Step into the one-time home of “The King of Rock and Roll,” Elvis Presley, and you can almost feel his presence. You can take a trip into Graceland, which operates as a museum, but you’ll have to stay away from the upper floor. That’s the private part of the home. But Elvis’s daughter Lisa Marie has shared a secret about that floor of the house, revealing that deep within the sprawling mansion is a hidden room that no one knows about. And what it contains is truly extraordinary.
Elvis lived in Graceland for two decades, and during that time turned the mansion and the near-14 acres of Memphis, Tennessee, land it sat on into the base of operations for his empire. The land was previously owned by generations of the Toof family, who ran Memphis’s first commercial printing business. Intriguingly, it is from their family history that the name “Graceland” originated, not Elvis’s.
The mansion was named after one of the Toof family relatives. You see, in 1939, Ruth Brown Moore and her husband Dr Thomas Moore were the ones who built the home and they named it after her aunt Grace. Fittingly, music had a part to play in Graceland before Elvis ever came along, thanks to the Moore’s daughter Ruth Marie.
A harpist with the Memphis Symphony Orchestra, Ruth Marie was known to rehearse in the mansion’s formal rooms. Perhaps Elvis could sense this when he was being shown Graceland, as he would fill those same rooms with rock and roll jam sessions after he took ownership of the property. Over the years, he would increase the size of the home from 10,000 square feet to 17,000.
Elvis became part of Graceland’s history in 1957. He had already released two albums and 48 singles by that point and was finishing work on his second film, Loving You, at the same time as recording its soundtrack album. He had also been touring almost without a break for two long years before ’57.
On March 19 of that year, Elvis paid a $1,000 cash deposit on Graceland. The total sale price for the mansion in the southern Colonial style was $102,500. It was the second home that 22-year-old Elvis had bought for his family, after the house he purchased the previous year on East Memphis’s Audubon Avenue.
Unfortunately, due to his rising fame, that family home in a residential neighborhood had become overrun with fans keen to get a glimpse of their new hero. Elvis also needed a place to house the growing entourage of extended family and friends who depended on him as he became a megastar. The mansion and its 13.8-acre estate were the answer.
For all intents and purposes, Graceland was where Elvis would live with his parents Vernon and Gladys, as well as his grandmother Minnie Mae. But, unofficially, the revolving door would admit new and old friends who latched onto the superstar to also live there and treat the mansion as their own personal social club and hotel. They became known as the “Memphis Mafia.”
Mark Crispin Miller, author of Boxed In: The Culture of TV, wrote about Graceland. He believed the mansion was Elvis’s “home of the organization that was himself. [It] was tended by a large vague clan of Presleys and deputy Presleys, each squandering the vast gratuities which Elvis used to keep his whole world smiling.”
Elvis’s family lived in grand style. As Miller wrote, Vernon “had a swimming pool in his bedroom”, along with a jukebox stocked with records handpicked by his son. Elvis himself would spend countless hours in his bedroom, keeping a watchful eye on the property on security cameras. Unfortunately, though, Vernon would eventually move out of Graceland after a family disagreement.
Elvis’s mother died in 1958, and his father remarried two years later. His new wife, Dee Stanley, lived with Vernon at Graceland for a while. As Elaine Dundy revealed in her book Elvis and Gladys, Stanley perhaps made herself too comfortable in the mansion, which led to friction with Elvis.
Dundy wrote, “Vernon had settled down with Dee where Gladys once reigned, while Dee herself – while Elvis was away – had taken over the role of mistress of Graceland so thoroughly as to rearrange the furniture and replace the very curtains that Gladys had approved of.” Elvis believed this was a step too far. It would not stand.
One day, a van turned up at Graceland. All of Stanley’s home improvements, clothes, and possessions were loaded on to the van, along with her pets. Vernon, Stanley, and her three children were shifted to a house nearby, before they eventually moved into a home on Dolan Drive, adjacent to the Graceland grounds. The King had made it clear to Stanley that she would not replace his mother.
