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Go, Go, Go ... to Graceland

By Jenna Wise Photography by Harold Leath

Start planning a trip to Memphis today. In case you have not heard, Memphis - once known as Bluff City - is a new booming "hot spot." People are flocking from all over to visit - and its visitors are not just from the South. People of ALL ages come from ALL over the world to pay homage to the King of Rock 'n' Roll at Graceland; they stay to listen to some of the best jazz in the world on Beale Street, and keep migrating over to see what in the world is happening at the Pyramid these days.

There will be more to read later about all the excitement in Memphis since Bass Pro Shop opened at the Pyramid in the spring. But, first things first: Graceland is amazing and should be on a list of "Must Things to Do" while visiting Memphis.

The grounds at Graceland are beautiful and well-kept, as is the house. It is welcoming in so many ways, down to individual iPads distributed to tour guests instead of customary earphones used on most tours.

The exterior of the house is Mississippi Limestone and has green shutters. Wonder how many folks have had their photo snapped with the lions out front since the home was opened to the public in 1982? Graceland is the second most famous house in the United States after the White House and one of the five most visited.

Elvis loved shopping and picked many of the furnishings inside, such as the stunning peacock stained glass in the living room and its custom made 15-foot-long sofa. An interesting holiday tidbit: blue curtains in the living room and dining room at Graceland are exchanged for red curtains in November each year. Isn't that a festive touch?

Elvis wanted his house to be a "real" home. There are 14 televisions sets: in many styles, often found in unexpected rooms of the house. Everyone touring Graceland seems to like different rooms the best, from the unusual, exotic Jungle Room to the everyday kitchen that served Elvis and his busy household 'round the clock.

The exterior of the house features a tasteful Meditation Garden with memorial markers for Presley and Presley family members. A racquetball building once actually used by Elvis now displays Elvis memorabilia. The entire Graceland experience is memorable and heart-warming.

People who work for Elvis Presley Enterprises at Graceland were gracious in sharing names of places to eat and visit while in Memphis. They are proud to be part of the new exciting changes happening all over Memphis, including Graceland's expansion with a 450-room multiplex hotel and entertainment venue next door. It will be called The Guesthouse, opening in the fall of 2016. Watch for it.

The first place visited on the list provided by Graceland was Gus's Fried Chicken, 310 S. Front St., which claims to be world famous for hot and spicy fried chicken. Well, they certainly do deserve the title for having awesome chicken and atmosphere in this city known for great food. Gus's certainly prepared the way for going to Beale Street later that night and all that B.B. King's and other "joints" and establishments had to offer for an evening of entertainment.

The next morning brought stopping at Memphis' oldest café, Arcade Restaurant (open since 1919 at 540 S. Main St. and Calhoun Avenue) right in the heart of the historic South Main Arts district to sit in the favorite booth of Elvis. Yes, a short wait was involved, but worth it. The food was divine, but Elvis' favorite was not chosen: a peanut butter and banana sandwich.

Wish everyone could have been on the afternoon's delightful bus tour led by a singer with a guitar who passed out tambourines and finger shakers to those on the bus to sing along while passing through Memphis streets and sites (down Beale Street; through Overton Park; past Peabody Hotel, Stax Studio, Lorraine Motel, National Civil Rights Museum & more) and ending in tour of Sun Studio. (www.backbeattours.com)

There was an afternoon visit to see Peabody Hotel (149 Union Ave.) ducks parade out of the fountain and march down red carpet to the elevator like ducks have been doing twice a day since 1940 before leaving for another recommended local eatery, Central BBQ (147 East Butler Ave.) Some say Central BBQ is one of the best places to eat barbecue in a town famous for it.

An unexpected delight was finding that Central BBQ was near historic Lorraine Motel, passed on the tour earlier in the day. Having the opportunity to pause and read signs about the significance of the events that happened in that location where Martin Luther King had been shot was meaningful.

The decision was made to go find Overton Square, a once-thriving area of Midtown Memphis, another of the "spots" becoming rejuvenated in the city since the reopening of popular club Lafayette's Music Room (2119 Madison Ave.) a few years ago. It was worth the trip. Several blocks of exciting night life with lots of live music is now alive and well.

The next day brought more opportunities to GO with excursions to Bass Pro Shop at the Pyramid and Pink Palace Museum. Oh my goodness. How could Memphis have two such different, yet vital and interesting offerings for visitors?

Go to the Pyramid to discover retail shopping in a swamp that is actually also a Ducks Unlimited Water Fowl Heritage Center. It has live alligators, aquarium and plant life, an unbelievable aquatic-themed bowling experience, the world's tallest free-standing elevator rising to an awesome view of the river, and interesting overnight rooms built on stilts overlooking 100-foot tall faux cypress trees. The Big Cypress Lodge Hotel with 120 rooms opened in April.

Go to the Pink Palace (3050 Central Ave., open since the late 1920s), a museum in the home of the owner of Piggly Wiggly Grocery. It has become one of the most popular museums in the country because it strives to educate and entertain at the same time. There is everything from dinosaurs to a model of a self-service grocery store from days gone by.

So, whoever said Memphis was a sleepy town? It has jazz - and a whole lot of shaking going on right now. Who knows if Elvis has left the building? Have you heard that a brand new Elvis postage stamp has just been issued? Elvis is the first celebrity ever to have two stamps - and his first stamp came out over 22 years ago.

It is almost Christmas. People who know say Elvis loved Christmas. Graceland will once again host a tree-lighting ceremony on Nov. 20. Go to Graceland.com for details.

And don't forget those holiday songs; which one will you be humming this year? Jingle Bell, Jingle Bell, Jingle Bell Rock ...

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