Louisiana to Tennessee: From Beautiful Oak Alley Plantation to the Kitsch of Graceland

We left New Orleans following the Great River Road north, which winds along the south side of the Mississippi. While we saw the occasional sugar cane field that once brought tremendous wealth to the state…

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…most of the horizon was dominated by impossibly ugly petrochemical plants. While brochures may call the route Plantation Alley, it’s known as Chemical Corridor to locals for a reason.

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For a while, it was plant…

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…after plant…

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…after plant…

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…after plant, all of which seemed to be competing for a biggest eyesore prize.

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Finally, the road started to gain a bit of charm…

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Beautiful Spanish moss trees along the highway:

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We also began seeing some archetypal ramshackle houses, which is pretty much how Hollywood envisions all of residential Louisiana to be:

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Another house along the road:

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Then we arrived at the gorgeous entrance to the Oak Alley plantation, whose name should be self-explanatory:

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Built between 1837 and 1839, Oak Alley’s 1/4 mile canopy of gnarled oak trees predates the mansion by more than 100 years.

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Each oak tree is really incredible, especially when you consider the amount of history they’ve witnessed on the property. I especially love how the roots seem to gracefully ripple out, like the bottom of a flowing wedding dress.

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The oaks continue on both sides of the plantation, ultimately leading up to the Mississippi River.

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We saw a few of these enormous bugs, which were about 3-4 inches in length. A fellow tourist identified them as Texas Grasshoppers, though I’m not sure if that’s accurate:

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An old garage on the plantation, with a previous owner’s cars inside.

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The actual tour of the house (no pictures allowed) was underwhelming, especially compared to the grandeur of the exterior. None of the furniture is original to the house, and the history honestly isn’t all that interesting. My favorite bit is when they describe the original owner as a “caring man” who sadly “had no choice but to use slaves.” My recommendation is to skip the tour and just enjoy the grounds.

We headed out, passing what appears to be an entire petrochemical city:

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Unfortunately, from this point on, we had a schedule we had to keep in order to return to New York in 3 days. Sadly, this meant we would no longer have time for casual stops, and we pretty much skipped the entire state of Mississippi, stopping only in Greenville to spend the night.

The next morning, we gassed up next a truck covered in pretty much every animated character ever created:

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Soon, we were in Tennessee…

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…and after, Memphis!

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We stopped in the historic downtown area…

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We decided to be tourists and eat at the Arcade Diner, which is one of those restaurants that’s way to famous to actually care about having decent food anymore.

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Like pretty much every establishment in town, Elvis is reputed to have been a frequent customer here, and my girlfriend got a fried peanut butter and banana sandwich in his honor.

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Outside, a “Modern Movie-Making In Memphis” sign commemorates Jim Jarmusch’s Mystery Train for using the town as a shooting location, which is probably the most obscure movie I’ve seen listed on an historical marker.

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As we drove around, we saw a few interesting bits. On this old building…

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…a fading ad for hot sausage.

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The Orpheum, the second theater to occupy the site since 1897. Once considered the finest opera house outside of New York, the original Orpheum burned down after becoming to a vaudeville theater. It was rebuilt in in 1928 and served as a movie theater til 1977. Today, it’s a Broadway theater.

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Commercializing the blues…

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Great old Universal Life Insurance sign (the company was founded in Memphis):

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A former gas station-turned church:

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Then we turned onto Elvis Presley Boulevard to visit the second most visited private home in the United States: Graceland (the White House is first). While strip malls and fast food joints literally border the Graceland property today, the area was entirely farmland when Elvis moved in in 1957.

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The tour begins not in the mansion, but rather in an ugly complex across the street. We paid $34 a piece for tickets, easily the most expensive attraction we’d visited on the roadtrip.

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We then boarded buses, which transported us across the street through the front gates…

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And right up to Elvis’ front door!

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I was pretty skeptical the tour would be worth the price…

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…but as soon as we went in through the front door, I knew we’d made the right decision.

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To describe Elvis’ as tacky would be inaccurate, as the house ascends to levels of tackiness the word was never meant to cover. Above, Elvis’ living room, with piano, old TV, and peacock stained-glass windows. Below, his new agey paper weight collection and gold ash tray:

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Elvis’ clock (note the bust in the background):

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Besides the decor, the first thing that struck me about Graceland was how small it is, especially by today’s standards. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but my dining room back home is about as big as the Presley’s (though we have not followed the black and gold color scheme):

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What also amazed me about the house is how mundane much of it seemed. Below, the kitchen, with cheesy carpet and cheap wooden cabinets:

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Best of all was Elvis’ jungle room, with green shag carpeting and a waterfall on the wall.