Moving into the ’60s, Elvis’s girlfriend Priscilla Beaulieu lived with him in Graceland. They were married in Las Vegas in 1967, and the next year saw the birth of their daughter Lisa Marie. At this point, Elvis made some changes to the upstairs in Graceland, including making one of the four bedrooms a nursery for his new baby.
The other bedrooms were also in use. One was Elvis’s home office and one was a room dedicated to his extensive, and always growing, wardrobe. Vernon also had an office, though it was in another building on the property. In this office, he and an army of secretaries sifted through the huge amounts of fan mail received by the King.
Lisa Marie was Elvis’s only child, and in August 2020 she told USA Today newspaper that she had extremely fond memories of growing up in Graceland. She said, “It was my childhood home. I was born in Memphis and it was my home.” She added, “It was such an incredible place to grow up. Very special.”
“There was lots of mischief,” continued Lisa Marie. “There were golf cart convoys, motorcycles, fireworks, firecracker wars, snowmobiling, sledding and horseback riding for his closest friends and family. And we all had a lot of fun doing that sort of stuff, getting into mischief, and having fun. It was incredible.”
Sadly, the fun would not last forever. Elvis died in his bathroom in 1977, when Lisa Marie was just nine. He left Graceland to his daughter and was buried there. When his father Vernon also died two years later, Elvis’s ex-wife Priscilla became co-executor of his estate. It was Priscilla who made the decision to open Graceland to the public as a museum.
As Libby Boren McMillan of USA Today wrote, “Priscilla’s business acumen turned a family home burdened by large upkeep expense into a successful empire that now includes TV and video projects, merchandising, and a worldwide licensing program.” Once Lisa Marie came of age, her mother shifted to become an advisor. Interestingly, Lisa Marie still sometimes stays overnight in Graceland, after museum hours are over.
“It shuts down quite nice at night,” Lisa Marie explained. “I have family that I love very much who live there in Memphis. When I go to Memphis, I visit. We have dinner there.” She added, “It’s got a very special energy there, when you go. It’s like a time warp, and the energy is still very much there. You can feel it.”
In 2006 Graceland was deemed a National Historic Landmark. In June of that year, when George W. Bush arrived for a tour, he was the first president in office to come to Graceland. No surprise that he wanted to go see: it is the second-most visited house in the U.S., trailing only the White House. In 2016 the 20 millionth guest passed through its doors.
Tours of the Graceland museum have been in operation since 1982. One of the rules enforced by the staff is that the upstairs is off limits to fans, because that was always known to be Elvis’s private quarters. However, in 2020 a live Q & A video was posted online, featuring director of archives Angie Marchese hinting that perhaps rules could be relaxed virtually.
The video began with Marchese standing in front of the stairs, teasing, “So the one thing about Graceland and its mystique is the upstairs and the fact that it was Elvis’ private area. So no one is allowed to go upstairs. Well, because we’re on Instagram Live…” Unfortunately for fans, Marchese followed that with, “No, we’re still not allowed to go upstairs, sorry.”
Marchese did want to give fans some kind of insight into the upstairs section of the house, though. She revealed, “It looks as if he just got up and left. It is part of my job to maintain it. So we do go up there to maintain the space. The record on the record player is the last record he listened to. There’s a Styrofoam cup that sits on a bookshelf.”
Regarding Elvis’s bedroom, Marchese explained that, “The bed is made, so we really maintain it the way that Lisa wants us to preserve it. So, unfortunately, we can’t see it, but it is taken care of.” Marchese then spotlighted the stairs that lead from the main landing outside of Elvis’s bedroom and down to Graceland’s kitchen, a common spot for the King to be found.
In September 2020 Elvis’s cousin Billy and his wife Jo made an appearance on the Memphis Mafia Kid YouTube channel. Speaking with their son Danny, who operates the channel, Jo told the story of an overnight stay in Graceland. This particular night turned into quite the adventure, and the story would lend credence to Lisa Marie’s recollection of Graceland as a place of fun.
