’s office from the Smokehouse, since now we can see a replica of Tupelo’s birth shotgun house, where Elvis was born. A nice touch, with explanation on the matter. And next, the last difference found: the raquetball building does not contain pieces of clothing and other prizes that Elvis has won. It was filled with these things, because there was no room anywhere else to put them, which prevent us from seeing Elvis’ private gymnasion as it was when he used it. Now it’s completely clean and ready to use by those who want to play a raquetball game. The sole thing that we can see inside the room is an exhibitor containing Elvis’ raquet and ball that he used to play. I enjoyed this difference, since I knew everything that I didn’t find there was now in exhibition at the new complex, on the other side of the street.
 

The emotion I felt standing over there was because I was there with Jorge, who was perhaps feeling the same thing I felt when I was there for the first time. I don’t doubt it. Of course that visiting the Meditation Garden is always moving. And we stayed there for a good while, just listening to the sounds that nature privides: the birds, the wind and the water sound coming from the water fountain.

We went to visit the complex after Graceland. We had already taken our tickets. I noticed a price increase to visit the mansion when compared to the last time I had been there. But it was many years ago and with all the inovations and improvements, it’s only natural that they want and need to recover the investments that have been done. To visit the mansion the price of the ticket is around 45 dollars per person. The planes cost 5 dollars per person. And to visit the complex, it’s only possible to do it by taking a ticket that includes the mansion, which makes a total of 61 dollars per person to visit everything, the planes visit is always optional. We took the tickets to visit everything, which made a total of 66 dollars per person.
 

What we hadn’t forseen was the we needed much more than half a day to visit that complex and everything it has to provide! There are several museums and several shops. Some shops can only be visited if we have taken the ticket to visit the respective museums, but there are 3 shops that are available for everybody, whether the tickets to visit the complex and/or the mansion have been bought, or not.
 

Now we have a museum completely dedicated to Elvis’s cars, where many more pieces are on exhibition because there’s enough room for it. We have another museum for Elvis’ cycles (the old museum only had two items) and other vehicles that Elvis enjoyed using for his personal amusement. We have a museum completely dedicated to Elvis career as a soldier. Before we could only see one of his uniforms and boots on display at Graceland. We have another museum – which is, without any doubt, the best! – dedicated to Elvis’ life and career. It takes LOTS of time to visit, because it has several sub sections dedicated to the several stages of his career: it starts with Sun Records and the beginning, it goes on with a part dedicated to the movies, another one to the 68 Comeback Special, another one to Las Vegas and the shows on the road, to That’s The Way It Is, to Aloha From Hawaii, another part dedicated to his gospel career, to his charity and the last prizes conquered, including post mortem. All of this with LOTS of pieces of clothing and giant screens showing related movies to the different themes, with benches where we can sit and simply be there, seeing and feeling everything. It’s wonderful! And, of course... LOTS of information to read, inside several exhibitors.
 

Besides all these museums dedicated just to Elvis, we also have one concerning Graceland Archives, where we can see dozens and dozens of artifacts taken from their archives in shelves (and Graceland Archives have almost 2 billion artifacts!). We can see how there are stored, catalogued and taken care of. There are even big and heaving filing drawers, that we can open to check what it’s inside, almost as if we were the curators and responsible for taking care of such precious articles. Quite interesting! There is yet a museum dedicated to Lisa Marie Presley, also filled with history, of growing up in Graceland, pieces of Lisa’s clothing, family photos and also part of her career as a singer. One of the most interesting museums for the general public (those who are not Elvis fans) is the one called “Icons” and which has several pieces exhibited from several artists of several areas (some still alive, some already passed, that can be pieces of clothing, musical instruments or other things... with quotes by them saying why Elvis is important to them and how did he influenced them.
 

Now just imigne that... at the exit of every museum there’s a shop. Each one with lovelier things that the previous one (and all different articles, too). We likewise have two restaurants, one dedicated to barbecues called Vernon’s Smokehouse and another that serves pizzas, hamburgers, salads, etc, called Glady’s Diner and yet the sweets shop and icecream parlor, Minnie Mae’s.

