Former Graceland Tour Guide Speaks.

Former tour guide gives glimpse inside, Terri Barnes knows a little Elvis Presley trivia.

A native of Memphis, Tenn., Barnes was one of Graceland�s first tour guides when it opened in 1982.

�I had just graduated from college and I needed a job,� she told McComb Lions Tuesday.

But Graceland did more than provide that first job � it was where Barnes met her husband, Dr. Chuck Barnes, who was then a student working as a security guard at the mansion.

The experience was more than just working at a tourist attraction. It was an early glimpse into how Graceland would be a cathedral for Elvis fans.

Since its opening, Elvis� Memphis mansion has averaged thousands of visitors per year and earned millions of dollars. It is the country�s second most-visited house next to the White House.
But in the early summer of 1982, Barnes said, no one knew what to expect.

Prior to its public opening, Graceland, which was then under the control of Elvis� wife Priscilla through Elvis Presley Enterprises, was redecorated in a 1960s style, which Barnes said recalled Elvis� best years spent at the mansion.

The first tour guides, she said, underwent a two-week training period before the mansion opened and were dressed in white from head to toe, with the exception of a light blue tie.

�We were totally scripted,� she said, adding that the guides� descriptive monologues about the mansion�s areas were memorized from scripts approved by Priscilla Presley.

She said the guides also were trained in first aid and CPR, but they weren�t prepared for what opening day would bring.

Graceland at that time had no air conditioning, she said, adding that on opening day, a number of visitors collapsed from the heat. Schedule problems forced the guides to work a 10-hour day with no break.

And the guides were learning that there are two kinds of fans, Barnes said, �Elvis fans, and ELVIS fans.�

Barnes remembers an episode when she was working in the �trophy room,� which contained portraits of Elvis and other memorabilia.

�The portraits were irreplaceable,� she said.�And people were not allowed to take flash pictures in the trophy room.�

One tour that entered the trophy room that day consisted of two men carrying a large, emotionally overwrought fan whose face and makeup were streaked with tears.

Suddenly, Barnes said, the woman fell against her, pinning her against a portrait, and the men began taking flash pictures in the room. The woman had to be pulled off Barnes and helped out.

Barnes said emotional scenes were common, because of the effect Elvis had on the lives of others.

�We had people tell us that Elvis had literally changed their lives,� she said. �He had an influence on so many people.�

During her time as a guide, Barnes recalled several instances involving visitors dressed like Elvis or Priscilla, including one smallish man in a homemade Elvis jumpsuit, who when asked where he was from responded �from Heaven.�

There were the two Japanese teenagers who spent every day of their vacation touring Graceland.

And there were the questions.

When the guides took a break, Barnes said, they had a contest to determine the silliest question of the day. She said there were several regulars.

�We would have a tour in the trophy rooms where Elvis� jumpsuits were displayed on mannequins, and somebody would always ask, �Is that the suit Elvis is buried in?�

�We�d have to answer with, �Let me check.� �

Barnes said there was a photograph in Graceland�s foyer that was taken during Elvis� Aloha Concert in Hawaii.

�People would ask, �Was that picture of Elvis taken after his death?� � she said.

A replica of the wedding cake from Elvis� and Priscilla�s wedding in the trophy room would elicit comments like, �and nobody ate the cake,� or �look how well preserved it is.�

And visitors were always trying to engage the guides into a discussion about their opinion of Priscilla, whom visitors either liked or hated.

Besides the usual tour groups, Barnes said, recording artists either visiting or performing in Memphis would come to Graceland.

�The majority of them were very respectful and complimentary,� she said.

�But about half of them would be rather rude until they saw the gold room.�

The gold room, she said, featured the gold and platinum records awarded to Presley.

�After that,� she said, �they didn�t say anything else.�

Barnes said Presley continues to receive gold and platinum albums after his death.

�Something new would come in and we�d have to take something down and move it to make room,� she said.

And people still send letters, flowers and gifts for Elvis to Graceland.

As for Graceland�s operators, �I don�t think they understood the power they were releasing when they opened that front door,� Barnes said.

 

Posted:  31st. March 2008 

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