Memphis in May 2021 – my epic 10 days at the Happiest Place on Earth
I had one of the most wonderful times I have ever had in Memphis, right up there with Elvis Weeks 2007 and 2017, Birthdays 2019 and 2020 and the Opening Weekend at the Guest House. And I had this most wonderful time mostly due to the two Marys, who both arranged some magical events and were kind enough to include me. Everything worked out absolutely perfectly and better than I had even planned. Three days I toured Graceland (Ultimate VIP Tour, regular tour with Billy Stanley and VIP Tour), two days I toured the museums at Elvis Presley’s Memphis (EPM), I met with and heard Elvis stories from Billy Stanley, Tish Henley, Donna Lewis and Patrick Wrenn, did a four cemetery Tombstone Tour, visited the old Manhattan Club and the Tennessee Karate Institute, walked the Founders Path on the Morning Walk Up to the Meditation Garden at Graceland for the first time, ate at all my favorite restaurants, did my annual May shopping for books and records in MidTown, watched six Elvis movies, spent time at the AirBnB house on Dolan overlooking Graceland and spent countless wonderful hours with Elvis friends old and new. Not only was this an amazing trip, but it was also a very connected (as in fated) trip. You’ll see what I mean as you read on. Below is my journal of my epic 10 days in Memphis (13 if you count the travels days), and if you make it through all of that, there’s a 24 minute highlight video at the end with videos and still shots from my trip.
Wednesday May 12 / Travel Day 1 – I left Ellicott City, Maryland around 10:15am and arrived at the Baymont Inn & Suites Knoxville / Cedar Bluffs around 7:00pm after driving 521 miles and stopping just twice for gas and food at the Love’s Travel Stop in Staunton, Virginia and the Davey Crockett Travel Center in Baileytown, Tennessee. I got my favorite yummy crispy chicken honey biscuit sandwich from Chester’s at Love’s. It was an easy drive with not a lot of traffic, more like a Sunday than a weekday. There was no rain, it was a comfortable 55-60 degrees, and it was no problem getting gas even though there was a gas shortage. The entire way I listened to the ’69 Memphis American Sound Studio sessions. I had dinner at KTown Tavern right next to my Baymont hotel. I had the burger with pimento cheese and sweet potato fries. It was a nice place. To see my photos and video from my drive to Knoxville, please click here.
Thursday May 13 / Memphis in May Day 1 – I left Knoxville, Tennessee around 8:20am eastern standard time and arrived at the Guest House in Memphis around 1:20pm central standard time after driving 386 miles and stopping twice for gas and food at the Love’s in Baxter and the Pilot in Stanton, getting another chicken biscuit sandwich but this time from McDonald’s. Although there was a little more traffic, it was again a nice drive with no rain, warmer temps and easy to get gas. The whole way I listed to the ’70 Nashville sessions. I rolled two of my suitcases into the hotel from the South Tower entrance, through the lobby and to the front desk. This was my first time checking into the Guest House as a Founder. I asked for my free upgrade to a suite, possibly one with a microwave and view of the courtyard near the South Tower. I have only ever stayed in the South Tower with a courtyard view. The lady at the front desk said they only had one suite, and it was a junior suite on the South Tower side of the center, but it did not have a microwave. She pointed me toward the South Tower elevator, so I rolled my two suitcases back to the south tower. In the elevator, I noticed it only went to the 6th floor yet my room was on the 7th floor. So I got off on the 3rd floor, walked down the hall to the north tower elevator, then took it to the 7th floor and walked all the way to the end of the hallway. I opened the door and noticed no view of the beautiful courtyard and pool, instead there was a view of the parking lot and the street. I didn’t even go in to look around, but I saw there was a dining room table and half wall divider between the living room and bedroom. I immediately took my two suitcases and walked all the way down the hallway to the elevators and went back down to the front desk. I told the woman what happened, and she apologized for telling me to go on the wrong elevator and looked again for a courtyard view suite and said there was a TCB suite on the 7th floor a little closer to the elevator. So I took my two suitcases back up to the 7th floor and went to my new room, which was only three rooms closer to the elevator than my first room. I walked inside and this room also had a view of the parking lot and the street – NOT A COURTYARD VIEW. And I noticed this