How Graceland Works


Announcer: Welcome to Stuff You Should Know from howstuffworks.com.

Josh Clark: Hey, and welcome to the podcast. I'm Josh Clark; here's Chuck Bryant.

Chuck Bryant: I'm here.

Josh Clark: Okay. Chuck, do your best Elvis impression.

Chuck Bryant: Man, I don't do that kind of thing.

Josh Clark: That was actually pretty good, Chuck.

Chuck Bryant: That's the last time I'm going to do that during this podcast by the way.

Josh Clark: Okay. That's fine. That's fine.

Chuck Bryant: That'd be really obnoxious.

Josh Clark: Well, this podcast by the way is How Graceland Works, which makes sense, right?

Chuck Bryant: Right. Can you do Elvis?

Josh Clark: No. Not at all! I'm not even going to try. And I'll tell you somebody else who can't do Elvis is a guy named Matt Hail. Have you heard of this guy?

Chuck Bryant: It rings a bell.

Josh Clark: He's a British radio producer who just happens to really like Elvis and one day he was going through some secondhand store, I guess in London, and found a white jumpsuit and his next thought was, well, gee, I guess I'll go spend the next year touring the world dressed as Elvis and he did.

Chuck Bryant: Right.

Josh Clark: The problem - and he's been everywhere. He's been to Brazil. He was there for Carnival; he's been to Ireland; Holland; the U.S. - I'm not entirely certain what cities he visited in the U.S.

Chuck Bryant: As an impersonator?

Josh Clark: Yeah.

Chuck Bryant: Did he -

Josh Clark: And, no, not necessarily as an impersonator, dressed as Elvis. It's a tribute to the king -

Chuck Bryant: So, he just travels as Elvis?

Josh Clark: Yeah, and so, I guess the reason I hesitate to call him an impersonator is because he visited Australia and I guess that's where they have the biggest Elvis festival - Elvis fan fest in the world and he placed dead last out of God knows how many Elvis impersonators for lookalike and sound alike contest. So, I think you may have beaten Matt Hail had you been there.

Chuck Bryant: Right and I don't even have a jumpsuit anymore.

Josh Clark: But, you know, no, okay. So, I'm not - I don't know that much about Elvis. I've never been that big of a fan. I know it's kind of sacrilege to say that in certain quarters but hey, this is me, take me as I am.

Chuck Bryant: Right.

Josh Clark: So, you know much more about Graceland, Elvis than I do, right?

Chuck Bryant: I did. Well, I wrote the article and I've been to Graceland.

Josh Clark: You've been there. Were you able to finagle a free trip to Graceland for research -

Chuck Bryant: No, no.

Josh Clark: - before you wrote the article?

Chuck Bryant: No, I'd been there before though so that helped a lot. My family - actually, my mom's family is from Memphis so -

Josh Clark: Oh, okay. So, yeah, I'm sure you've been there.

Chuck Bryant: - I went a couple times growing up.

Josh Clark: Probably camped there as a boy scout in the front lawn, right?

Chuck Bryant: No, no.

Josh Clark: No. So, all right, Chuck, tell me - tell the readers who haven't been to Graceland like me, what is it like when you walk in that front door? Is the spirit - is the stank still there?

Chuck Bryant: Well, the stank is still there. It's unlike any other house that you've ever been to probably. It might smack, you know, those of us that are probably in our 30s or older, you know, have found memories of their houses in the 70s and the shag carpet and stuff like that so it kind of smacks of that but to degrees that you can't even imagine because of course it's Elvis and he was loaded, you know, for the time, he had a lot of money so he could afford gold-plated everything and shag carpet on the ceiling and on the walls and it's just - his taste is well-documented.

Josh Clark: Right. Well, I mean, the jumpsuits alone kind of do it.

Chuck Bryant: Right. Exactly.

Josh Clark: I mean, how much money did that man spend on sequins?

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, I don't have that. I have a lot of statistics but I don't have that one.

Josh Clark: Throw one out at me. What's the best one you've got?

Chuck Bryant: Well, if we're talking Graceland, he bought the house for a total of a $102,500 in 1957 and originally it was already purchased by the YMCA and he tripled that number just to get the house.

Josh Clark: He edged them out, didn't he?

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, big time.

Josh Clark: I wonder what the YMCA thinks of Elvis, at least the Memphis Chapter.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, I don't know.

