When Priscilla Presley opened Graceland, the home of her ex-husband, Elvis Presley, to the public on June 7, 1982, she had no idea how many people would come. To her surprise, the 3,000 tickets available to visit Graceland the very first day sold out. And now, almost 40 years later, Graceland is one of the most visited private homes in the United States. Graceland receives around 600,000 visitors each year, compared to The White House and The Biltmore Estate which both receive approximately 900,000 visitors per year. In 2016, Graceland welcomed their 20-millionth visitor.
From the beginning, Priscilla hired businessman Jack Soden to run and manage Graceland. Soden explained in a 2012 interview on SiriusXM’s Elvis radio channel that before opening Graceland, he visited many other successful museums around the country to see how they ran things. As a result, Graceland implemented their timed-entry system, where visitors buy a ticket in advance allowing them to enter the Graceland mansion at a specific time.
First-time visitors may not realize that tourists are not allowed to walk directly through the Graceland gates and up the driveway to the entrance to Elvis Presley’s home. Rather, your ticket is used to get on a bus across the street from Graceland at the huge Elvis Presley’s Memphis complex, and then be driven up to the front door of the mansion. The only time Graceland permits fans to walk through the gates is during the annual candlelight vigil for Elvis held every August, and also early in the morning (from 7:30 am to 8:30 am) for daily walk-ups to the Meditation Garden.
Jack Soden, who became the President and CEO of Elvis Presley Enterprises in 1990, explained that originally Graceland had tour guides that would accompany each group of tourists through the Graceland mansion and on the grounds of the property. But in the early 1990s, they decided to replace the tour guides with self-guided audio tours. In 2014, the self-guided tour evolved with technology into an audio and visual tour with the help of Ipads and narrated by Elvis fan, John Stamos. One advantage is that the self-guided tour is now offered in nine different languages making it accessible to Elvis’ vast array of international fans.
In 1991, Graceland was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. In 2006, Graceland was declared a National Historic Landmark by the Department of the Interior. For two years in a row (2018 and 2019) at Christmastime, Graceland has been named Best Holiday Historic Home Tour.
Even though you can’t enter the gates of Graceland on your own, make sure you check out the front wall of Graceland. Along with the famous rock and roll gates, Elvis had an Alabama fieldstone fence installed soon after purchasing Graceland in 1957. Fans have been writing tributes to Elvis on the stone wall ever since.
For more info, visit Graceland’s official website.
Read about the new entertainment complex across from Graceland called Elvis Presley’s Memphis
Read about the new hotel next door to Graceland called The Guesthouse at Graceland