suite was smaller than the first one, but had a HUGE bathroom with a tub which is of no use to me. It was a room with a king bed and tv and living room area with couch and tv, but all in the same room like a studio. The first suite I was in had a separate living room and bedroom and a dining room table, which would be beneficial to me for all my stuff for 10 days. I walked all the way down the hall to the elevator, then through the lobby to the other side of the hotel to my car and moved it to the north side, but behind the valet so it was actually further from the door than it had been on the south side. It took me two trips to my car to get all of my stuff out of my car because I had coolers and bags and just all kind of stuff. Once I finally got my car unloaded, I sat on the couch unhappy and regretting my decision to change rooms thinking I should have stayed with the first one. I texted Mary and described the first room, and she told me that was a great room and was Jerry and Roger’s favorite as it has a great view of the Founder’s Path and the trees and is very quiet at the end of the hall. So I decided to put my tail between my legs and head back down to the front desk to explain my dilemma and see if that first suite was still available. Luckily, it was a different woman at the front desk, so I wasn’t too embarrassed. Luckily, it was still available and she happily switched me back to that first suite, the junior suite at the end of the hall. On my way back up to switch rooms, I ran into Nannette, Harriet and Lisa and saw their huge suite down the hall from me. I told them what I had just went through, and they said that my junior suite at the end of the hall was also their favorite. I talked with Nannette for a bit, then moved my stuff from the TCB suite to the Junior Suite and returned the TCB suite key to the front desk. I organized all my stuff until about 6pm. I was SO happy with my room, falling ass backwards into apparently everyone’s favorite room at the Guest House (except for the big suites). Now I know I don’t really like the TCB suite and prefer the Living Room suite with a courtyard view (like I stayed in on New Year’s Eve a few years ago) or this Junior Suite at the end of the hall with a view of the Founders’ Path and trees (and part of the parking lot and EP Blvd). It’s very quiet as I had no one on one side of me and no one across from me, and there is a microwave at the end of the hall next to the elevator. Checking in for the first time as a Founder was a success, but unfortunately the Founders’ Path was not open and the Founders’ Lounge was closed for a private event. I went down to EPs for dinner, but saw their dinner buffet wasn’t really anything I wanted to eat for $21. So I went down to the pool to read, but saw Nannette, Sondra, Harriet, Lisa, Suzanne and her daughter, and John and Paula. I didn’t get any reading done, but had fun talking with them for a bit. After about an hour I decided to just eat in my room – leftover chicken biscuit sandwich from earlier and a cheese slider and YooHoo I brought from home. To see my photos and video tour of my junior suite, please click here.
Friday May 14 / Memphis in May Day 2 – I spent the day touring Graceland and the night visiting with friends celebrating Suzanne’s birthday at the Rock n Roll Cafe. It was an absolutely perfect day in Memphis and at Graceland, not hot or cold with low humidity and not a cloud in the sky. It was 74 degrees with only 27% humidity. I got about four hours sleep, woke up at 6:30am and stayed up. I didn’t do the Morning Walk Up because I wanted to wait to use the Founders Path, so I could walk through the woods to Graceland. I had an Ultimate VIP tour of Graceland scheduled at 11:45am, but I noticed online a few spots in the earlier tour at 10:15am had opened up, so I emailed Beverly to ask if I could move into that tour. I had eaten in my room, but went down to the lobby at 9:30am to say Hi to everyone who had gathered for Suzanne’s birthday breakfast. I wanted to head over early to see if I could get into that earlier tour, and as I was walking to my car someone at Graceland called me to say they booked me on that 10:15am Ultimate tour! It was Beverly’s day off, but she saw my email and called over to Graceland to arrange it for me. She is the best! I have only done the Ultimate VIP twice before, the first day the new complex opened in 2017 and two years ago in 2019, and both times I saw the same exact archives so I was hoping to see something new this time – and I did. Courtney was our guide. We toured Graceland (with our mask on) and grounds in just over an hour, and I learned there is a bathroom with a gold toilet and sink behind the water fountain in the