Celebrating the 4th of July in Memphis
June 29 - July 7, 2021
Although I don’t usually particularly celebrate the 4th of July, I decided to celebrate this year at Graceland in Memphis. Any excuse right? What solidified my decision was the offer of the Hidden Graceland Tour (I got the last slot as I waited about a week after tickets went on sale to decide) and the BBQ at the Old Graceland Chapel. I am so glad I went as I had a great week in Memphis, even better than I had planned. And if you know me, you know I plan everything out in detail months in advance.
I left my house just after 10am the morning of June 29th and arrived at my usual stop for the night hotel the Baymont Inn & Suites Knoxville / Cedar Bluff just after 6:30pm, driving 514 miles and stopping twice. First at the Ledo’s in Winchester, VA to pick up a pizza to have for the week and then at the Love’s Travel Stop in Max Meadows, VA for gas and the yummy honey chicken biscuit sandwich at Chester’s. I hit a bit of traffic in Chilhowie, VA and in Knoxville, TN, but luckily was just behind the thunderstorms. The next morning I was on the road by 9am est and arrived at the Guest House just after 2pm cst, driving 383 miles stopping twice at Love’s in Lenoir City and Sommerville and was slowed down by traffic in Jackson and rain in Memphis. I checked into my living room suite on the 7th floor with a courtyard view right across from the junior suite I stayed in May. I prefer this living room suite with the courtyard view because yes I love the courtyard view, but I also prefer having a walled off bedroom with a door as to the little half wall with no door. Just before 4pm, I went down to EPs to eat, as they are only opened now from 3pm to 11pm with a limited menu. I ordered the Delta Burger with bacon and mayo (it comes with 2 patties, cheese, lettuce and tomato), sweet potato fries, sweet tea, water and the delicious banana chocolate cake to go. The burger tasted like it was made out on the grill. After, I went back up to my room to unpack and organize. Two hours later (yes it takes me that long) I went down to the theater at 7pm to watch Elvis That’s the Way It Is, and luckily it was the remastered version without the fan interviews. Even though I’ve seen it hundreds of times, I teared up during “Love Me Tender” as Elvis walked through the audience. There is just something about seeing it on the big screen. I went back to my room after and ate that yummy banana chocolate cake while watching the ’68 Comeback Special, which I left on for the entire week I was there. To see photos of my afternoon and evening at the Guest House, please click here.
The next day Thursday July 1st was a wonderful day that worked out so much better than I had originally planned. I met Mary, Jerry and Roger at 7:15am at the Founders Path to do our Morning Walk Up to the Meditation Garden. After, I grabbed a bite for breakfast in my room then got ready for the day. Around 11am, I picked up Mary, Jerry and Roger and we went to the new TigerMan Karate Dojo and Museum up the street, which was much better than I thought it was going to be. It is much more than just the actual Karate Dojo where Elvis trained with Kang Rhee (which is cool enough), but it is also a museum of Elvis memorabilia (much of it from Billy Smith’s family) and has a replicated Jungle Room. We were there for three hours! Danny Smith, who is Billy’s son and was 14 when Elvis died, was a our tour guide and he was great and very patient answering all of our questions. We started out in the replica Jungle Room complete with green shag carpet on the ceiling and furniture from the same manufacturer as what’s in Graceland. Then we went into the museum portion, with so many great artifacts from different collections including Kang Rhee’s and Billy Smith’s family. Then we saw the actual ambulance they took Elvis in from Graceland to the hospital on August 16, 1977. It was called the Elvis Unit. A policeman who was on duty that day bought it after they retired it in the 90s and had kept it since then. Next we went into the actual Karate Dojo, which still has the original paneling. We spent a lot of time in there taking photos and imagining and then we bought lots of stuff in the gift shop, including my stuffed tiger I named E. It was around 1:30 when we were finished when Billy Stallings came in and told us at 2pm Gene Autrey Turner was coming in as it was 50 years today when he met Elvis and gave him a Sheriffs badge from Tupelo and now Danny was going to give Gene a replica of that badge. So we were lucky enough to stay for that and watch the little ceremony in the dojo as Billy filmed it, then we stayed after to talk with Gene and hear more of his great stories. We also met his friend Meka, who I knew from Facebook. Gene was so in awe of Elvis when he met him in 1971 at Graceland that he touched his arm to see if he was real, and Elvis assured him he was just like him. Gene said he put his arm around Elvis’ waist and kept it there the entire time they walked around Graceland. Gene said he spent four hours with Elvis, and Elvis proudly showed him the trophy room. It was around 2:30 when we left and Mary and I were starving, so we went to Rock n Roll Cafe for Tuna Melts. We went back to Dolan after where we just talked and hung out and had a yummy Lasagna dinner that Mary cooked. Jerry and Rogers’ daughter Joy and her friend Jen arrived just in time for dinner with their dog Ozzie, who was adorable! I stayed until around 10pm. To see all of my photos from this great day at the TigerMan Museum, please click here.
