Auction at Graceland
At Graceland’s live auction of Elvis memorabilia, Stela Xhiku marvels at the strange artifacts and the even stranger stories behind them.
Everyone sees Elvis in two: the first a soldier, with dark around his eyes, full of ma’ams and sirs, and always in mourning for his late mother, who died when he was 23, and before her, his stillborn twin. A solemn young thing, this Elvis carried his own set of clean utensils, cultivated a healthy fear of STDs, and answered all of his fan mail with a ‘sincerely.’
His second image comes bejeweled, swollen with meat sweats and polyester capes. Very excessive, and very sensational, this was the Elvis of a new era. Of which the general motif was baroque machismo. Once, for example, as his security detail tussled with a stage-bound fan during a performance, Elvis started doing air-karate on stage. He was a black-belt.
As a kid idolizing the myth, I built a confused shrine: three parts sparkle, one part ghostly. Gentleman and Showman. I was Vegas Elvis for Halloween; I thought of his earlier, darker self during my own dramatic spells, pretending I saw a resemblance. We both had dark hair after all and, my god, was I mopy.
This past summer I began a spontaneous quest to fill in his image during a night in, when I discovered that Graceland was hosting a live auction on eBay. I had never seen eBay pull off an IRL sale on the web and was curious first about the design, second, about the fast-talking man who presided over this auction, and third, about the range of objects that were featured. Even a disappointing bit of correspondence between Elvis’ manager, Colonel Parker, and his former secretary made it into the auction. In it, the Colonel rejects her request for employment very tactfully and on Paramount Pictures letterhead. Then, less tactfully, the Colonel writes in marker, “PS Mrs Parker is in Palm Springs.” Here was the beauty of the Graceland auction: that minutiae, when magnified, suggests a forgotten mystery. Like the long-gone affair of the Colonel and his secretary.
The other objects were less torrid; most were memorabilia that Graceland sourced from fans and children of fans. All came with a letter of authentication. “Elvis gave me his special smile and asked my name,” writes Karen Dobner of an autographed scarf, who concludes her letter with “fan forever.” Armond Morales, who received a wristwatch that Elvis engraved to Arman writes, “It was absolutely electrifying!”
The watch sold for $11,875.00 and is likely behind glass somewhere, surely being gaped at by houseguests. And, for one night, I also basked in these artifacts. I took them, and their myth, very seriously. These were relics of our King, after all, and they told a big story:
Elvis was no king, he was God! His lifetime dream of being a sheriff lead to an impressive collection of sheriff's badges which came with many illegal requests to enforce the law. He monitored roads, stopped speeders, requested a full policeman’s uniform, and tried to attend a drug bust. He received many yes’s. Even from President Nixon, who appointed Elvis a Federal Agent-at-Large in the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs. Nixon gave Elvis a badge, his friends cufflinks, and added brooches after Elvis interjected, “Mr. President, they have wives, too."