racquetball building. I saw Benjamin’s grave in the Meditation Garden for the first time and all three horses were out in the front pasture. We then went to one of the buildings on the back of the property to see the special archives for a half hour. We held the keys to the pink Cadillac, and got to see Elvis’ books, glasses, three rings, chi necklace, motorcycle helmet and gloves, gold suitcase car phone, 1956 wallet, crown from Aloha from Hawaii, checks, Pearl Harbor concert program and Gladys’ necklace. After, Courtney walked us through the Car Museum and Career Museum. I was starving. I like seeing the archives, but I prefer the freedom of the regular VIP tour. Around 1pm our tour was over, and I went to Vernon’s for lunch with my voucher. I had my four ‘veggie’ plate with sweet tea and chocolate cake because they didn’t have my favorite banana pudding. I got bbq spaghetti, mashed potatoes, green beans, mac n cheese and corn bread. I stayed there for about an hour and a half posting my photos and enjoying not wearing my mask. At 2:45pm, I went back up to Graceland but they were still lined up to get in so I went over the VIP lounge to relax for a bit. It is now in the annex, Vernon’s old garage apartment. I love it in there! As I was walking around to the front of Graceland, I ran into Landon who works at Graceland and I have seen on Facebook but have never met in person. We chatted for a bit – great guy! I was inside Graceland standing in my favorite spot in the foyer looking into the living room at 3:45pm. I was able to spend time in every room by myself as I let tours pass by me. When I got to the Meditation Garden, I sat alone for 15 minutes and it was heaven – beautiful weather and the soothing sound of the fountain. I was back over at EPM by 5pm and sat outside posting my photos until it was time to go over to the Rock n Roll Cafe at 6pm for Suzanne’s Birthday Bash. I sat with Mary Clark and talked her ear off. It was the first time we’ve really been able to hang out other than ‘Hi’ and ‘Bye’ at Elvis Week and chatting online (but that all changed this week). We both got the delicious Tuna Melt per Mary Hertweck’s recommendation. (I got the potato salad with it and water.) Sheena stopped by, but didn’t stay for dinner, but it was great to catch up with her. I got to meet Beverly in person and thank her all of her help and Carletter was there too – so great to see her again. I met Ruth Ann, Shantay and Leon and saw Laura, Nannette, Harriet, Lisa, Suzanne and her daughter, John and Paula, Sondra and many others at the long table. Mary C offered to take me on a Tombstone Tour Sunday since she could not believe I had never been to Forest Hill. To see all my photos from Graceland and the archives and dinner, please click here.
Saturday May 15 / Memphis in May Day 3 – I spent the day touring the museums at Elvis Presley’s Memphis (EPM) and the night visiting with friends celebrating Suzanne’s Birthday at Coletta’s. Memphis lifted the mandatory mask rule, so I was able to walk freely through the museums mask-free and it was wonderful! At 9:30am, I went down to the pool for Suzanne’s Birthday Brunch. We had chick-fil-a mini chicken biscuits, fruit, cheese and drinks. Suzanne opened presents, and we went Facebook Live. Mary Hertweck arrived in the middle of it, literally (haha!). We were there about two hours, then Mary H and I went into the Founders Lounge. There was nothing going on and nothing in it, but it was my first time inside so I looked around a bit – very nice. We sat down and chatted for a bit. Mary H and I had had gotten close during the pandemic texting almost every day, but had never hung out in person (that all changed this week). I was over at EPM by 12:15pm and toured the museums, mostly the ones with changes or new exhibits, until almost 4pm. It turned into the Jerry Schilling EPM tour. First, I went to the football exhibit as I had yet to see Jerry’s high school football jersey on display. (I was at Birthday 2020 where he was presented his jersey on stage during Conversations.) Then, wearing my Elvis and Nixon shirt, I went to the new (to me) Elvis and Nixon exhibit, which Jerry was a part of since he was there with Elvis when he met Nixon. They had the video of Jerry talking about that meeting in December of 1970. I then had lunch at Glady’s – the fried peanut butter and banana sandwich fried in bacon grease, french fries and sweet tea in my free refillable cup (the same one they’re using from Birthday 2020). I went to my favorite movie exhibit to find they moved out the benches up front to make room for the red MG Blue Hawaii car. Now I have to sit all the way across from the screen to watch the trailer reel. I was still there for about 45 minutes