Josh Clark: You know, because I mean, he just kind of stepped in and said, no, I'm taking it.

Chuck Bryant: Right, he's their favorite son though so I imagine they were pretty cool with it.

Josh Clark: They were cool with it. The house was already named Graceland when he bought it, wasn't it?

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, it was. I think a lot of people probably think he named it Graceland after his mother Grace -

Josh Clark: Um-hum. That's what I thought.

Chuck Bryant: - but that's not even his mom's name.

Josh Clark: No, it's Gladys, right?

Chuck Bryant: His mom's name is Gladys. Yeah.

Josh Clark: There you go.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, it was the original owners, Dr. and Mrs. Thomas Moore. I think it was the great aunt, Grace Toof, T-O-O-F, is who it was named after.

Josh Clark: I gotcha.

Chuck Bryant: On the 14-acres there just south of downtown Memphis.

Josh Clark: So, take us on a little mini tour. I know, just from pictures I've seen, really the only extravagance that I note from an outdoor view are the gates but if you look at the house it looks like you'd expect to see an old retired farming couple living in there.

Chuck Bryant: Right. Yeah, it's a classic revival is the official - is the architectural styles as they call it. And from the outside it doesn't look like much but at the time, you know, this is late 50s, it was the nicest house in Memphis at the time, wasn't it?

Josh Clark: Yeah, there may be some debate there but he always told his parents that he would buy them the nicest house in Memphis once he made it big.

Chuck Bryant: And he was saying this as a little kid?

Josh Clark: Yeah, he knew he was due for stardom - he believed in this.

Chuck Bryant: I did not realize that. I always had the impression that he kind of stumbled bottom backwards into it.

Josh Clark: No, no, he knew he was destined for stardom and he actually bought the house when he was 22 which is just crazy when you think about, he was just a kid and he bought the best house in Memphis. Very impressive.

Chuck Bryant: So, you walk in, there's a foyer.

Josh Clark: Yeah, you walk into the foyer and when you're in the foyer, you're actually directly beneath the bathroom where he passed away and they don't tell you that on the tour because it's kind of a macob way to begin the tour, you know.

Chuck Bryant: Exactly. Look up, that's where Elvis died.

Josh Clark: Right. So, you walk in and right in front of you are the steps that lead upstairs and that's blocked off and has always been blocked off so you can't go up there.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, but why, I mean, is there some sort of secret love child that's chained to a radiator upstairs? Why would they keep it locked off?

Josh Clark: Well, when Elvis li ved there, it was pretty much a private area, too. He always had - Graceland was always really busy and always had tons of guests and his Memphis Mafia is what his entourage was called -

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, you love those guys, don't you?

Josh Clark: Yeah, man, they're awesome. I was gonna say something else. They're very cool and they - there was always just a lot of activity, people coming and going, guests in and out, people working there, obviously his staff so his upstairs was his retreat, you know, that's where he went to chill out and do his private Elvis things so he didn't let people up there back then either. It was just kind of understood. No one went up there.

Chuck Bryant: Right. So, it's always been -

Josh Clark: And keeping with those -

Chuck Bryant: - kind of closed off.

Josh Clark: Yeah, keeping with those wishes, it's still closed off today and apparently - this is really creepy, I didn't know this until I studied this. Untouched since he passed away. Apparently, in his bathroom there's, like, his toothbrush and the squeeze toothpaste and a stick of deodorant that he was using that day and they didn't touch anything.

Chuck Bryant: Wow. Do you know what he was reading when he died?

Josh Clark: Even - sorry, including sweat stains on his pillow. What he was reading when he died, there's actually a little speculation. I can't remember but there were two different books in the bathroom and they don't know which one he was reading but you can find out on the internet, I just didn't include that in my article.

Chuck Bryant: I'm gonna guess a 1001 Arabian Nights.

Josh Clark: That's a real good guess I bet.

Chuck Bryant: Thank you.

Josh Clark: I think one of them was actually a book on religion and spirituality if that matters.

Chuck Bryant: Oh, okay.

Josh Clark: So, you go into the foyer. To your right is one of the living rooms; the famous one with the 14-foot couch, the 10-foot coffee table -

Chuck Bryant: The 10-foot coffee table. That's a lot of coffee.

Josh Clark: That's a lot of coffee. And then beyond that is the upstairs music room with, like, his piano and stuff which would entertain people.

