I'm a huge fan of armchair travel. Books have taken me countless places I've never been. I've walked across Ireland. I've traveled with camels across the Australian outback. I've done the Pacific Crest Trail and the Appalachian Trail. Of course, I've never really done any of these things.
It's kinda like how I've spent years touring Graceland without ever having visited Graceland. To be clear, I've always wanted to see real Graceland. Still, for a long while, I was reasonably satisfied by the experience of poring over this very fancy Graceland pop-up book I received as a gift almost 15 years ago.
Honestly, the book is a feat of armchair travel. Via painstakingly constructed 3D paperboard and charming sidebar commentary, I was able to experience Elvis Presley's Graceland — in miniature, folded cleverly into a book for my easily accessible pleasure — without having set foot in Memphis.
Fast-forward to May 2018. I at last saw Graceland in all its full-sized, real-life, questionable-taste splendor. And while I still love my pop-up book, it was worth the trip. SHOCKER: As it turns out, in real Graceland, you get to see loads of things you don't get to see in pop-up Graceland. That said, pop-up Graceland has some unexpected pluses.
This week's nice thing is a completely unnecessary feature-by-feature comparison of real Graceland and pop-up Graceland. Enjoy.
The pop-up version of Elvis' living room and adjoining Music Room is one of the book's crowning achievements. Once I got the right arm of the pop-up couch to cooperate (it had been compromised by an errant fold), it's quite convincing.
Bonus real-Graceland photo: At the base of the stairs, there's a photo of BLONDE Elvis. Yep, as you'll learn only at real Graceland, that was his real hair color. He dyed it black most of his life. Said it brought out his eyes.
No, you're not allowed to go upstairs. Not at real or pop-up Graceland.
Pop-up Graceland kitchen actually reveals more about Elvis than real Graceland kitchen. Granted, in the pop-up, you miss out on half the room, including the truly excellent avocado green double sink and coordinating coffee urn, as well as the full splendor of that remarkably throw-uppy 1970s carpeting. But I do love being able to peer inside Elvis' cupboards and refrigerator. Peanut butter, pickles, hot dogs, sauerkraut, Twinkies, bacon, jello, cream of wheat, fried chicken, and copious amounts of soda pop and milk — it's pretty dead-on, based on everything we know. Though I'm not sure who all the vegetables were for. Maybe Priscilla and Lisa Marie?
Anyway. At real Graceland, you clearly can't open the cupboards or refrigerator. If they kept a bunch of moldering food in there, that'd be pretty stupid. Also, Elvis' real refrigerator most likely doesn't feature a velcro closure, as in the pop-up version.
THAT CARPETING IS EVERYTHING. You could throw up on it or pave it in pizza and it'd take a while for anyone to notice. Wowza.
If these photos of Elvis' kitchen are making you hungry for more tales of the King's questionable culinary delights, here's a site with a recipe for BBQ Bologna, another Elvis fave. There's also a video of Elvis eating a cheeseburger, in case you need that.
The pop-up rendering of the formal dining room is pretty decent. However, either the curtain color is off in the pop-up version, or they've updated the outdated blue and gold curtains with newer outdated blue and gold curtains.
Regardless, it does feel fancier and less visibly chintzy in real life. One cannot discount the clear difference of a chandelier rendered in cut crystal versus one printed on a flimsy piece of paperboard and cut out with rounded corners.
At real Graceland, you realize that Elvis literally had TVs in every room. Yep, even a formal dining occasion required ongoing access to the boob tube. The difference is, at Elvis' house, you could drink from a sterling silver punch bowl while formally dining and watching I Love Lucy.
The Presley family still has Christmas and Thanksgiving dinner in the dining room every year. Those are the only two days Graceland is closed, and that's why.
The pop-up version of Elvis' TV room is actually quite solid, too. The mural, the row of TVs, the big screen, and the record collection are all spot on. When I got to real Graceland, I realized that the mirrored ceiling was what made pop-up Graceland seem like it had six TVs. Thanks, real Graceland!
If you pull down the pop-up big screen, you see Elvis performing in Jailhouse Rock. Even though Elvis hated most of his own movies, that didn't mean he didn't like watching himself in them. In fact, there lies one pop-up Graceland coup: Pop-up Graceland highlights the hidden door on the right-hand wall of the bar that concealed Elvis' movie projector. I feel like we totally passed that by at real Graceland.
