Marlene Wagman-Geller

"As far back as I can remember, it was always on my bucket list, even before the term bucket list was coined,
to be a writer. It was a natural progression to want to go from reading books to writing one."

Heartbreak Hotel (1939)

Jul 05, 2022 by Marlene Wagman-Geller

   Scarlett O’Hara loved her home, Tara, as Elvis Presley did Graceland. While Scarlett’s father named his plantation after the Hill of Tara, once the capital of the High King of Ireland, Elvis’ estate received its name from Grace Toof.

     Graceland, the over-the-top mansion whose décor follows the precept that more is more, a San Simeon without the taste, originated with the Civil War-era publisher, Stephen E. Toof who owned a 500-acre Hereford cattle farm outside Memphis, Tennessee. Upon his 1894 death, the property passed to his daughter, Grace, who willed the estate to her sister, Ruth, and her husband, Battle Manassas Brown. Their child, Ruth Brown Moore, a Memphis socialite, the next chatelaine, christened the property Graceland in honor of her aunt. Ruth and her husband, Dr. Thomas Moore, a prominent surgeon, built a 10,266- square- foot Colonial Revival style two-story mansion on the premise constructed of Mississippi limestone, where they raised their only child, Ruth Marie, a talented musician who played the harp for the Memphis Symphony Orchestra. When her parents divorced, they offered Graceland to Ruth Marie and her husband, Charles Cobb; they declined as the extensive grounds cost $1,000 a month in maintenance. 

     The twenty-two-year-old Elvis Presley sent his parents, Gladys and Vernon, to find a rural refuge to hide from frenzied fans. They put down a $1,000 deposit for the $102,500 home, ($9,000,000 in contemporary currency). Elvis lavished on his home everything that money, and garish taste, could provide.

     Next to the White House, Graceland is the second most popular home destination that draws in an annual crowd of 600,000 who come to pay homage. The property where Elvis spent his last twenty years transformed into a 17,552-foot, twenty-three room mansion, situated on fourteen acres, located on what is now known as Elvis Presley Boulevard. The estate is about hundred miles-far more in a figurative sense-from the two-room shack in Tupelo, Mississippi, where the kid from the small town morphed into a global phenomenon.  

   The rooms of the mansion are a 3-D diary of Elvis’ life. Graceland is furnished with a nine-foot grand piano encased in gold leaf; there are more mirrors than the Palace of Versailles. The basement displays three television sets while the house has fourteen more. There was an ever-changing set of televisions as the king of strut shot at the screens if something proved displeasing. His billiard room walls and ceiling are upholstered in pleated floral fabric that appears to have been designed by a seamstress on hallucinogens.  Elvis’ jet plane, (that bears the name Lisa Marie,) as well as a fleet of custom cars: a Ferrari, a pink jeep, and a pink Cadillac (he was known to buy thirty at a time) are on the expansive grounds. The ultimate in man-caves is the Jungle Room that held its own waterfall. The “Hall of Gold” boasts innumerable Presley gold and platinum records-his total sales exceeded one billion. An animal-lover, Elvis had a horse stable, a turkey named “Bow-Tie” and a chimpanzee, “Scatter,” who had a habit of pulling down women’s skirts. Elvis Aaron Presley was truly an excess story whose dreams did not live up to their promise. His trinity deserted him: his mother passed away, Priscilla divorced him, taking along their daughter, Lisa Marie. The King of Rock n Roll, overweight and hooked on prescription drugs, passed away in a Graceland bathroom.

    Perhaps the most poignant place in Graceland is the Meditation Garden, the final resting place of a restless man, his parents, and grandmother. The state of grace promised in his mansion’s name proved elusive. Given his last, lonely days, his home transformed to a heartbreak hotel.