 

All is done and conceived thinking about the comfort of the user. Even the detail of being able to sit and watch a short movie on Elvis of around 8 minutes (with a resume on his career), while we wait for the shuttle that will take is to Graceland. There are two information desks for the visitors, several WCs, lockers’ area to keep things, drinking water fountains, a building that is used to present shows and Elvis movies (the Soundstage, where we attended to the “Elvis in Concert”, on August 16th), several electrical plugs everywhere, so we can charge the batteries of our cell phones, movie and photo cameras, etc... everything done, like I said before, thinking about the comfort of the user. Which makes me conclude that the 66 dollars amount per person to visit and have access to all of this... it is not, indeed, expensive. Those who have visited other museums or touristic attractions, know that the charged values are usually much higher. To check everything out in a slow pace, we have to spend two days. That’s what we did.
 

And then, of course, we had to go to Beale Street, to visit the Sun Records on Union Avenue (which is always great and quite moving), have a ride on the Mississippi river (which was my first time – I loved it!), attend to the emotional and warm (in every regard) Candlelight Vigil cerimony and reacquaint old friends and making new ones. The candlelight vigil is a meeting point for the fans. The moment where all get together in Elvis’ memory, to thank him for having enriched our lives and showing that we still care for him. I remet Ebby James, whom I met in 1997, and who was present on the first (and all subsequent ever since) candlelight vigil of all, in 1979. I also remet Walteir Terciani, from Brazil, with his ever present Gang’Elvis. We remet all the friends we made in England, in February latest, when we went there to support our friend António Carlos Coimbra in the tribute artist competition (ending up winning it, considered the Best in Europe), Emilio Santoro and his family, Tommy Holland and his family and Lisa and Paul Phillips. We have made new friends, with whom we have kept in contact: Ester Alicia Blajer, from Argentina (who was also present, like I was, in 1997, but we never met back then – although we have travelled with the same group, organized by the British fan club), the very nice couple from Chile, Mabel Navarro Osorio and Juan Luis (for whom I had to work as a translator in Graceland, since neither they spoke English or over there they spoke any Spanish!), the great fan, very down to earth and genuine, Joe Makowski (who attended to 81 Elvis shows!), from Florida, and his friend, Judy Martin... to name just a few. That environment is incredible: the way all elements who work at Graceland and EPE take care of the fans, making water and fans (with Elvis, of course!) available because of the heat and even providing a free candle for those who haven’t taken their own. It was my third vigil and Jorge’s first, who loved the experience.
 

The less positive aspects of this trip didn’t affect the pleasure felt for everything we have experienced while over there. But we have been caught by a mini tornado (mini in its duration, which was around one hour, but strong), that really scared us! Everytime I was in the King’s surroundings I have experienced similar things, but I had never been caught in the street by one and it was really scary! Marcia, Doug’s wife, broke her leg right at the beginning of the week and spent the whole time in the hospital! And our friend António Carlos Coimbra couldn’t make it in the tribute artists competition (Images of the King), even though he had a very good performance. The truth is that we haven’t seen anyone with a bad performance, quite on the contrary. And that made us feel like it was worth it to pay for the ticket to attend to the finals.

We have also attended to concerts by Cote Deonath (winner of last year’s competition), by Vic Trevine, by Taylor Rodriguez (winner of this year’s Ultimate Graceland’s competition) and Dean Z (winner of the Ultimate competition in 2009). All very good performers, who have made us go through very good musical moments. The week ended with the Elvis concert, as it happens every year, where the last standing elements of the original Elvis TCB Band were present (Glen D. Hardin, James Burton and Ronnie Tutt) and three backup singers, Estelle Brown (from the Sweet Inspirations, the last member alive), Terry Blackwood and Jim Murray (from the Imperials). A great privilege and a very emotional experience. This was my third and fourth (regarding James Burton) that I had that privilege, after all. And since 1993 (when I started attending to Elvis musicians performing live) until 2019, many of them have already departed. I managed to see them all while they were still alive (with the exception of Charlie Hodge) and I feel blessed for it. This year, while I watched the last ones remaining, I coulnd’t help feeling emotional and cry a few tears, for thinkin g that maybe I will not see them again. They’re all in their eighties and with the expected health issues. And they’re living testimonies who represent a bit of Elvis to all of us. God bless them while they’re still here, for the joy they have already given me and so many other fans like me.
 

