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On This Day In Music… March 19, 1957: Elvis Presley Buys Graceland

The 'Memphis Press-Scimitar' reported that the 'Traditional, Southern beauty of Graceland may well have saved Memphis its most famous resident.'

Source: APEX / MEGA

Graceland was bought for a little over $100,000.

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On March 19, 1957, Elvis Presley was given a tour of a property in the Whitehaven district of Memphis, Tennessee. Three days earlier his parents Vernon and Gladys had called him on the set of his second movie, Loving You, to say they had found a home they liked, a Southern colonial-style mansion set in 13.8 acres on the edge of the city. The price was $102,500 – around $1.1 million in today’s money. The house already had a name: Graceland.

A story in the Memphis Press-Scimitar, as reported by Elvis History Blog, described the interior.

“It includes an entrance stair-hall, living room, dining room and parlor across the front that can be opened for entertaining into an area 75 feet long. A big kitchen, pantry, butler’s pantry, utility room, one bedroom and a bath and a half are on the ground floor. Upstairs are four bedrooms and three baths.”

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graceland tv room
Source: APEX / MEGA

Presley's television room contained three TVs so he could watch all three major networks simultaneously.

Elvis took it on the spot, laying down $1000 there and then as deposit. “We’ve found a house that we like very much,” Vernon Presley told the paper, “and we will buy it if we can come to terms.”

Gladys continued: “I think I’m going to like this new home. We’ll have a lot more privacy, and a lot more room to put some of the things we have accumulated over the last few years.”

The sale went through smoothly, and, after extensive redecorating and renovations including the installation of a swimming pool and the construction of elaborate iron gates at the entrance, the Presleys moved in to Graceland on May 16.

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elvis priscilla lisa marie presley
Source: Wenn / mega

Elvis, Priscilla and Lisa Marie Presley in Graceland, 1971.

At the time he bought Graceland, Elvis was just 22 years old – and the previous 12 months had been a whirlwind. Almost exactly a year before, on March 23, 1956, his self-titled debut album had been released, becoming the first rock ‘n’ roll album to top the Billboard chart, where it stayed for 10 weeks. Sixty million viewers had watched his Ed Sullivan appearance in September, and the singles “Heartbreak Hotel”, “I Want You, I Need You, I Love You”, “Don’t Be Cruel”, “Hound Dog”, “Love Me Tender”, and “Too Much” had all topped the Billboard Hot 100. He had also broken into the movies, with his acting debut in Love Me Tender proving a box office smash. Elvis Aaron Presley was suddenly hugely wealthy… and hugely famous.

He had already bought one house for his parents in a quiet residential area in East Memphis, but his rocketing celebrity had rendered it impractical: Vernon and Gladys were all-but besieged by fans day and night hoping for a glimpse of the most talked-about man in America.

It was not only his parents that needed a new place. As Elvis’s fame grew, so did his entourage. He craved a refuge from the spotlight… but also somewhere he could party in peace. Soon after the Presley family moved in to Graceland they were joined by an ever-shifting cast of friends, enablers and hangers-on who acquired the nickname “The Memphis Mafia”.

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Graceland would be Elvis’s home for the rest of his life. During that time he expanded the mansion to 23 rooms with eight bedrooms and eight bathrooms, with numerous outhouses installed around the grounds. Priscilla Beaulieu was moved in some years before their marriage, and it was at Graceland that their daughter Lisa Marie was raised.

Graceland may have been a family home – but it was also very much Elvis’s domain. He filled the house and grounds with pets and other animals, including a turkey (named Bowtie), hogs, chickens, ducks, peacocks, dogs, horses, donkeys, a mynah bird that he taught to say “Elvis isn’t available”, a wallaby, a chimpanzee and a squirrel monkey. (Many of the more exotic animals lasted a relatively – and predictably – short time at Graceland before being donated to Memphis Zoo.)

He also had areas set aside specially for his needs. In the basement television room there were three TV sets mounted in the wall so he could watch all three major networks simultaneously – according to some stories, the sets had a high turnover thanks to The King’s habit of shooting at the screen whenever he saw something he particularly disagreed with.

In his “Jungle Room”, so called thanks to the green shag carpeting and Polynesian-themed décor, he would entertain the Memphis Mafia away from parents, wife, or daughter – and he later even set up a mobile recording studio in the room, cutting some 16 songs for his final two albums there.

graceland jungle room
Source: APEX / MEGA

What happened in the Jungle Room, stayed in the Jungle Room.

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Speaking to the Daily Express in 2020, Lisa Marie Presley described the mix of homeliness and near-anarchy that defined her childhood in the mansion – and how, behind those iron gates, Elvis’s word was law.

"There was no schedule, there was no time at Graceland, no rules,” she revealed. "It was almost like this fun house, no matter what you did, no matter what you destroyed, no matter what you threw, what broke it would somehow miraculously get replaced within 24 hours. It was quite the lively home.

"He [Elvis] was not strict at all. He would sleep all day so me and my friends had the run of Graceland and I knew nobody would tell me what to do because they would get fired. I was a terror. I’m not proud of it.

"The basement was always a room for mayhem. I would transform when I would go down the stairs and I don’t know why, just throwing things down there and getting into trouble. He would do similar things down there. He would get mischievous.

"Pool balls would fly. He, I found out later, threw a tear gas bomb or laughing gas when everyone was down here. There were exits so people could get out... It was just this mischievous odd place where if you destroyed it, it would somehow recover quickly.”

elvis grave
Source: APEX / MEGA

The final stop on a visit to Graceland is Elvis's grave, in the Meditation Garden.

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Elvis died in his bedroom in Graceland on August 16, 1977 and was interred in Graceland’s “Meditation Garden”. The house first passed to his father Vernon and then Lisa Marie, with Priscilla Presley as executor. In 1982, under Priscilla’s direction, Graceland was opened to the public: it is now the second-most visited residence in America after the White House, with some 600,000 visitors a year, and more than 20 million since being opened. Following Lisa Marie’s death in January 2023, ownership of the house passed to Elvis’s granddaughter, the actress Riley Keough.

When Paul Simon was writing his 1986 album Graceland, he joined the crowds paying their respects to Presley. “I went to Graceland, and I didn’t tell anyone I was coming, I didn’t get any special treatment,” he remembered. “I went there, walked around, and I was unimpressed. Until you finish the tour and come outside, and then there’s his grave.

“And I just started to cry, and I thought, it’s really true. This guy was loved by everybody. Being in the crowds at Graceland… it’s almost like a religious thing.”


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