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How Elvis Presley Came to Own Graceland (by Jeff Schrembs)

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Elvis Presley at Graceland (photo from private collection of Jeff Schrembs)

Graceland Farms began construction in 1939 and completed construction in 1940. The magnificent Estate was built as an exemplary Georgian Colonial style. Graceland Farms originally encompassed 500 acres, with a 25 acre man made fully stocked with regional fish. The Mansion was designed to have wonderful views of the tree lined driveway and all of the beautiful landscaping that covered Graceland with beautiful flowers, trees, shrubs, etc. and encompassed 13.8 acres. Graceland Farms was located in the Whitehaven District of Memphis on Highway 51 (note: this was later named as Elvis Presley Boulevard in appreciation of Elvis) and was purchased by Dr. Thomas D. Moore. Graceland Farms, in contrast to the beautiful “Mansion”, was used for the raising and selling of Hereford Cows.

In 1957 Gladys and Vernon had seen Graceland and then Elvis went to see Graceland. Elvis and his Mother fell in love with the home and Vernon, who had watched Elvis be delivered in a “1 one shotgun house (i.e. so small you had 4 walls and 2 doors 1 door in front and 1 in back. the total cost to build the house was less than $200.00) in Tupelo” 22 years ago was now contemplating buying this magnificent home.

At the time Elvis, Vernon, and Gladys had seen the home the Mansion had 10,266 square feet. Numerous times over the years Elvis added to the home and as of 2010 the home is 17,552 square feet (excluding the Racquetball Building) or 19,552 including the Racquetball Building.

Elvis had previously purchased a home in Memphis at 1034 Audubon Drive in Memphis but between the Fans standing outside the home 24/7, the neighbors being inconvenienced and complaining, the Press reporting about the “all night fans” and the neighbors “peace and quiet” being disturbed Elvis and his Family had decided that they needed a larger home that was close enough to get to “town” but further out of Town with a lot of land and security. Graceland Farms fit the criteria.

The Presleys, unbeknown to them, were not the only interested purchasers for Graceland Farms. The Catalog Store that contained all that one could hope for aka” SEARS wanted to buy all the land and build a large store displaying all of their goods to Memphis residents and visitors.

Also, the Church wanted to buy a part of the land so Sears was notified to find out if they would be willing to do so (as they were buying more than enough land for their purposes but their “data” confirmed that Memphis was an “up and coming City” and Highway 51 was planned to become “THE” Highway in Memphis with thousands of consumers going up and down Highway 51 daily) and Sears ultimately responded that they wanted “everything”.

An immediate telephone call was placed to Vernon Presley telling him about the other “potential buyers” being Sears and the Church. Vernon knew that if he did not get this home for Elvis, who in turn wanted the home for his beloved Mother Gladys where they could live in comfort and peace, that Elvis would be “shattered”. The last thing Vernon Presley wanted was to let down Elvis and Gladys so after hanging up the telephone, after inquiring “what can be done so we get the place”?, Vernon waited and waited to find out the answer to his question. Every hour felt like a lifetime and this was the most important purchase of Elvis’ life a home that THEY OWNED and no one could take away from them. It was more than bricks and mortar it was a home, a blessing, and a dream come true. All that had to happen was for Sears to go away and the Church to agree to let Elvis have it. Vernon thought long and hard about the options and being known as a “penny pencher” he knew that he would have to pay “top price” to get Graceland and she was worth every penny.

Vernon gathered his thoughts and then started dialing the phone where Elvis would be at. When Elvis answered the first question was “whats the news on Graceland”? Vernon tried to sound confident while updating Elvis to the entire series of events. Elvis knew that Dr. Moore, was an honorable and religious man who helped out the community routinely.

Elvis, who was always a quick thinker, came to the compromise that they would buy Graceland and all the land and then sell a part of it to the Church. Elvis was also a very spiritual/religious man and decided that it would be “good” to have others singing and praying to God on the property right next door. So Elvis called Vernon and said “do it” (i.e. Elvis would keep Graceland and a large part of the land with a smaller part of the land going to the Church) and added one stipulation and that was for Elvis to have a “right of easement” to be able to enter in from the Churches parking lot and go directly into Graceland through this “secret entrance” (i.e. not through the iconic Muscial Note Gates at Front of Graceland).