watching all 31 movie trailers (a few times) and looking at the memorabilia. Then I went over to the new (to me) Elvis on Tour exhibit with Jerry on video on the Standing Room Only documentary. (I was there during Birthday 2019 when Jerry gave the intro to the SRO documentary and Elvis on Tour, as he helped produce them.) After watching the entire documentary, I went over to the new (to me) Elvis in Concert Summer Festival Front Row Concert Experience, which was a lot of fun with the lights and HUGE screen and loud music. I quickly walked through some of the other exhibits and then bought The Lansky Brothers book with forward by Bernard Lansky, since I sort of knew Mr. B from when I worked at The Peabody in 2002-2003 and would talk with him every morning when he opened the store and I was at the front desk. I also bought a Joe Petruccio t shirt that says 50 on it to wear all next year when I turn 50 years old. I came home to get ready for our night at Coletta’s to celebrate Suzanne’s birthday. Mary H and I met around 6pm and drove over together. Of course we were the first ones there, which was fine. Mary C came in right behind us. We picked my favorite table in the Elvis room, the one with the Elvis and Nixon photo (as I had been wearing my shirt earlier that day and was wearing it last time I was at Coletta’s) as well as the Charro photo for Mary H. Jon Daly arrived and rounded out our foursome at the table. Everyone was there, all tables were full, including Argo from Elvis radio. We had never actually met in person, but he remembered me from our U2 talks on twitter. Our table split mozzarella sticks, and I got the manicotti and a glass of Riesling and a double cheese pizza to go to have for the week. Our waitress told us Lisa had been in the previous Saturday night for the first time and ordered the BBQ Pizza and was looking at all of her dad’s memorabilia on the wall. We were there until 9pm then everyone headed back to the Guest House to Suzanne’s suite for Birthday cake. To see all of my photos from EPM, the pool brunch, Coletta’s and Happy Birthday in the suite, please click here.
Sunday May 16 / Memphis in May Day 4 – For a day that wasn’t planned this turned out to be one of the best days! For 10 hours we toured four cemeteries, the Manhattan Club, the Tennessee Karate Institute, Crosstown Concourse, ate at The Cupboard and watched Jailhouse Rock in the theater. This ‘We’ I speak of is Mary Hertweck and Mary Clark. It was Deena and the two Marys. Mary Clark arranged everything for us, but without Mary Hertweck, I wouldn’t even have been in Memphis that week. I am very thankful to both of them! I woke up at 6:45am and watched Paradise Hawaiian Style to see Jerry Schilling after Mary C told me he was in it, and I couldn’t believe I had never seen him in it before since that is one of my go to Elvis movies. Mary C picked up Mary H and I at the Guest House at 11am and was to be our tour guide for the day. We were supposed to see a couple cemeteries, have lunch, and meet up with Jon Daly and some others at the Manhattan Club – that was our initial plan. We first went to Forest Hill Cemetery where Elvis and Gladys were initially laid to rest as I had never been there before, which is crazy since it’s literally just down the road from Graceland. The mausoleum where Elvis was originally placed was locked. I don’t know why, but I was a little relieved. We did see where Gladys was originally laid to rest, part of the stone was still there and this beautiful little chapel mausoleum behind it. We also saw the graves of Aunt Delta, Uncle Vester and Aunt Clettes, Junior Smith, Bobbie Wrenn (who knew Elvis and was married to Patrick Wrenn’s father), Linda Thompson’s parents and Bill Black. We spent an hour there and then went over to Baron Hirsch Cemetery where we saw the graves of Bernard Lansky (whose book I just bought the day before), Alan Fortas, Lester Hofman and one of the Belz. We were there about a half hour. It was a much nicer cemetery than Forest Hill. The Jewish custom is to leave stones and coins on the headstones rather than flowers and they all had nice headstones rather than flat markers. We then went to Calvary Cemetery and saw the big cross that is just like Gladys’. It was from 1953, so presumably Elvis saw it and had one made just like it for his mom when she passed. We also saw the grave of Jimmy C. Riley (whom we didn’t know), but he had a TCB on the side of his headstone. After, we met Jon Daly, Nannette, Sondra, Angie, Shantay and Martha at the old Manhattan Club where Elvis hosted a few New Year’s Eve parties in the early 1960s. Jon even had an original invitation to the December 31, 1962 party with him to show us. Jon arranged for us to go through the