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June 22, 2013

Graceland Before Elvis

Graceland, Before Elvis

By Michael Lollar, 
Memphis Commercial Appeal 
Thursday, January 8, 2009


Ruth Cobb is one of the few people outside Elvis Presley's family to visit the upstairs of Graceland. It was before it opened as a tourist attraction, and Cobb, who lived there before Elvis, soon learned her old upstairs bedroom had been turned into a music room.

Cobb visited in 1967 at the invitation of Elvis' grandmother, and later when the Presley family planned to turn the home into a tourist attraction. It reminded Cobb of her own music career and left her slightly quizzical about a few decorating changes.


Charles and Ruth Cobb, who were residents of Graceland, show a photograph of Ruth's father, surgeon Thomas D. Moore, with one of the family's registered polled Herefords at Graceland Barn, taken in the 1950s.

"We did not have a jungle room growing up," she says. There was also no fabric on the ceiling of the billiard room in her day.

"We didn't have a billiard room," she says.

Other distinctive touches added during Elvis' ownership of Graceland drew little attention from Cobb, but there was one: "Elvis didn't like the chandelier we had in the dining room. It came from New Orleans. He put up some garish thing."

As part of this week's observations of Elvis' birthday, Graceland is celebrating its 70th anniversary, and mementos of its early years are part of a new tour.

Cobb, 82, and her husband, retired lawyer Charles Cobb, 86, married in 1948. She had grown up at Graceland as an only child. When she married Charles Cobb, they remained at Graceland with her parents at first while Ruth toured the country as part of a professional harp ensemble. She would later become harpist for the Memphis Symphony Orchestra from 1953 to 1973.

Her father, Dr. Thomas Moore, was a prominent surgeon and urologist. Her mother, Ruth Brown Moore, was a volunteer who enjoyed club work and became president of the Tennessee Association of Garden Clubs. They built Graceland in 1939, naming it for Ruth's great aunt, Grace Toof, who had left the farm to Ruth's grandmother.
The grandmother divided her 520-acre farm into three parts, leaving it to her three children. Two of them sold their shares to Ruth's father.

The house on 20 acres began as what Ruth Cobb calls "just a comfortable country home." It would become as familiar to America as Tara, Scarlett O'Hara's home in "Gone With the Wind," and it would rival Monticello, Mount Vernon and other once-private homes among the biggest tourist attractions in the country.
There, Ruth's father taught her to shoot well enough that she once downed three geese with a single shot. He also taught her to fish in a 25-acre manmade lake behind the house. But her first love was music. Ruth played the piano, but she loved the harp, studying, then touring with one of the world's leading harpists, Carlos Salzedo.
Her favorite music was classical, but Ruth says she liked all music from country to Elvis' music. "I wasn't really crazy about his music, but my mother marveled at his hymns," she says. When her mother decided the property was more than she wanted to keep up, she asked Ruth and Charles if they would like to stay.
"We just didn't have time to take care of a big house," says Charles. "It cost $1,000 a month to keep it up. The yard alone was like trying to take care of a golf course. We had a yard man who worked two to three days a week."
When the property was put up for sale, Ruth said there were three potential buyers -- Sears Roebuck Co.; a private party who wanted to turn it into an exclusive restaurant, and Elvis. By then, most of the surrounding land had been sold to developers for a subdivision, and the lake behind the house had been drained. Ruth says a church, Graceland Christian Church, wanted to buy 5 acres on the northwest corner of the property.
Sears and the restaurant interests did not want to split the 5 acres off for the church, but Elvis said he would be glad to have a church next door, she says. That helped seal the deal. Elvis bought the property for $102,000 in 1957.
When the church next door, Graceland Christian Church, eventually decided to move, the Presley family bought back the land and turned the church into the headquarters of Elvis Presley Enterprises.
Ruth and Charles built their own home in Coro Lake and later moved to Central Gardens before retiring to Trezevant Manor.

Charles met Elvis during the closing on the sale of Graceland, but Ruth never met him. She has since returned to Graceland as a tourist with her grandchildren. "I thoroughly enjoyed it, but it didn't feel like home," she says.

Life at Graceland before Elvis, narrated by former resident Ruth Moore Cobb.

Published Jan. 6, 2009

Do you know that?

Mrs. Virginia Grant, the relator (real estate agent) that sold Graceland to

Elvis afterwards wrote a booklet of the transaction.

Here's the short version;

Mrs. Grant accidentally met with Gladys outside one of Memphis' major

department stores, Lowenstein's East, Feb. 11th 1957. When she walked out of

the store she noticed "the most gorgeous pink Cadillac I have ever seen".

After learning that it's Gladys sitting inside "this beautiful vehicle" she

raps on the closed window to get her attention and they start to chat.

Gladys learn that Mrs. Grant is in fact a relator, who remarks,

"I heard that you folks would be interested in finding a good farm".

Gladys said this

was untrue but they actually would like to find a few acres with a big house

somewhere out of town. Grant then said that she had a nice seven-acre site.

But as Gladys and Vernon (who was inside the store when Grant talked with

Gladys) was leaving that very day for LA to visit with Elvis they would

instead welcome any referrals when they got back home again. Then on

Saturday the week after Vernon calls her and he wants to see the house she

had talked about. After the party (Grant, Vernon and Gladys) arrives at the

site, Grant detects only a vague interest and writes in her booklet, "I had

made the error of showing them property of a much lesser value than they

expected to buy. Fortunately for me I discovered my mistake immediately...".

Gladys then asks her, "Don't you have anything to show us with a Colonial

home?". Although the Graceland listing was with another relator, and the

fact that Mrs. Grant had never even been in the house, that's what she

suggested, "Oh yes, on Highway 51 South as you approach Whitehaven Plaza,

there is the most beautiful Colonial mansion which a friend of mine has for

sale - it's thirteen beautiful acres too". Gladys wanted to see the house

that very day, and loved it, as did Vernon. By 6 pm. Mrs. Grant had their

offer, contingent on the approval of Elvis, not later than 8 pm. the

following Monday.

When Monday came Elvis showed up early, and slowly walked through Graceland

for the first time and sat down with the piano. He got up and remarked,

"This place sure needs a lot of work done on it".

Mrs. Grant's heart sank.

Then he continued, "This is going to be a lot nicer than Red Skelton's house

when I get it like I want it".

Mrs. Grant's heart soared.

Elvis was ready to sign, and he wanted to close the deal as soon as

possible. The story was also, as I understand it, well covered in Memphis

Press-Scimitar with daily coverage of the house buying for almost a week.

Elvis told the reporter; "I want the darkest blue there is for my room, with

a mirror that will cover one side of the room. I probably will have a black

bedroom suit, trimmed in white leather, with a white rug". He also said he

intended to have a hi-fi receiver in every room and that he wanted the

entrance hall painted to resemble the sky with clouds on the ceiling and

dozens of tiny lights for stars.

Gladys commented, "I think I'm going to like this new home", while Vernon

complained, "We just had the old place fixed up like we wanted it, now we

have to start all over again...".

Elvis also remarked on the basement bathrooms were marked "Boys" and

"Girls", and that he thought that the first thing the house needed was a

swimming pool on the south side of the house with a large sunken patio

leading up to the pool. He also said that he wanted a six-foot stone fence

across the front and up the sides of the property, (the wall also made it

easy for Gladys to have her chickens again, and to hang out washing behind

Graceland as it was not so easy for fans to grab the clothes with the

fence). Elvis also noted the house had garage place for only four cars...