Chuck Bryant: Right. And you had also said that - you made a point that he may have inadvertently created the man cave and he had, like, a couple of them and these are the ones that I was familiar with like the jungle room, the TV room and I think these are just totally beyond cool, like, start with the jungle room. This sounds just super awesome.

Josh Clark: Well, yes, super awesome or super tacky depending on which way you want to look at it.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, it's a fine line.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, I think it was the original man room. He - it was originally a screened in porch and he had it converted when he and Priscilla got divorced so she wasn't a part of this. She always makes a note to say she was no part of the jungle room and it's got an African motif, it's got shag carpet on the walls and ceilings and floors, he had a working water fountain that leaked everywhere all the time that he had disconnected because of the leaks and it actually provided soundproofing so he ended up recording some music there in the jungle room.

Josh Clark: Yeah, you said he recorded one album and half of another one there.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, half of moody blues and I think live from Elvis Presley Boulevard and Memphis, Tennessee were recorded in its entirety.

Josh Clark: What about the TV room, Chuck? Three TVs at once. Where did he get that idea?

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, that's downstairs. He got that idea from President Linden Johnson. He heard that he used to watch three newscasts at the same time to keep up with things so Elvis got - you know, he had to have the best so he had three TVs built into the wall and watched football apparently, not newscasts.

Josh Clark: I gotcha. I gotcha. And he had some, like, pretty cool toys. I understand he had two jets.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, he had two jets. He had one smaller private jet and then he had a big honking 747 I think called the Lisa Marie which was -

Josh Clark: Yeah, I actually know a story about - that involves the Lisa Marie. Yeah, so, basically, I think it was '76, Elvis was sitting around with a couple of his buddies in the Memphis Mafia and, like, a couple of years earlier they'd been playing a show in Denver and they went to eat at this restaurant called the Colorado Goldmine Company and they had this sandwich called the Fool's Gold Sandwich. Have you ever had one of these?

Chuck Bryant: No, but -

Josh Clark: One of my friends threw a birthday party for her husband and she called it a very partially hydrogenated birthday and there was all this wonderful food like ham dogs, that kind of burger that you serve on a Krispy Krème donut as a bun and she also made the Fool's Gold Sandwich so it's, like, heavily buttered bread, peanut, jelly and bacon and then you, like, kind of grill it. It's the greatest thing you'll ever have in your life. So, Elvis got his hands on one of the things and the reason they were called Fool's Gold Sandwich is because they were on an entire loaf of Italian bread and they were meant for, like, 20 people -

Chuck Bryant: Right, like the Subway eight-foot sub.

Josh Clark: - and Elvis used to - Elvis ate them - right, exactly - Elvis ate them apparently by himself so there's no telling how many pounds of bacon or -

Chuck Bryant: Did he do it like a cartoon, did he shove it all in his mouth at one time?

Josh Clark: I think - like a duck, yeah. He just swallowed. No biting whatsoever.

Chuck Bryant: I believe it.

Josh Clark: But they call it Fool's Gold Sandwich because only a fool would pay for it. They were, like, $50 sandwiches and this is in the mid-70s so anyway, they're sitting around one night in February of '76 and one of the guys in his entourage says, you know, I wish I had one of those sandwiches right now. So, Elvis calls up the restaurant in Denver, tells them that he wants - I think, like, 30 of them and he says that they'll be there in a couple of hours. So, they fire up -

Chuck Bryant: That's 180-feet of sandwich.

Josh Clark: Yeah. They fire up the Lisa Maria, get in the jet, go to the restaurant - actually, I don't even think they made it to the restaurants. For this special order, the restaurateur and his wife showed up with the sandwiches, a case of champagne and some other stuff and I think they ate them in the hanger and just for the - the tab for the food was, like, $3,000 but when you factor in all of the added expense, it was one late night trip. This was at, like, 1:00 in the morning for these sandwiches came to, like, $16,000 or something like that.

Chuck Bryant: Right. And in today's dollar that's probably -

Josh Clark: That's probably, like, $18,000. At least!

Chuck Bryant: More than that.

Josh Clark: At least.

Chuck Bryant: Well, you know, if he hadn't of done things like that, he may have ended up living instead of dying in his bathroom.

Josh Clark: Yeah, but would he have lived as interesting a life as he did.