We have returned to Portugal with the “mission accomplished” feeling, since we saw and did everything we had planned in advance. And, of course... like I always wanted to return to Memphis after having been there for the first time... now Jorge also wants to go back. He’s itching for more! It’s always the same. Memphis downtown and everything surrounding it looks old and beat up. But when we are in the Graceland area, everything is so well taken care of and so well preserved that it looks like a real oasis. The sole less positive aspect (and I’ve already presented that suggestion) is not having the old post office building that existed before they have demolished the old buildings, since it’s quite useful. And there are also plans for the construction of a hangar to keep both Elvis’ planes and protect them from the weather elements. I take my hat off to everything that EPE (of which Priscilla and Lisa Marie Presley are part of) has been doing together with the city of Memphis officials regarding Elvis and the development of that area. After all, in Graceland, EPE and the new hotel, around one thousand of people work there. And Elvis represents an important (if not the most important) touristic attraction for the town. We even found Portuguese people inside the entertainment complex, who were not Elvis fans, but were passing through and knowing that it was “Elvis Week”, they had to stop by to visit the mansion and all its museums. When we asked what they were thinking about the experience, the answer by the 4 elements was unanimous, “We are loving it!” Graceland is cultural national patrimony and is one of the touristic attractions that belongs in every national guide, which fills us with joy and pride.
 

Those of you who haven’t been there yet... save for it and make an effort to go. Every fan should have this experience!

Below you will find direct links to the albums published on our Facebook page, where lots of photos can be found dedicated to our trip, sorted by themes, to make its visualization easier.

And here are the links to other articles I wrote, when I visited Tupelo and Memphis before:
 

Accomplished Dreams – Visit to Tupelo and Memphis – August 1997
http://elvis100percent.com/experience3.htm
 

Memphis Revisited – 25 Years After – August 2002
http://elvis100percent.com/experience7.htm

 

Elvis 100% Meets With Elvis Presley Enterprises – August 2002
http://elvis100percent.com/experience9.htm

 

Libertyland Night, Elvis Style – August 2002
http://elvis100percent.com/experience10.htm

 

Theft in Memphis…! – August 2002
http://elvis100percent.com/experience11.htm

 

ELVIS WEEK 1 – New Complex in Graceland and Surroundings (80 photos)
https://www.facebook.com/pg/clube.elvis100percent/photos/?tab=album&album_id=2859584784074137

ELVIS WEEK 2 – VISIT TO GRACELAND – Façade (61 photos)

https://www.facebook.com/pg/clube.elvis100percent/photos/?tab=album&album_id=2859797737386175

ELVIS WEEK 3 – VISIT TO GRACELAND – Foyer and Living Room (40 photos)

https://www.facebook.com/pg/clube.elvis100percent/photos/?tab=album&album_id=2859836784048937

ELVIS WEEK 4 – VISIT TO GRACELAND – Dining Room (24 photos)

https://www.facebook.com/pg/clube.elvis100percent/photos/?tab=album&album_id=2859970060702276

ELVIS WEEK 5 – VISIT TO GRACELAND – Elvis’ Parents Bedroom (9 photos)

https://www.facebook.com/clube.elvis100percent/photos/?tab=album&album_id=2859992997366649

ELVIS WEEK 6 – VISIT TO GRACELAND – Kitchen (23 photos)

https://www.facebook.com/pg/clube.elvis100percent/photos/?tab=album&album_id=2860003104032305

