Elvis Week Day 6: Big Things Happening at GracelandPosted by Elvis Presley's Graceland on Aug 15, 2014 | 2 comments
By Jon Waterhouse
BREAKING GROUND AT THE GUEST HOUSE
With the Memphis sun beaming down its approval, fans, Graceland staff and dignitaries gathered for the groundbreaking of The Guest House at Graceland, a resort hotel planned to open in fall of 2016.
After Jack Soden unveiled a large rendering of the property and several speakers followed, Priscilla Presley offered closing thoughts. She explained that Elvis always wanted this property, and acquiring it was a dream come true. The plan, she said, is to design it with Elvis’s taste in mind.
“When we lived at Graceland, my parents would have to stay at [a nearby hotel],” she said. “Now we have a guest house [for fans].”
Gripping a shovel straight from the Graceland grounds, Priscilla, along with other shovel-wielders, officially dipped their tools in the dirt, signaling the beginning a new era of the Graceland experience.
Like any great celebration, surprises always spring out of the box at Elvis Week. Yesterday at the Official Insiders Event, we scored a big one.
Main stage emcee Tom Brown, the Johnny Carson of Elvis Week, introduced Jack Soden, President and CEO of Elvis Presley Enterprises. After some pleasantries, Soden welcomed a living, breathing bonus feature to the Main Stage: Priscilla Presley.
Although she’s appearing at today’s Conversations on Elvis, Presley treated fans to an extra sit-down session with Soden and Brown.
The gist of the conversation steered toward all of the new enhancements and mega plans for Graceland, from the tablet tour to the auction to the Guest House at Graceland. Despite the new business configurations, both Soden and Presley assured everyone they’re both still heavily involved at the top and have the fans’ interests at heart.
For more than two hours, Brown welcomed a string of guests. Highlights included an appearance by Jerry Schilling, one of Elvis’s closest friends and business associates. He recounted several stories, including meeting Elvis for the first time at a pick-up football game and what it was like living behind the gates of Graceland.
Other guests followed such as representatives from Sony and Warner Bros. who talked about the new “Elvis: That’s The Way It Is” DVD, Blu-ray, CD and theatrical release. The Memphis Boys members Bobby Wood, Gene Chrisman and Reggie Young chatted about jamming with Elvis on iconic cuts at American Sound Studio.
Guests were then given another surprise when songwriter Mark James, who penned legendary songs including the Memphis Boys-backed “Suspicious Minds,” stepped into the spotlight. James was then presented with his Beale Street brass musical note, which will be enshrined in the sidewalk along the legendary stretch of musical real estate. The honor places James in the company of Elvis, B.B. King, Jerry Lee Lewis and a host of other luminaries.
Brown unveiled another unscheduled guest as Joel Weinshanker, the new managing partner of Graceland, spoke directly to the fans for the first time. He soon explained his investment was nothing temporary. First and foremost, he emphasized, was the importance of doing things the way they believe Elvis would have wanted.
“This is a lifelong ambition for me,” he said. “My obligation is to try and spread the word of Elvis. And we have the obligation to keep spreading that word.”
Jack Soden echoed Weinshanker’s passion for Graceland’s new additions and plans, including The Founders program, which will offer exclusive access to the new hotel and the Graceland grounds.
“We were stuck in neutral for a long time,” Soden said, “but now we’re going fast.”
Location, location, location: The Guest House at Graceland will be located on the same side of the street as Graceland, about a block away from the historic mansion.
Number of Rooms: With 450 rooms, it will be one of the largest full-service hotels in Memphis.
Priscilla’s Touch: Presley will help oversee the interiors of several special suites injecting the king’s flair and Graceland’s feel into the design.
Rockin’ the House: Expect a 500-seat theater for live shows, not to mention a pair of restaurants, and meeting and special event space.
