The Elvis experience: Looking into the King's apartment
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Graceland is the big name attraction in Memphis. But, for the full immersion Elvis Presley experience, you should stay in the two-bedroom apartment, at 328 Lauderdale Courts, where the teenage Elvis and his parents lived for almost four years.
They moved there in autumn, 1949, when Elvis was 14. They left in January, 1953, just after he turned 18. Seven months later, now out of high school and driving a truck, he’d pay $4 to record two slow ballads at Sun Studios. A year later, his professional recording career began.
For an Elvis fan, the experience of sleeping the night in the teenage Presley’s bedroom borders on the surreal.
On the dresser is a big tub of his favourite Royal Crown Hair Dressing, which has the look and consistency of Vaseline. As a teenager, Presley was already affecting the greased hair that would outrage white bread America when he shook the hair and his pelvis on national television in 1956.
The Presley apartment is furnished as closely as possible to how it was when the family, who had never enjoyed the comparative luxury of their own indoor toilet before, was there.
Pride of place in the kitchen is a working 1951 refrigerator, while a CD of vintage disc jockey Dewey Phillips, in 1954 the first man to play a Presley record, ltiThat’s All Right Mama, on air, blares from a player cleverly disguised to look like an old valve radio.
Presley’s family had left their small hometown of Tupelo, Mississippi, his birthplace 170km away, to find work in the city. Scraping by they were delighted to move into The Courts, government assisted housing built in the post-Depression Roosevelt era for poor whites like them. The monthly rent was US$35.
Today the red brick block of apartments has been refurbished and rechristened Uptown Square. To stay in the Presley apartment costs US$250 a night.
Cheap at the price.
You can watch the huge collection of Elvis videos on a TV hidden inside an old-fashioned credenza, count the lipstick kisses fans are invited to plant on a wall in his bedroom, or pay the ultimate Elvis tribute, and cook his favourite snack, a cholesterol death-bomb sandwich of mashed banana and crispy bacon on white bread smeared with peanut butter, all fried in butter in the cast iron frying pan kindly supplied, with the recipe, in the kitchen.
Presley wasn’t born in Memphis, but the city shaped him, and his time at The Courts, where he spent his last years at high school, was crucial.
The guitar his mother, Gladys, had bought for him at the Tupelo Hardware Store when he was 9 travelled in the family’s 1937 Plymouth to Memphis.
A neighbour would make an official complaint about the time Elvis spent prising music from it.
Vital parts of the Presley story are close by The Courts. A 15-minute walk away is Beale St, where, on a 1978 visit to Auckland, BB King swore he could remember seeing an unknown Presley in the black clubs King was playing.
It’s also comfortable walking distance to 706 Union Ave, the home of Sun Studios.
As well as overnight stays, Uptown Square also runs tours of the apartment for US$10.
Contact is old-school, by telephone, not email. Call 0019015238662