The next morning on Friday July 2nd, I met Jerry and Roger at the Founders Path at 7:15am for our Morning Walk Up to the Meditation Garden. I then relaxed in my room until about 2pm when I headed over to Dolan for our 4th of July party. I stayed until about 10:30pm. Mary made so much great food. It was a very relaxing day just hanging out with everyone: Mary2, Jerry and Roger, Joy and Jen, Tish and Barry, Jon, MaryC, Kelly, Kristi and her husband, Joyce, Terry Sue and of course doggie Ozzie. We ended the day (night) watching That’s The Way It Is, the theatrical release. To see photos from this relaxing day, please click here.
As great as the past two days had been, I couldn’t believe any day could be better but Saturday July 3rd was – actually it was unbelievable and a night I will never forget! I again met Jerry and Roger at the Founders Path at 7:15am for our Morning Walk Up to the Meditation Garden. I got to talk with Nannette for a bit while I was there. It was a surprisingly cool and non-humid morning at just 70 degrees. I went over to Elvis Presley’s Memphis (EPM) at 11:30am and didn’t return until after midnight. I first picked up my 4th of July Package tickets. While waiting in line, this lady nicknamed Buttons whom I’ve seen at Graceland for years gave me two Elvis buttons that she makes and gives out to everyone. I had my regular four veggie plate at Vernon’s with bbq spaghetti, mashed potatoes, mac n cheese, green beans, corn bread, banana pudding and sweet tea. I toured the museums at EPM starting with watching the video in Lisa Marie’s exhibit, saw Jerry Schilling’s jersey in the football exhibit, walked through the new Karate exhibit (a nice compliment to the TigerMan museum I had just went through), watched the entire Timex Frank Sinatra Welcome Home Elvis video in the Army exhibit, watched the 31 movie trailer video in the Movie Exhibit, watched the Elvis on Tour video, walked through the Gospel exhibit, admired the TigerMan jumpsuit, watched the TTWII video in the Vegas exhibit, watched the Jaycees video and spent about an hour in the Summer Festival Elvis concert theater. I walked through the movie exhibit for the memorabilia then through the Army exhibit and then through the fake Sun Studio. I just love spending time at EPM seeing all of Elvis’ stuff and watching all the videos. Around 4:45 I sat outside on a bench in front of the ticket office and enjoyed the pleasantly mild July afternoon. About an hour later, I went into the new Lightning Lounge for the pre concert cocktail party, even though I wasn’t going to the Bill Cherry concert as I gave my ticket away. The new Lightning Lounge is really cool decorated with comfy couches. It is going to be a great place to hang out before the Candlelight Vigil this year. I got my complimentary wine and appetizers and sat on one of those comfy couches. Pat and her daughter in law joined me and then these two really nice guys from Rhode Island joined us, Mike and John. I left around 7, had a great time talking with Anthony on my way out, then picked up Mary and went back to the Guest House. We hung out in the Founders Lounge and caught up with Landon, then joined Jerry (and seven others) outside at the shuttle at just after 8:30pm for our Hidden Graceland Tour. We were inside Graceland before 9pm and didn’t get back to the Guest House until midnight. Yes we were inside Graceland for three hours at night seeing things we’ve never seen before. Angie and Alicia were absolutely wonderful!!! I had made a wish list a month or so prior of what I wanted to see on the Hidden Graceland tour and never in my wildest dreams did I think we would see all but one of them. Top of my list was to walk into Jerry Schilling’s room (which was also Charlie Hodge’s room at one point) in the basement – the door across from the soda fountain. Angie, knowing my love for Jerry, let me walk into the room first so I had a few seconds by myself before everyone else walked in. I was so excited that I forgot to take a photo of myself in the room, but finally remembered right before we left. I was just taking it all in. Next on my list was to walk into Vernon’s office and we did!!! I could not believe it!!! I have always loved Vernon’s office. It is my second favorite place at Graceland after the living room / music room / foyer. I think I love it so much because Elvis’ post army press conference was there. We got to walk inside Vernon’s office, and I went directly to the far right so I could see