A CONVERSATION WITH GREG PAGE
Elvis collector Greg Page, best known as co-founder of the Wiggles, spoke with Tom Brown at the Official Insiders Event and explained his passion for pieces of Presley past. It was items from Page’s collection that made up the bulk of the Auction at Graceland. After his chat with Brown, he sat down and talked with the Elvis Week blog.
Q.: How did you get started as a collector?
A.: Really it was because of my first visit to Graceland. When I walked through that home for the first time, I felt Elvis’s presence, because he used to walk those floorboards. It’s not a museum, it’s his home. And a lot of artifacts were on display there. When I walked out, I came away with a different appreciation of Elvis. I knew his music, I knew his voice and I knew about his charisma, but I didn’t know much about the man offstage. So going through Graceland and finding out about his philanthropy and his spiritual journey and his struggles offstage with his personal journey, that’s really when I started understanding the man behind the music. Then I realized you could actually buy things Elvis used to own. I thought that was incredible. It kind of blew my mind that you could buy one of Elvis’s shirts. I thought Graceland had it all, but collectors have these things. So I started buying a couple of different things, really with the view of bringing these things back to Australia where some Elvis fans don’t have the opportunity to come to Graceland or Memphis to have the experience I had. So I felt it was important to be able to collect and bring things back to Australia and set up a place where people in Australia could go and find out what I found out about Elvis. He was a genuine, humble guy who lived life like a lot of people did and had the same struggles everybody else had. I wanted to give people the chance to see his shirts, his jewelry and experience a part of Elvis’s life. So that’s really the nuts and bolts of it.
Q.: You were talking about going through the mansion through the first time and getting a new perspective on Elvis. What item in your collection really opened your mind to a different aspect of Elvis?
A.: I think it’s got to be books that he read and made little notations in or underlined passages of. That really gives you an insight into who he was and what inspired him, and what he read that he enjoyed. When he underlined things, it really meant something to him. So it can kind of give you a glimpse inside his mind. In terms of books, I think the most fascinating one I have is the Capricorn horoscope from 1977. And that’s fascinating, because that’s the year Elvis passed away. In the front of the book, it gives a bit of a forecast for the year. When it talks about health, it mentions August as a month for Capricorns to be aware of. It says in August a Capricorn will be susceptible to stress and anxiety. As we know, Elvis was under a lot of stress and anxiety in August of 1977. I just think that really does bring into play everything about Elvis and his spiritual quest and journey. He was interested in what lay ahead of him, what his life’s purpose was and his life’s path. Of course sadly when it got to August, there were no more underlines in the book anymore. But prior to that there were lots of things underlined about financial hardships, anxiety and stress. So he was really feeling it. And that book opens up a lot about Elvis’s life and his state of mind at that time.
Q.: So Graceland actually approached you about participating in this auction.
A.: Yeah, it certainly wasn’t my idea to come to Graceland and hold an auction. That never crossed my mind. My mind was blown away when I got the call saying that they were actually going to go into this business of authenticating items for collectors. I thought, “Wow, what a great idea.” Who’s better to authenticate items than the people at Graceland here at the Archives? They have access to all of the records, 80,000 photographs, and receipts for everything Elvis ever bought. I think it’s a brilliant idea, and to be asked to be the featured collector was such an honor and a privilege that I just had to say “yes.” It’s really important for a number of reasons. It’s important for collectors to know what they’re buying is authentic. And it’s important for the legacy of Elvis that the items that are out there are being able to be passed on to collectors who want to experience the joy of owning something that Elvis touched and that he owned and to be able to share that with their friends and family.
Q.: Was there one thing you weren’t willing to give up?
A.: There wasn’t. I put together a list of items that I thought were great, and I gave it to Angie Marchese at the Archives. She just picked out the top items from that list. I always say I’m just the custodian of these items. They’re not my items. Yes, I own them for a little while, but now it’s time for someone else to be the custodian and look after the legacy of Elvis and make sure the pieces survive. They’re historical pieces. It’s important, significant stuff, and it’s got to be preserved for years to come. So if you ever get a chance to own something like this, please look after it.