Manhattan Club, and we were the first Elvis fans to tour it. We were only inside about 20 minutes, but it was fantastic as it had the original blue ceiling tiles and some of the original floor tile at the entrance with the original window. The place seemed a little small to hold 200 of Elvis’ guests. There was a little room up two steps with more tables that looked over the rest of the club. After, the two Marys and I went to my favorite restaurant The Cupboard for lunch, and our waitress was also named Mary. We were there for about an hour and a half. I had many sweet teas and mini corn breads. I had my typical four ‘veggie’ plate of mac n cheese, corn pudding and two helpings of eggplant casserole. I had banana pudding for dessert and peach cobbler to go. We drove by my old house in Crosstown on the way to our biggest surprise of the day. We drove up to the Tennessee Karate Institute (TKI), which was originally owned by Elvis, Red West, Bill Wallace and Patrick Wrenn (whose stepmother’s grave Bobbie Wrenn we had just seen earlier that day). Thinking we were just going to get a photo of the outside, Mary C went to the door and it was open. Mary H went in and was talking to the people at the top of the stairs who told her to come in. We were thinking it was all just a great coincidence that they were open and people were inside, but Mary C had arranged this all for us and it was just the most wonderful experience. The people at the top of the stairs (the same stairs you see Elvis walk up in the Gladiators video) were Patrick Wrenn and his family, who couldn’t have been nicer. Patrick knew Elvis and trained with Elvis. They were there redecorating and had been painting all day. Patrick told us stories about Elvis and about his own karate accomplishments, including his Black Belt certificate that Elvis signed. We went into Elvis’ dressing room and saw the actual Karate studio and the door with the plaque that read ‘Mr. Presley and Mr. Wrenn.’ We got to sign the wall in the staircase that everyone signs when they visit, and Patrick gave us an autographed photo of himself and we all took a photo together. As crazy as it sounds, we felt Elvis there – like that really peaceful feeling you feel at Graceland. It was the weirdest thing, but we all felt it. Oh and Memphis band Lucero recorded their album 1372 Overton Park there (that’s the address of TKI), and I love Ben Nichols and Lucero (seen them a few times in concert). We were there for about 45 minutes and then walked next door to the Crosstown Theater where Elvis would show movies when he didn’t show them at the Memphian. All of this is just a street over from where I used to live on North Claybrook. We then went to check out the Crosstown Concourse where the restaurants and shops were closed as it was after 5pm on a Sunday, but it was nice to see what they had done to the old Sears Crosstown Building where Elvis used to Christmas shop and where Jerry Schilling used to work as a teen. The Crosstown Concourse is at the end of the street where I used to live, but it was not renovated when I lived there back in 2008-2011. We then went to Memorial Park, which I had been to once before but not since George Klein had passed. We saw the graves of Red West, Arthur Hooten, George Klein, Richard Davis, Sam Phillips, Knox Phillips, Marshall Grant and Isaac Hayes. I took a few steps into the Crystal Shrine Grotto, but sat on Marshall Grant’s bench to wait while the two Marys explored the scary cave. We spent about an hour at Memorial Park as it’s just beautiful there. We went back to the Guest House and straight to the theater to watch Jailhouse Rock. It was just ten minutes into it and he was still in jail, so we didn’t miss much. (And we saw a lot of guys whose graves we had just seen.) Jerry, Nannette and Sondra were also there watching. What a great freakin day! To see all of my photos from the Tombstone Tour, Manhattan Club and TKI, please click here.
Monday May 17 / Memphis in May Day 5 – I made my annual pilgrimage to Midtown for books and records, the only shopping I do. I woke up at 6:30am, but stayed in bed until about 9:30 watching my favorite Elvis movie Girl Happy. I took the back way to Cooper Young to see the Johnny Cash statue at 999 S. Cooper just down from the old Galloway Church where the historical marker is that I saw unveiled in May of 2016. The Galloway church is the first place Johnny Cash and the Tennessee Two played. This was my first time seeing the Johnny Cash statue, even though it was put up in June of 2019. I next went to shop for books at Burke’s just down the street, which I visit every May when I’m in Memphis. I found some great stuff including this book put out by the Brooks Art Museum covering