the corner I can’t see from the window when looking in. I was so in awe that I forgot to go to the desk where Elvis sat at for his press conference, so I am hoping we get to go in Vernon’s office again on my Hidden Graceland Tour during Elvis Week. Next on my list was Delta’s room. Ever since I first toured Graceland in 1999, I have wanted to see what was behind that door on the far end of the kitchen. We didn’t go into Delta’s room, but got to look into it from across the kitchen. Also on my list was to go upstairs in the racquetball building, which we did. We got to see Elvis’ private quarters – lounge and shower and red shag carpet. It was pretty neat. The only place on my list that we didn’t do was walk into the music room, but I honestly didn’t think that would happen. It was just a dream as was walking into Vernon’s office, but when we were walking past the carport and down that sidewalk I got SO excited!!! It was the best experience and worth every penny!!! We also saw pretty much everything in the cabinets in the living room, dining room, kitchen and Gladys’ / Minnie’s room. We also saw the movie screen in the basement and the records, which were actually the Colonel’s not Elvis’ (his are in the archives). We had our photo taken in the Jungle Room holding the ’69 Vegas microphone that Elvis used. We stopped by the Meditation Garden to pay our respects then took photos of the mansion lit up red, white and blue for the 4th of July. To see all of my photos from EPM and the Hidden Graceland Tour, please click here.
The next morning on Sunday July 4th I was too tired (as I was too excited from the Hidden Graceland Tour to fall asleep until after 3am) to do the morning walk up to the Meditation Garden. So I just stayed in bed until it was time to get ready for the Gospel Brunch at 10:30am. Luckily it was in the Ballroom at the Guest House, so all I had to do was take the elevator down and walk through the lobby to get there. I sat with Mary, Jerry and Roger, Joy and Jen, Pat and her daughter in law and Giovanna. The band was good, but not the type of gospel music that crowd was used to. And the food was fine, but it was just breakfast. There were no lunch items, so they should not bill it as brunch. Giovanna told us our Founders plaques were up, so I left the brunch around 11:45 to go see my plaque before going over to Graceland for my 1pm tour. Mike and John, the guys I met the night before in the Lightning Lounge, were on my tour. I spent about an hour in the mansion remembering all the things we saw the night before on the Hidden Graceland tour. I am glad I scheduled my tour after the Hidden Tour, so I could compare all the things we saw the night before. I also let tours pass me by, so I could spend as much time as I could alone in the living room / foyer area. Then I went into the VIP Lounge aka the annex aka Vernon’s apartment and hung out there for about a half hour before going through Graceland again. After about an hour, I went back over to the Guest House and relaxed in my room for about an hour before our BBQ at the Old Chapel at Graceland. There were three shuttles of us being taken from the Guest House to Graceland. We were given champagne and our photo was taken in front of Graceland. Then we walked the Founders Path to the Old Chapel for our BBQ. I sat with Jack and Mary Ann, Pat and her daughter in law and Giovanna. Jack Soden was in attendance. The food was great, especially the bbq chicken and banana pudding. After, I walked over to EPM with Mary, Jerry and Roger and Joy and Jen. They all stayed outside, but I went into the Elvis The Entertainer Career Museum and stayed until it closed at 8:30pm. I watched the 31 movie trailer video in the movie exhibit, paid homage to the TigerMan jumpsuit, watched the Jaycees video, spent a half hour in the booth in the Vegas exhibit watching TTWII, then enjoyed the concert in the Summer Festival theater. I walked around outside and talked to everyone who was waiting for the fireworks including Argo, Kelly, Nannette, Sondra, Angie, Joyce, Terry Sue, Jerry, Joy, Jen, Margaret and others. I ended up standing down at the bottom of the ramp watching the fireworks with my new friends Mike and John. The fireworks were good, but only 15 minutes. What was great was everyone together outside celebrating Elvis. Mike, John and I went back to the Guest House and had a few drinks at EPs until it closed at 11pm. To see all of my photos from this great 4th of July, please click here.