Chuck Bryant: Well, maybe not but one of the reasons that - it was well-documented that he was on all these pills to keep him going all the time and one of the reasons was he said he couldn't slow down because he had so many people that he had to pay for. He had a huge staff and he felt very beholden to them and didn't want to let them down and he didn't want to lay people off so he just had this killer brutal schedule later in life when he was really badly out of shape and on uppers and on downers to do what he needed and maybe if he had been a little more wise with his money early on, he wouldn't have felt the need to tour incessantly like that.

Josh Clark: But he was never at any point poor once he made it, was he?

Chuck Bryant: No, no, he wasn't poor but he - he definitely had a decline later in his career on the Vegas circuit. His album sales dropped and basically the only way to make money was by playing just show-after-show-after-show.

Josh Clark: Gotcha. Well, you know, speaking of pills, since you brought it up, I wasn't gonna bring it up but, yeah, it's kind of tough to talk about older Elvis without the pills, right.

Chuck Bryant: Right. Did you know that he had that famous meeting with Richard Nixon?

Josh Clark: Yeah, I've seen the picture.

Chuck Bryant: You have?

Josh Clark: Uh-huh.

Chuck Bryant: I got a hold of some letters, right, that he wrote to Nixon basically saying I've got an in with the hippies and the weather underground and the black panthers, they trust me so why don't you make me an undercover federal bureau of narcotics agent and I can start busting, you know, some hippie heads, and apparently Nixon was, like, no, that's okay, thanks. I appreciate the gesture and finally Elvis just starts hounding him until Nixon finally agrees to meet with him.

Josh Clark: Like a hound dog?

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, exactly. I was kind of hoping you'd let that one traipse by.

Josh Clark: I know.

Chuck Bryant: And, so, they meet and Elvis apparently gets very, very emotional. Starts blaming the Beatles for an anti-American sentiment, he's just not very happy with the state of affairs in America, breaks down, weeps a little bit, hugs Nixon and Nixon gives him an honoree badge and Elvis gives Nixon a commemorative Colt 45 Pistol.

Josh Clark: Right. And that was the famous photo. Is that when that was taken?

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, that famous meeting. He was wearing a cape, too.

Josh Clark: Yeah.

Chuck Bryant: He wore those capes a lot, didn't he?

Josh Clark: Well, he was sort of a crime fighter I guess.

Chuck Bryant: I guess so. Yeah, it worked well.

Josh Clark: Yeah, a lot of people might think there's some irony there that he was on massive amounts of prescription drugs.

Chuck Bryant: He actually looks like he was on something while he was meeting Nixon to become an undercover drug agent.

Josh Clark: Absolutely was I think. But he - the Memphis Mafia guys in some candid interviews years later said that Elvis very much drew a line between the illegal drugs and prescription drugs. He thought I'm getting them from my doctor so that makes it okay.

Chuck Bryant: Right. Right. And he hated drug pushers, didn't he?

Josh Clark: Yeah.

Chuck Bryant: Like, he was a man -

Josh Clark: He loved his doctor though. I'll bet. I'll bet. Who wouldn't? So, Chuck, you got anything else on Graceland for us?

Chuck Bryant: No, I'll just encourage people to go visit. It's a site to be seen. The tour is well worth it, it's a lot of fun.

Josh Clark: And Elvis is buried in the back, in the meditation garden, right?

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, right in the side yard there. He and his mother and father and grandmother are all buried there. He and his mother were originally buried somewhere else but there was a lot of security issues so his father, before he passed away, had them moved over.

Josh Clark: Well, I would strongly recommend first reading Mr. Chuck Bryant's How Graceland Works on howstuffworks.com before making the pilgrimage, and stick around to find out which article reminds Chuck of his college years. Chuck, which article reminds you of your college years?

Chuck Bryant: Well, Josh, the article is called, "Are there really hallucinogenic frogs," by Kristen Connors, a staff writer.

Josh Clark: So, you were doing what exactly in college?

Chuck Bryant: Well, I had a frog collection.

Josh Clark: Oh, that is not what I was expecting you to say, Chuck.

Chuck Bryant: Well, I don't know what you were thinking of, buddy, but I had an extensive frog collection and so this article just takes me back to the old days at UGA.

Josh Clark: Well, I think I can hardly be blamed. You've got the goatee. It makes you look kind of shifty like you might be engaged in criminal acts here or there.

Chuck Bryant: Not me, brother.

Josh Clark: Well, yeah, you can check that article out and plenty of other odd frog and hallucinogen-related articles on howstuffworks.com.

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