Memphis from 1948 to 1958 with articles by Marion Keisker, Sam Phillips, George Klein and others. I got a signed biography of Phillip Belz (and we just saw one of the Belz graves the day before), a signed memoir by Rockwell Hunt from 1956, a signed Memphis Afternoons, two Memphis fictions, an Eleanor Roosevelt biography based on her personal papers about her relationship with FDR, a Harry Truman biography based on his personal papers, a biography of Gertrude Stein and memoir of a girl’s passion for food titled Blue Plate Special. Next, I went to Flashback on Central, just down the road and around the corner. It’s a great retro store that I have been going to since 1999 when I first visited Memphis. I looked around at all the goodies, but settled on four records. I got Charlie Rich, Foreigner, REO Speedwagon and this Memphis Music Award record honoring Isaac Hayes from 1972 (with the program attached) that I bought just because it was the year I was born and was titled “A Very Good Year.” I had lunch at Central BBQ just down the street. I had the yummy BBQ Portobello sandwich with mac n cheese and sweet tea. It was wonderful! I got a sausage and cheese plate to go to have for dinner later. I was back at the Guest House by 1:30pm and posted photos and napped and read. I ate my sausage and cheese plate for dinner then met Mary C down in the theater to watch Viva Las Vegas. We hung out after and I was showing her my books and records I just bought. For some reason, I decided to open the 1972 Memphis Music Awards record and saw that Marty Lacker was director and the Phillips were on the board as was Mark James. I immediately noticed an autograph on the attached program, but couldn’t tell who it was. We continued to talk and look through the program and record, then I realized the signature looked like an I and an H. No way could this be Isaac Hayes autograph on a record I bought for $18?!? We looked his signature up online and sure enough it matched. Then I remembered we had just seen Isaac Hayes’ grave yesterday and it had his signature on the top left and it matched. Wow! What a find! I watched Loving You before falling asleep. To see my photos from my day in Midtown including my books and Isaac Hayes autographed record, please click here.
Tuesday May 18 / Memphis in May Day 6 – This was a the halfway point of my trip. I actually slept until 8am, which gave me about seven hours of sleep which I haven’t had in years. Around noon, I went over to the AirBnB on Dolan that Mary H, Jerry and Roger had rented for the week. I sat out on the gazebo with them looking into the backyard of Graceland and racquetball building and Meditation Garden. Around 3pm, I may or may not have went somewhere for three hours and buying a bunch of Elvis books. I spent the evening in my room eating my leftover pizza from Coletta’s and watching Roustabout.
Wednesday May 19 / Memphis in May Day 7 – This was the day I had been looking forward to all week, the tour of Graceland with Billy Stanley and hanging out with Donna Lewis. Mary H, Jerry and Roger and myself met Billy Stanley over at Graceland just before 11:30am for our tour which Mary H had arranged for us. I expected it to good, but never expected it to be so great and so moving and so special. It was an incredible day! We were with Billy at Graceland and the grounds (talking for over 45 minutes outside by the pasture) and the car museum until 3pm then we all went back to the Dolan house and talked until 5pm. Billy signed both his books for me, the one he wrote with his mom and brothers and the one he wrote later on his own. Billy had known Elvis since 1960 when he was just 7 years old and Elvis was 25, and he knew him as a brother / father figure before he knew him as an entertainer, so he had a really unique perspective. I treasure the stories he shared with us including Ronnie Tutt playing racquetball with Elvis, and how Billy’s horse was named Flaming Star. As Billy was pulling out of the driveway at Dolan, Donna Lewis (of the Donna Lewis Diaries trilogy) was pulling in. Mary H had arranged this as well. I had never met Donna Lewis before. She is such a sweet lady. I told her how much I loved her books and how we visited the Manhattan Club on Sunday. Donna had attended a couple of those New Year’s Eve parties there. She said that Elvis did not sit up in the back room, but walked around to all the tables mingling with everyone. Kelly Woods and Stephen came over as did Jon and Mary C, and we all had a delicious Mexican dinner (and banana pudding) together outside on the gazebo that Mary H had prepared for us. It was really quite the day and night! To see my photos from our Graceland Tour with Billy Stanley and night at Dolan, please click here.
