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I went to Graceland once, and the cheap necklace I bought in the gift shop with Elvis Presley’s “Taking Care of Business” lightning bolt logo hanging on a pendant broke before we weren’t going back to the car. I’ve never been a particular fan of Elvis, but I love houses from the 70s, especially ones with dark histories, especially when they have well-preserved bathrooms and bedrooms. I was then surprised to find myself moved beyond measure by the neo-colonial mansion, filling a block with leopard skins, mirrors, carpets, stained glass, fountains and loops of “If I Can Dream” and “Unchained Melody”, the last song Elvis played in concert, just weeks before he died at Graceland in 1977. The tour was too short: there were so many visual stimuli in each discordant piece that I couldn’t couldn’t process what I was looking at. Was it a driftwood chair in the jungle room? — I had already gone to the indoor waterfall.
I want to live in the house for a few days and poke around. I swear I won’t touch anything.
The closest magic I’ve found to this experience is an Instagram account I’ve fallen in love with over the past year called Tiny Graceland, the 1:24 scale model of the estate of Elvis by artist Toronto-based miniature named Heidi Athay.
Making Graceland – that monument of mirrored excesses and green shag carpet – small enough to be seen is an extraordinary task, and Athay’s work is remarkable. She told me over email that she was starting with the house and the driveway, but intended to eventually create the land and outbuildings.
Tiny Graceland is a naturally slow project, and releases are intermittent. Seems right – it’s an intimate experience to see Athay’s thumb and forefinger manipulate a tiny MOVIELAND magazine in Gladys and Vernon Presley’s bedroom, or a mini portrait of Lisa Marie by the front door, or the samurai sword hidden in the living room drawer. The whole operation is on a small scale: right now, only 4,400 people follow Tiny Graceland on Instagram, even though Athay’s work deserves 100 times as many fans. Dedicated Tiny Gracelanders leave a miniature assortment of purple emoji hearts and lightning bolts in the comments to spread the love the way we imagine Elvis Stans would have if he had lived long enough to see the fan pages of ‘Instagram.
I am particularly impressed with his work on the bedroom and bathroom of Elvis’ parents, Gladys and Vernon. The detail is exquisite. Athay took care to put miniature clothes in the closet and task lamps in the chandeliers. The bed is dressed in a deep purple to contrast with the pristine white carpet. The venue hasn’t always been part of Graceland’s tour. Elvis’ mother died in 1958 and his father lived in Graceland for another two years after that. Her grandmother Minnie Mae moved into their old room simultaneously at a time when the other downstairs rooms around her were open for visits. She eventually moved into a bedroom upstairs.
“All room details are based on photos of the actual room. I’m always on the lookout for rare photos and have taken many of my own on previous visits,” Athay said. “The bathroom is completely reproduced from photos of the actual room, with the exception of the toilet. The toilets currently there are white and appear to be a more modern update. I imagine it would have been a matching suite back in Gladys days, so I created my version of a lilac vintage toilet to match the sink and tub.
When her hands aren’t in frame for perspective, I’ve found myself confusing her work with any other life-size photo on my Instagram timeline. Tiny Graceland’s attention to detail is so exacting that the whole operation seems almost creepy in the same way that my attempts to peek around the poles and ropes of the tall Graceland were voyeuristic. The Graceland tour doesn’t take you to Elvis’ private bedrooms upstairs – including the bathroom where he died – and neither does Tiny Graceland out of respect for the Presley family.
I, of course, became obsessed with finding photos of Graceland’s floor, with little luck. The furthest I got is this set of blurry photos with Linda Thompson on the bed in one and her dog named Getlo in another. I’m going to have to live with the fact that the floor of Graceland will never be mine. But the Tiny Graceland minis provide an opportunity to carefully study the larger-than-life legacy the King left behind, so it’s as if Elvis never left the building.
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