Q.: Is it tough to see any of this stuff go?
A.: It hasn’t gone yet. It’s still mine at the moment, so ask me about it [after the auction.] It might be hard. But they’re great items and do provide such a great connection to the man himself, and it’s been a real privilege to own them for a period of time. I’ve had a lot of them for more than 10 years now. So it’s time to let them go.
Q.: What’s the one holy grail item you’d like to own?
A.: A jumpsuit. I’d love to own one, but they’re a very significant item and go for very high prices. So you never know. I might be able to get one someday. But for now I’ve got 800 items in my collection. I have a jumpsuit belt from the peacock suit, but I don’t have a jumpsuit yet.
THE AUCTION AT GRACELAND
Chinese water torture would’ve been worse.
Allowing a rabid Elvis fan with a fiscally challenged bank account such as myself into the Auction at Graceland proved to be an exercise in pain.
With all of those coveted collectibles beyond my reach, I sat there salivating, wishing I could get my mitts on something. Instead of wallowing in resentment, however, I had to live vicariously through the paddle-holding bidders, and be happy for those who walked away with serious Elvis bounty.
“Fake the smile,” I kept saying to myself. “Just fake it.”
As everyone gathered in the new Archives Studio on the Graceland grounds, it was easy to lose myself in the excitement. The venue doubled as an auction hall for the first ever Graceland Authenticated Auction. Potential bidders held their white paddles, each featuring a specific number. To bid on an item, the participants would quickly wave their paddles in the air.
Award-winning auctioneer Terri Walker hit the ground running with her rat-a-tat delivery. Blazing through bids for the first item, an Elvis-signed Tupelo school library card, Walker awarded the piece back to Graceland itself. Angie Marchese, director of Graceland Archives, brought the card home thanks to a winning bid of $8,000.
For more than three hours, Walker kept things rolling as the action would ebb and flow between excitable bidding wars and loud exclamations. A crew of assistants kept tabs on phone and online bids.
At times, I found myself nearly jumping out of my blue suede shows in shock when the guy manning the Internet bids would start yelling.
“Yeah!” he’d belt at the top of his lungs when receiving an online bid.
The Elvis-related items, spanning all eras of his career, continued demanding high dollar throughout the evening. An autographed “Louisiana Hayride” promotional photo from 1955 went for $4,300; a copy of Presley’s personal “Love Me Tender” script reached $11,500; the actual blueprints for Graceland topped at $28,000; and the king’s 1977 Cadillac Seville sold for $65,000.
Arguably one of the most high profile pieces of the evening, the gold and gem-lined lion head pendant, rocketed all the way to $66,000. This piece actually meant a great deal to Elvis as he wore it on many significant occasions, including to his meeting with President Nixon.
Mark Stephens, a lawyer from a Rosemont, Ill., engaged in a heated bidding rumble with Marchese. Stephens, however, emerged with the prize.
“I don’t like going head-to-head with Angie,” Stephens said with a laugh. “She won’t let me come back here.”
Stephens said he was able to walk away with all of the pieces on his auction wish list. He actually won so many items, he lost track of how much he spent. Doing the calculations in my head, I guesstimate he likely spent more than $100,000 on the haul.
After the auction, Stephens explained he’s been collecting Elvis memorabilia since 1972. The most prized piece in his collection: the Burning Love jumpsuit and cape. It’s worn by a mannequin in an extensive display area located at the collector’s home.
So what makes someone spend this kind of cash on the king?
“I mean he’s Elvis, isn’t he?” Stephens said.
Shaking hands with Stephens, I watched as he and his pals left the Archive Studio heading for celebratory cocktails.
Me? I walked away with empty pockets, just little bit of green with envy. Hopping in my van, I chose the perfect closing song: “If I Can Dream.”
Also, be sure to check out Memphis Jones coverage from behind the ropes at groundbreaking, plus the winner of the 2014 Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Contest. See below or check out more photos, videos and blogs by visiting ElvisWeek.com.