Something you may not have known: Elvis didn't drink alcohol. Alcoholism ran rampant in his family, and somehow he knew better. All the Graceland bars were well-stocked largely with soda pop. I only learned this while at real Graceland, though all the pop bottles scattered around pop-up Graceland should've been a solid clue.
Now that I've seen real Graceland, I have to admit it: Pop-up Jungle Room is kind of the worst. Sure, you get the *idea* of the insane-looking animal-themed tiki furniture and the "jungle" wall. They dedicate a special side bar pop-up to one uniquely terrible chair in particular. But you simply can't appreciate the absurd magnificence of the Jungle Room till you're there in person.
That green shag carpeting on floor AND CEILING! That gleaming I-belong-in-a-basement wainscoting! The inexplicable red light illuminating the ferns! The shamelessly fake-looking ferns themselves! The chair arms with mouths that plan to eat you! Monkeys and tigers and consistently uncomfortable-looking chairs everywhere, oh my! And all that weird striped fur! In real life, it's magic. Pure shag-and-fern magic.
Okay, so in pop-up Graceland I get that they're just trying to convey that they've got a shitload of Elvis' clothes and guitars on display. They have limited real estate on each of those pop-up pages. In actuality, of course, real Graceland has building after building after building of Elvis' stuff. You could spend days trying to look at all of it and still fail.
In pop-up Graceland, however, you can try on a pair of Elvis gold sunglasses (scroll to the bottom of the blog to check out those beauts), and you can make his American Eagle jumpsuit swivel by pulling a tab on the right-hand side of the page. Take that, real Graceland.
Below, some of my particular favorites from real Graceland. I've included the Aztec sun jumpsuit for continuity. I've added the swoon-worthy black leather from the '68 Comeback Special, as well as a suh-weeeeet brown faux fur suit that Elvis apparently decided was perfect to wear to the 1971 Ten Outstanding Men of the Year prayer breakfast where he was being honored.
Pop-up Graceland does a nice job with this plastic-inlaid gun display box. But as you'll see below, that gold-plated .38 with mother-of-pearl handle has its own box at real Graceland, alongside a gold-plated/mother-of-pearl Beretta. In fact, at real Graceland, Elvis' many, many guns show their presence in countless places pop-up Graceland is powerless to portray. Below, our lovely tour guide points out one of many bullet holes in various walls and buildings throughout Graceland, and a box of shells illustrates the free-flowing target practice that took place inside one building. We also saw a TV Elvis had shot up.
There's actually plenty more stuff highlighted in pop-up Graceland, but in a rare show of discipline, I'll let these bits and pieces suffice.
Finally, the Meditation Garden. There's no denying that this was a challenge for the book designer. They did their best, and their best was probably bound to look like a sad-looking diorama made by someone overfond of plastic flower displays.
I'd guess they wanted to highlight that the Meditation Garden is an important, solemn, and heartfelt moment in any tour of Graceland — something not to be missed at either pop-up or real Graceland. Still, I kind of wish pop-up Graceland would've left this particular moment solely to real Graceland.
In fact, I'll be bold enough to suggest that the Pool Room is the last room they should've highlighted in pop-up Graceland. Instead, pop-up Graceland suffices with a single sidebar photo of the room (not included here, because the photos I took are seriously better). Maybe they felt powerless to capture the undeniable magic that is 350+ yards of this gleefully psychotic fabric covering the floors, walls, and furniture?
At real Graceland, we learned that the Pool Room fireplace was never used. The entire room was a fire hazard.
I hope you've enjoyed your comparative dual tour of pop-up Graceland and real Graceland. I bet you didn't know you'd be touring either of them today. Thanks for humoring me. I know that nobody in the world really needed this tour, but I made it anyway.
In closing, I'll share with you some photos of me wearing the giant pair of gold EP-monogrammed glasses tucked into yet another sidebar inside pop-up Graceland. They are actually pretty great. In their sizing, I guess they were trying to make sure that people with insanely wide faces didn't feel discriminated against. My own semi-wide face thanks them.
And yes, I've been secretly practicing my undoubtedly sub-par but undeniably hilarious Elvis lip-curl for years in bathroom mirrors nationwide. Mine happens on the opposite side of Elvis'. Surely, for him, it would've felt like looking in a mirror.