The next morning Monday July 5th I was just too exhausted to do the Morning Walk Up to the Meditation Garden. I picked up Mary around 11:30am and we may or may not have went somewhere and bought some more Elvis books, but I didn’t go as crazy as last time. Then we went, with MaryC and Jon, to the MidSouth Coliseum because it was the anniversary of the last time Elvis played there July 5, 1976. We couldn’t get in of course, so we just drove around then got out and took some photos. After, I took Mary to Flashback to do a little retro shopping. I bought two records. Then we went to Sun Studio as it was the anniversary of when Elvis recorded “That’s All Right” on July 5, 1954. We did not take the tour, but just took photos outside and hung out inside the old Taylor’s Cafe for a bit. We walked next door to Boulevard Souvenirs, which I had not been to since it moved from EP Blvd. Ironically I bought a Sun Studio hat there. By this time it was 4pm, and we were supposed to meet everyone at Marlowe’s for dinner. It was Mary, Jerry and Roger, Tish and Barry, Jon and MaryC and myself. We had a great time. I was honored to be included, and Tish and Barry were very generous. And Tish made this delicious orange cake for dessert. I had the Marlowe’s spaghetti for the first time, and I will definitely be getting it again! It was huge (I took home half of it) with yummy meat sauce, topped with mozzarella, and came with two sides (I got mushrooms and green beans). We also had fried gouda sticks and corn fritters for the table. I got back to the Guest House just in time to watch Viva Las Vegas in the theater, well actually I got there at 7:03 and missed the very beginning. MaryC joined me in the theater, but left right after so I hung out with Mike and John (my new friends from Rhode Island) for a couple of hours. To see all of my photos from this historic Elvis day, please click here.
For my last morning on Tuesday July 6th, I met Mary, Jerry and Roger at the Founders Path at 7:20am for our Morning Walk Up to the Meditation Garden. I took my time after packing, loading the car, resting and didn’t leave the Guest House until 12pm cst. It took me just over seven hours to go 411 miles because I made a few stops before stopping at the La Quinta Knoxville East hotel for the night. My first stop was at a Love’s just east of Jackson, but I was there almost a half hour because it took forever to get my burger. Then I hit traffic going through Nashville and then I finally stopped at the Book Cellar in Crossville. I have seen the sign on 40 for the past few years and have always wanted to stop. I got there just an hour before they closed, so I didn’t have much time. It was a HUGE place that looked like a school library. All these books were first edition hard backs and signed for only $1. It was unreal!!! I got 12 books and 2 records for $28, and didn’t even make a dent in the biography section. I must go there again! To me my photos from my last Morning Walk Up to the Meditation Garden, please click here.
I was on the road by 7:30am the next morning Wednesday July 7th. Only stopped once, made great time and was home by 3:30pm (515 miles) exactly one month before I leave for Elvis Week!
I loved reading all about trip & all the pictures. Sounds & looks like you had a fantastic time!
Oh thank you! I’m glad you enjoyed it!
As always I love to read your Recaps of your Memphis trips. You definitely had a wonderful time and I love all the details you gave on the hidden tour at Graceland. What a phenomenal once-in-a-lifetime experience! I can’t begin to even imagine how it felt to be able to walk up stairs in the racquetball building, walkthrough Vernon’s office and of course Jerry’s bedroom was the highlight! Pictures are outstanding! Thank you for sharing all of this!
Thanks as always for reading Julie! I’m glad you enjoyed it.