Partial to Home: How Elvis bought Graceland

 

Birney Imes

 

 

This past Sunday Ed Rice, Bobby Manning and I were headed north on Wolf Road when Bobby for no apparent reason launched into a narrative about his family history.

 

We were on our way to meet the rest of our crew at Cochran Bridge where Bartahatchie Road crosses the Buttahatchee River.

 

From there the eight of us would paddle downstream to Caledonia.

 

 

Turns out Bobby's monologue had been triggered by the sight of Egger Cemetery. His mother, Bess Richardson, had grown up nearby.

 

When Bobby was 9, his divorced mother married Emmet (E.C.) Reeves from Hamilton, Mississippi.

 

E.C. had a sister named Virginia, who, Bobby says, was a great talker. She moved to Caledonia after she married Ed Grant, a master carpenter.

 

"People were impressed how well spoken she was," Bobby said. "A friend told her she should go sell real estate, somewhere like Memphis."

 

Virginia followed her friend's advice. She and Ed moved to Memphis, and Virginia opened a real estate company, which, as her friends back in Caledonia predicted, flourished.

 

"We visited them on a couple occasions (in the mid-1950s). They lived in an affluent neighborhood," Bobby said.

 

In February, 1957, as Virginia was walking out of Lowenstein's East, a Memphis department store, she saw a pink Cadillac in the parking lot.

 

"She said it was the most beautiful car she had ever seen," Bobby said.

 

The audacious young realtor walked up to the car and rapped on the window and thus met Gladys Presley, Elvis' mother.

 

A year earlier the Presleys (Elvis, Gladys and Vernon) had bought a modest three-bedroom ranch-style house on Audubon Drive in East Memphis.

 

But the house was anything but a refuge.

 

Fans and media clogged the sidewalks and street around the house day and night making prisoners of the Presleys and life difficult for their neighbors.

 

They need a place with space ... and a fence.

 

Virginia told Gladys she had properties she wanted to show her, but Gladys and Vernon were about to leave for LA where Elvis was wrapping up shooting for his second movie, "Loving You."

 

As promised, Gladys phoned Virginia when she returned from the West Coast.

 

The first property Virginia showed Gladys and Vernon Presley was modest, a sprawling ranch house on seven acres.

 

She immediately realized it was a mistake, says Bobby.

 

"Don't you have anything to show us with a Colonial home?" Gladys asked.

 

Though she had never been inside it, Graceland had just come on the market. Virginia suggested they see it.

 

According to Peter Guralnick's biography, "Last Train to Memphis," Vernon had been lobbying for a move to California. Gladys convinced Vernon to tour Graceland. Grant showed them the home on Saturday, March 17, 1957.

 

Later that weekend, just before boarding a train home to Memphis from LA, Elvis spoke to his parents by phone. They told him they had found a house, a 14-acre estate, they loved and thought Elvis would, too.

 

On the following Monday, March 19, 1957, the 22-year-old Elvis saw the house and declared to a reporter from the Memphis Press Scimitar, "This is going to be a lot nicer than Red Skelton's house when I get it like I want it."

 

A week later Graceland was his. Selling price: $102,500, about $900,000 in today's dollars.

 

Elvis immediately began a major overhaul of the house. According to Guralnick, first priority was to have the most beautiful bedroom in Memphis for his mother. He wanted a soda fountain where he and his friends could have Cokes and ice cream. He had made an eight-foot square bed for himself, a 15-foot sofa built for the living room and installed a custom-made gate with a musical motif. He also built Gladys the chicken coop she wanted.

 

Elvis would live in Graceland for 20 years until his death in 1977.

 

Virginia would sell Elvis' Audubon Drive home, said Bobby, and in the 1970s, her husband Ed helped remodel Graceland.

 

In 1982 Virginia published a 13-page book about the experience titled, "How Elvis Bought Graceland, Exactly As It Happened."

 

Birney Imes ([email protected]) is the former publisher of The Dispatch.

 

 

 

Birney Imes III is the immediate past publisher of The Dispatch.

 

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