“We went to bed and were staying in Lisa’s room, and Elvis and Linda [Thompson, Elvis’s girlfriend] were in his room,” began Jo. “We’d already gone to bed and were just getting ready to make it night when we heard this knock at the door.” Billy asked who was knocking at such a late hour and was surprised to hear Elvis answer.
“It’s just me!” said the King through the door. “We’ve got big things to do. Let’s get up and take a ride.” When they opened the door, Billy and Jo could see Elvis was in his robe and pajamas, and Linda was wearing a negligee. Jo noted, “She was always so classy.”
Naturally, Billy told the King that he and Jo would have to put outside clothes on before going anywhere. After all, they were all wearing their nightclothes. Jo said Elvis had responded, “No, no, no. We don’t have time for any of that! We’re just gonna wear what we got on.” Billy still didn’t believe he was serious, but Elvis had explained, “Yeah, we’re just gonna be in the truck.”
It turned out that Elvis wanted the two couples to drive to Hernando, Mississippi, which is around 19 miles away from Graceland. After arriving at around 3.00 or 4.00 a.m., they simply turned back around and drove home. Jo added, “And [then we] went to his room and probably talked until daylight!”
While this seemingly pointless endeavor may have angered some people, Jo said, “That’s the kind of fun things that we did that anybody else would have thought was boring. Except that it was with Elvis. You never knew what to expect. Like I’ve always said, it was like living with Peter Pan. You never had to grow up.”
Just as Elvis’s motives for this late-night jaunt were a secret, so was a hidden room within Graceland. In 2006, during a televised tour she was giving to talk show icon Oprah Winfrey, Lisa Marie revealed the truth about the hidden room. It houses a treasure trove of Elvis memories and memorabilia, and its existence was, until this edition of Oprah, completely unknown to the world.
In fact, the room was so secret that Lisa Marie insisted Oprah’s cameras be switched off before entering. They were then switched on again when safely inside. This meant eagle-eyed viewers had no way of working out its location on the Graceland property. Oprah was then treated to a special tour that would have turned Elvis’s fans green with envy.
Within the room, which is protected from earthquake, tornado, and fire, visitors have to wear gloves at all times. This is because the rows upon rows of cabinets house ultra-rare personalized checks signed by Elvis himself, as well as posters and other documents. More than 60,000 photos illuminate the King’s history, and you can also find 88 of his trademark jumpsuits.
One section of the room contains what Lisa Marie referred to as “the fun stuff.” This is Elvis’s jewelry and cufflinks, which all feature big glistening rocks. Sunglasses worn in 1972 also take pride of place. Overall, the room means a lot to Lisa Marie, who feels that she can go there to feel closer to her father.
“It’s very comforting that I can come,” explained Lisa Marie. “Nobody actually knows that this is here. I know I can come at any time and rummage through the boxes and grab stuff. It’s quite comforting. The whole thing, even the house is like a little time capsule of the past and nothing has ever changed.”
Lisa Marie’s tour also showed off two other rooms, including the infamous Jungle Room. Elvis simply referred to it as “the den,” but that is perhaps underselling the unique tropical tiki bar-inspired room. It has a built-in rock waterfall, for one thing. Standing in the room, a knowing Lisa Marie simply said to Oprah, “If these walls could talk.”
However, Lisa Marie was more forthcoming about the pool room. She let slip that, “Down here particularly, this was just the mayhem room. Pool balls would fly. I just instinctively got into trouble down here, play hide and seek and up to no good.” Interestingly, it wouldn’t just be his daughter who caused havoc in the pool room, though.
“He, I found out later, threw a tear gas bomb when everyone was down here,” continued Lisa Marie, speaking about her prankster father. “Or laughing gas. It was just this mischievous, odd place where if you destroyed it, it would somehow recover quickly.” The King clearly played by his own rules.
But what does the future hold for Graceland? Lisa Marie was unequivocal when USA Today asked her if she would ever sell it. She stated, “Sometimes there are rumors about it being sold and that is never going to happen. There’s always a rumor. It is not getting sold. Graceland was given to me and will always be mine and then passed to my children.”