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Man, did Elvis love shag – it was on his sofa…

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…the staircase…

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…and even the ceiling:

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Next, we descended into Elvis’ basement to see the TV room, decorated in a yellow and black motif…

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Creepy porcelain monkey:

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Elvis’ TCB logo on the wall:

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Nearby is Elvis’ bar…

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…with creepy glass clowns:

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We crossed the hall to the billiard room, in which the walls and ceiling are completely covered in patterned cloth. With no windows, it felt extremely claustrophobic, like you were about to be smothered by an enormous comforter.

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On the way back up, I noticed this painting hanging in the hallway…

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…with a working clock face on the tower. I can just imagine Elvis being really impressed with the painting, with which he could both enjoy the pretty scene and know what time it was.

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That’s all they let you see of the main house – the upstairs bedrooms (including the bathroom Elvis died in) are off limits. Outside, a swingset for Lisa Marie.

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Next up was Elvis’ father’s office, with a number of portraits sent in by fans strewn around the room:

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The tour continues through rooms containing memorabilia from Elvis’ past. My favorite? The collection of movie posters, all of which seem to be centered around putting Elvis in a zanier activity than the last. First…

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Then…

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Finally (???)…

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Elvis’ kidney shaped pool:

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Side note: since when did elastics with shapes get so damn popular?? They’re all the same when you stretch them out! Nevertheless, they were all over Elvis’ grave:

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We went back across the street to check out Elvis’ car collection…

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A classic pink Cadillac owned by his mother:

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Elvis’ two private jets are also parked nearby…

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…and you can walk through both (the cheap plastic furniture covering actually seems to accent the decor):

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Interior of the second plane:

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Wish we could have stayed longer, but again, the clock was ticking. We continued driving north, stopping only at the awesome Jim ‘N Nick’s Bar-B-Q for some decent ribs.

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-SCOUT

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20 comments

  1. I have been loving following your road trip- I’ve only ever been able to take a week at a time. I have several of the EXACT same pictures of Graceland (I suppose there are only so many angles available). I was there in ’95- the only differences in my shots are the plants in the Jungle Room, and they’ve repainted the swingset/outbuildings.

    Look at the swingset- there are bullet holes in the slide. A shack was near it, and they would shoot guns from the house’s back balcony at a target there. I recall our tour guide (live guides back then) becoming upset when we suggested that Elvis would shoot at Lisa Marie. (“Swing faster, mama!”) She insisted that Elvis was NEVER used his guns when his daughter was around.

  2. Those ‘flamingos’ look awfully like peacocks in that stained glass, which I actually think is pretty. But yeah, taken all together, tacky. But oh I love those cars!

  3. Those are ‘silly bandz’ on his grave. I’m not sure where they came from, but they are suddenly everywhere.

  4. I am going to be so sad when your trip is over! I have really loved reading about it.

  5. I cannot believe Elvis lived in a house that was both so small and so … average? Even though it’s decorated to the nines, it’s not that big, as you note, and doesn’t seem that unusual for the monied class in the 70s.

    I always thought Graceland would look more … Vegas? Austin Powers? … and you would access the Jungle Room via some kind of glass-enclosed elevator, I guess. But dinky little green-carpeted stairs?

    Strangely, I want to visit Graceland now, which I never wanted to do when I thought it was more classy.

  6. You made a giant mistake by not driving through Mississippi. There is so much history and beauty here, and you bypassed it in favor of looking at ugly chemical plants (and then complaining about it). Your loss.

    • But we did drive through Mississippi, from top to bottom! We just didn’t have time to stop anywhere, which I totally agree was a major disappointment.

  7. Hey Scout,

    Graceland does look tacky, but there are some awesome elements in there if you look closely. I actually like the interior of the second plane, retro-future-ish! And that jungle room is the precursor to today’s “man caves”.

    Thanks for these updates, great stuff!

    -Bur.gr

  8. Supposedly, there is an oxygen tank at Graceland, to help revive people who faint after being overcome with emotion.

  9. Long time reader. First time poster.

    I went through Graceland on a road trip back in ’92. At the time, they wouldn’t let you take photos. Nice to see the jungle room again.

    Love the site.

  10. Yeah, owning slaves sure was hard for those nice slave owners. I don’t know how they managed.

  11. This has been an incredible trip we are accompaning you. I recall some places where I’ve been, including Graceland (more than 20 years ago). The inside is kept the same. But the cars were in the backyard, probably near where the swingset is today.

  12. This has been an incredible trip we are accompaning you. I recall some places where I’ve been, including Graceland (more than 20 years ago). The inside is kept the same. But the cars were in the backyard, probably near where the swingset is today. And it wasn’t that expensive!

  13. fun fact about Spanish moss that may or may not be true, but it was always an urban legend growing up in the South: rumor has it Henry Ford used it to stuff the seats on the original model T, until he realized the downside of spanish moss: chiggers live in it. so it looks pretty, but do not touch. you will itch for forever.

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  15. Surprisingly interesting many thanks, I reckon your current followers will probably want more articles of this nature carry on the excellent content.

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