Vernon called the Real Estate Agent back and was told they were waiting on Sears to respond. The Real Estate Agent called Dr. Moore to let him know that Elvis was interested, at full price less what the Church wanted in property and Elvis would pay the Church directly for the easement. Dr. Moore was pleased that Elvis allowed the Church options and “impressed” when he learned that Elvis grew up singing Religious Hymns – never drank – did not smoke – always said “yes sir” or “yes mam” to his elders and was a respectful man who wanted to provide an “easier living” for his family and have a safe “HOME” to return to where he could raise a family and enjoy the beauty of the property and the blessings that God bestowed to all of us.

Sears called back hesitant about letting the Church have some of the property so the Realtor called Vernon to tell him the good news. On March 26, 1957 Vernon, Gladys, and Elvis signed the paperwork (jointly) and purchased Graceland for (approximately $ 103,000.00. Gladys Presley cried as she was handed the keys to her home as Elvis and Vernon hugged her and Elvis kissed her forehead telling her “I love you” and “I am doing all of this for you momma”.

1957 Elvis career was going great, his movies were all hits, his songs sold millions, his relationship with his parents was good and he now owned a Mansion that could allow him options to rest or to play and to add to as Elvis’ interests changed.

Gladys was so happy she shed tears of joy hugging everyone and telling Elvis he had given them the “most beautiful home ever”. Gladys, once she really came to terms that the home was theirs, began to plan on the designing and furnishings of the home and she asked Elvis for what he wanted and he gave her a few requirements but most of all he hugged and kissed her and said “lil satnin this be all yours” then they looked into each other eyes and jointly began to cry. X Interestingly, 9 months later on Christmas Eve Elvis would receive his “hand delivered” Draft Notice. Elvis’ 1st Christmas at Graceland went from tears of joy, love, presents, laughing, etc. to Elvis reading and re-reading the draft notice (in semi-shock). In 1958 Elvis, now in the Army, said “things could not get any worse” and yet on August 14, 1958 his beloved Mother Gladys Love Presley passed away. Some of the most “traumatic/emotional” photographs ever taken of Elvis were taken while Elvis and Vernon sat on the front steps of Graceland with their arms around each others’ shoulders crying. Repeating “shes gone” “everything I loved is gone” “Why, why?” and Vernon “saying how sorry he was while consoling Elvis.

Elvis first 2 years at Graceland were filled with “ups and downs”. From 1958 – 1960 Elvis served his term in the US Army and was honorably discharged. When Elvis returned some things at Graceland “changed” (i.e. paint, trim, way room was used, etc.) but out of respect for his Mother Elvis left as much of her things as they were during her lifetime.

Elvis LOVED Graceland and it truly was his “home”. It was fitting, though no less painful to accept, that Elvis died at Graceland and is buried at Graceland with his Mother, Father, and Grandmother. Their head stones rest in the meditation gardens which Elvis had built in the 1960’s and thousands of fans come to Graceland each week to see Graceland and to pay their respects.

Lastly, I would be remiss if I did not say that Elvis Fans Worldwide should say a heartfelt “thanks” to Priscilla, Lisa Marie, and Jack Soden for allowing Graceland to be seen and for the professional endeavors they are involved in. I HIGHLY RECOMMEND visiting Graceland, EPE, and/or www.Elvis.com. I also HIGHLY RECOMMEND Elvis Fans Worldwide seeking out, and monetarily supporting, and paying their respects to Marty Lacker, Marty Fike, Billy Smith, Red West, Sonny West, Joe Esposito, Jerry Schilling, etc. Elvis loved these men and they spend the better part of the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s working with Elvis 24/7. I say aloud THANK YOU and God bless you all in each of your personal and professional endeavors!

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