ELVIS WEEK 7 – VISIT TO GRACELAND – TV Room (37 photos)

https://www.facebook.com/clube.elvis100percent/photos/?tab=album&album_id=2860075524025063

ELVIS WEEK 8 – VISIT TO GRACELAND – Pool Room (21 photos)

https://www.facebook.com/clube.elvis100percent/photos/?tab=album&album_id=2860112580688024

ELVIS WEEK 9 – VISIT TO GRACELAND – Jungle Room (45 photos)

https://www.facebook.com/clube.elvis100percent/photos/?tab=album&album_id=2860995913933024

ELVIS WEEK 10 – VISIT TO GRACELAND – Backyard (88 photos)

https://www.facebook.com/clube.elvis100percent/photos/?tab=album&album_id=2861427467223202

ELVIS WEEK 11 – VISIT TO GRACELAND – Trophy Room (112 photos)

https://www.facebook.com/clube.elvis100percent/photos/?tab=album&album_id=2861557680543514

ELVIS WEEK 12 – VISIT TO GRACELAND – Meditation Garden (121 photos)

https://www.facebook.com/clube.elvis100percent/photos/?tab=album&album_id=2861775397188409

ELVIS WEEK 13 – VISIT TO GRACELAND – Gates and Wall (41 photos)

https://www.facebook.com/clube.elvis100percent/photos/?tab=album&album_id=2861910453841570

ELVIS WEEK 14 – VISIT TO THE PLANES – Lisa Marie and Hound Dog II (81 photos)

https://www.facebook.com/clube.elvis100percent/photos/?tab=album&album_id=2863402343692381

ELVIS WEEK 15 – VISIT TO THE NEW COMPLEX – Car Museum (127 photos)

https://www.facebook.com/clube.elvis100percent/photos/?tab=album&album_id=2863520257013923

ELVIS WEEK 16 – VISIT TO THE NEW COMPLEX – Cycles Museum (74 photos)

https://www.facebook.com/clube.elvis100percent/photos/?tab=album&album_id=2865336676832281

ELVIS WEEK 17 – VISIT TO THE NEW COMPLEX – Icons Museum (39 photos)

https://www.facebook.com/clube.elvis100percent/photos/?tab=album&album_id=2865484380150844

ELVIS WEEK 18 – VISIT TO THE NEW COMPLEX – Soldier Museum (35 photos)

https://www.facebook.com/clube.elvis100percent/photos/?tab=album&album_id=2865550520144230

ELVIS WEEK 19 – VISIT TO THE NEW COMPLEX – Archives Museum (35 photos)

https://www.facebook.com/clube.elvis100percent/photos/?tab=album&album_id=2865589403473675

ELVIS WEEK 20 – VISIT TO THE NEW COMPLEX – Artist Museum (331 photos)

https://www.facebook.com/clube.elvis100percent/photos/?tab=album&album_id=2865898133442802

ELVIS WEEK 21 – VISIT TO THE NEW COMPLEX – Lisa Marie Museum (21 photos)

https://www.facebook.com/clube.elvis100percent/photos/?tab=album&album_id=2867322886633660

ELVIS WEEK 22 – VISIT TO THE SUN RECORDS (157 photos)

https://www.facebook.com/clube.elvis100percent/photos/?tab=album&album_id=2867409633291652

ELVIS WEEK 23 – VISIT TO BEALE STREET (64 photos)

https://www.facebook.com/clube.elvis100percent/photos/?tab=album&album_id=2867522696613679

ELVIS WEEK 24 – TRIP ON THE MISSISSIPPI RIVER (98 photos)

https://www.facebook.com/clube.elvis100percent/photos/?tab=album&album_id=2871283576237591

ELVIS WEEK 25 – CANDLELIGHT VIGIL (51 photos)

https://www.facebook.com/clube.elvis100percent/photos/?tab=album&album_id=2871767742855841

ELVIS WEEK 26 – “ELVIS IN CONCERT – 1969” (52 photos)

https://www.facebook.com/clube.elvis100percent/photos/?tab=album&album_id=2872761399423142

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