Thursday May 20 / Memphis in May Day 8 – Today was special because I walked the Founders Path to Graceland for the first time and then spent the day at Elvis Presley’s Memphis (EPM) touring the rest of the museums. Beverly let us know the Founders Path would be open. It is a path used for the Morning Walk Up to the Meditation Garden from the Guest House to Graceland through the woods past the road Elvis used to sneak out and past both the old and new Chapels and lets you out on the side of Graceland in front of the annex / Vernon’s garage apartment / VIP lounge. Not only was this my first time on the Founders Path, as I am a new Founder, this was the first time the Founders Path had been open since the Pandemic. I met Mary H, Jerry and Roger at the start of the path around 7:15am. They were generous enough to let me walk through the gate onto Graceland first and by myself, after we took photos along the way. It was so special and serene. We walked around past the front of Graceland with no one else there then over to the Meditation Garden where we had it to ourselves for a few minutes before everyone else walked up the driveway from the gates. My friend Karol arrived, so we got to catch up for a bit. We would do our Morning Walk Up to the Meditation Garden via the Founders Path for the next three days. It makes getting up at 6:45am not so bad. I can’t wait to do it again in July, but I’m really looking forward to doing the evening Walk Ups during Elvis Week. I love being there when the sun in setting. After getting ready and doing a few things in my room, I headed over to EPM in my Girl Happy shirt to tour the museums. First thing I did though was eat at Vernon’s, and this time they had banana pudding, which I took with me for later. I did have my four ‘veggie’ plate with bbq spaghetti, mashed potatoes, green beans and mac n cheese and corn bread and sweet tea in my free refillable cup. After brunch, I went through the Sun Studio set, since I wasn’t going to make it to the actual Sun Studio this time. I went through the football exhibit and then watched the movie in Lisa’s exhibit. I walked through the archives to see Elvis’ books, records players and the Girl Happy programs. I sat in the movie exhibit and watched the movie trailers reel twice. I sat in the Vegas booth to watch That’s the Way It Is for a bit. I walked through the Gospel exhibit, the jumpsuits, This is Elvis, Aloha From Hawaii and of course watched the video of my favorite Jaycee’s 10 Outstanding Young Men Award. Then I spent almost an hour in the Elvis in Concert Summer Festival Front Row experience pretending I was actually at the concert and talking with Karol, who I again ran into. I walked back over to the Car Museum to watch that short movie then over to the Army exhibit to watch the Timex Frank Sinatra Welcome Home Elvis special. Around 4:15pm, I went over to Marlowe’s for an early dinner in my favorite booth. I had my favorite Fried Gouda sticks (much better than mozzarella sticks btw), bbq beef brisket, green beans and mac n cheese and water. I took of half of my meal back with me for the next day. Frankie and Johnny was playing on the tv during dinner, which was nice to see Jerry Schilling on the screen while I ate – dinner and a movie at its finest. To see my photos and video from my first Morning Walk Up on the Founders Path and my day at Elvis Presley’s Memphis, please click here.
Friday May 21 / Memphis in May Day 9 – Today was a complete relaxation day. My plan was not to leave the Guest House, with the exception of the Morning Walk Up but that didn’t happen, which turned out to be a blessing. I was at the Founders Path just after 7am to meet Mary H, Jerry and Roger. We were at Graceland at 7:20am and didn’t leave until 8:35am. I was at EP’s by 8:45am for the Breakfast Buffet of scrambled eggs, bacon, potatoes, biscuit, fruit and sweet tea (for $18 with tax etc). Shocking that it was the first and only time I ate there during my trip. Hopefully everything will be open and back to normal operation by Elvis Week. I was sitting on a couch out on the back porch by 10am reading and enjoying another beautiful day. But I only stayed until noon because I was hungry (and crampy), so I went up to my room and ate some of my leftovers from Marlowe’s and napped for a few minutes. Around 2pm, I decided go over to Dolan and hang out with Mary H, Jerry and Roger. I read out on the gazebo for a bit looking over into the backyard at Graceland and all three horses were out in the back pasture. I ended up staying for dinner and until after 10:30pm. Mary H made this amazing cabbage and noodle dish and cucumber salad (and I also had some of the dip leftover from Mexican night). Just after dinner Mary C brought over her friend John Dawson, whom she had told us was an Elvis fan club president from Texas visiting Memphis. While that is true, she forgot to tell us that John had written a book called The Ways of Elvis and contributed photos for Elvis Immortal and Elvis His Life from A to Z, among others, and was best friends with David Stanley so of course he knew Billy really well and was having dinner with him the following night (and we had just been with Billy two days prior). John became a fan at 12 years old when he saw Elvis in concert in Ft. Worth, Texas in 1976. Mary H and I got copies of his book The Ways of Elvis and he signed them for us. To see my photos from the back porch of the Guest House, the backyard at Dolan and my John Dawson book, please click here.
Saturday May 22 / Memphis in May Day 10 – My last full day in Memphis was a great one as I toured Graceland during the day and hung out with Tish Henley and friends at night. It was a perfect way to end a perfect trip in Memphis. I did the Morning Walk Up on the Founders Path with Mary H, Jerry and Roger and then was over at Graceland by 10am for my 10:30am VIP tour that Beverly once again arranged for me through Carletter. Except for the archives and the food voucher, I really prefer the VIP to the Ultimate tour so I can go at my own pace. I spent over three glorious hours at Graceland, not Graceland and EPM, just up at Graceland. I went through Graceland once spending alone time in my favorite spots (the foyer, living room, Vernon’s office) allowing tours to pass me by and taking photos of all the mirrors trying to get some different shots. Then I spent over an hour in the VIP lounge (annex / Vernon’s garage apt) posting photos, relaxing, watching Elvis videos while lounging on the couch from the Heartbreak Hotel. Then I walked back around and went through Graceland again. After, I went down to EPM and had a chocolate peanut butter ice cream lunch at Minnie’s. I sat outside for a bit then went over to Dolan to hang out with Mary H, Jerry and Roger. A few minutes after I got there, Mary C and John Dawson came over with books, his books he contributed photos to. Mary H and I each got the Elvis Immortal book in a slip cover and John signed them for us. Then we each got a copy of Elvis His Life from A to Z. Mary H got the first edition, and I got the second edition still in the wrapper. John was nice enough to also sign these for us. Mary C and John were leaving for their dinner with Billy Stanley just as Tish Henley and her husband Barry were arriving for our dinner, which Mary H had arranged. It was a delicious Italian dinner of spaghetti, meatballs, lasagna, garlic bread, cheesy green beans, salad and banana pudding that Mary H had prepared for us. Jon Daly arrived just as we were sitting down to dinner. We ate so much we were sleepy, but that didn’t stop a great Elvis conversation highlighted by great Elvis stories Tish shared with us. And Tish brought us these great Elvis cookies – mine is his record cover from Greatest Hits Vol 3. To see my photos from Graceland, my John Dawson signed books and our dinner at Dolan, please click here.
Sunday May 23 / Memphis in May Day 11 / Travel Day – This was my last Morning Walk Up to the Meditation Garden at Graceland on the Founders Path. I woke up at 6:45am and met Mary H, Jerry and Roger at 7:15 for my last visit until I am back in July. Each morning I wore the same shirt, my blue Jerry’s Girls for EP shirt with the photo of Jerry and Elvis that is on Jerry’s book and the one Joe Petruccio used for his “You’ll Never Walk Alone” painting. “You’ll Never Walk Alone” will also be featured on my Founders Plaque. It is special to me because of that painting and for the story Jerry told us in Graceland when he came down and heard Elvis playing it alone at the piano in the music room and watched him and because it was playing as I was walking alone down the driveway at Graceland after the Vigil. After the Morning Walk Up, I got ready, packed up my car and was on the road by 10:30am heading toward Kingsport, TN where I stayed for the night after driving 493 miles in eight and a half hours stopping twice only eating a bacon cheeseburger all day. My La Quinta was a little run down, but clean and a big room with a balcony right next to a Cracker Barrel – although I was too tired so just ordered a yummy pizza. To see my photos from the Meditation Garden, please click here.
Monday May 24 / Memphis in May Travel Day Home – I left Kingsport around 7am, stopped once in Raphine, VA and was home by 1:30pm after driving 411 miles that day, 903 miles from the Guest House the past two days and a total of 1,873 miles since I left my house May 12th. To see my photos from my drive home, please click here.
It truly was an epic time in Memphis. I got back home Monday afternoon, and it literally took me until Thursday to start feeling normal again. It was as if I was jetlagged. I did my laundry, but have not really put anything away yet. I need to rearrange all my books I got. Now that I’m recovered, I can’t wait to get back to Memphis for the 4th of July celebration! I’ll be back on the road again in five weeks!
Fantastic blog Deena! What great new memories you have made and shared with all of us who followed you on this trip. Just think of all the new stories you now know having spent time with Billy, Tish and Donna along with everyone else. Graceland will always hold new stories and memories for you. I’m so glad you were able to experience all of this! Thank you for making us all a part of your journey at the happiest place on earth! Now the countdown for Memphis in July!!
Thanks for reading Julie!
Glad you enjoyed it!
What a fabulous time we had, Deena, and reading this just brought back such a rush of special memories of that May trip. Loved reading this but especially loved being a part of this trip with you. Cant wait for our next adventures!
Thank you! Glad you enjoyed it!