I'm not a big Elvis Presley fan, but even I got goosebumps from an experience a few days ago with a promotions team from Graceland, Elvis' home in Memphis, Tenn.
It was weird sitting right across the conference room table from one of Elvis' Gibson guitars, one of his gold watches and a pair of his gold sunglasses sporting his signature logo "TCB" with a bolt of lightning (stands for "Taking Care of Business in a Flash").
Kevin Kern and Angie Marchese of Graceland brought the items to the area as part of a whirlwind road trip for Graceland, a National Historic Landmark that's marking its 70th anniversary this year.
This is the largest opening of exhibits and displays of artifacts to the public since Graceland opened for tours in 1982. They join the anniversary exhibit, which opened on Elvis' birthday in January.
"So many people relate to Elvis and his music," said Kern, director of public relations at Graceland. Marchese, director of archives, agreed.
One reason for this is that Elvis treated everyone with respect, from Hollywood stars to the person working at a gas station or guarding his front gate. That's just how he was, Marchese said, adding that his music and movies touched so many people so deeply.
Now that they've returned to Memphis, these items have joined others on display in three new major exhibits: Elvis in Hollywood, Elvis Lives: The King and Pop Culture and new items at the Elvis Presley Automobile Museum.
To protect everything in the collections, Marchese and Kern donned white gloves before unpacking anything. As she revealed Elvis' watch, Marchese talked about the music legend and how his family saved everything.
"What's on display at Graceland is all authentic -- all the furniture, everything," she said. And they continue to discover new and interesting things that were stored around the house. With such a wealth of items to work with, the displays at Graceland are changed out periodically, giving visitors an opportunity to see something different each time.
Kern said there are more than a million documents in the collections.
With 31 films to his name, the new Elvis in Hollywood exhibit focuses on such hits as "Love Me Tender" and "Jailhouse Rock." It tells the story of how he transitioned from singer to screen star. The exhibit also includes Elvis' personal copy of films, his leather-bound script and denim jacket from "Jailhouse Rock" and more.
Elvis Lives: The King and Pop Culture, on the other hand, is more interactive and gives visitors a chance to experience how Elvis has influenced pop culture as we know it today, Kern said. Through video, photos and special displays, visitors can trace Elvis' impact on music and the world. There are listening stations and more.
Then, in the Elvis Presley Automobile Museum, visitors can see both the music legend's Rolls Royce sedans and his six-door Mercedes Benz limousine, which was featured in the movie "Elvis on Tour."
When packing for the promotions tour, Kern and Marchese made sure to include one of Elvis' canceled personal checks. From his personal account, check No. 649 was dated July 28,1963, and made out to the Sahara for $2,740.80 for a three-week stay.
And then there was a contract dated March 12, 1957. Typed on onion paper, the "Jailhouse Rock" contract was for the character "Vince Edwards," which was later changed to "Vince Everett."
See, Kern pointed out, this contract and everything else in the Graceland collections has a story behind it.
Marchese finds all of it so interesting, too. With Graceland for about 20 years now, she started out as a tour guide when she was in high school. Gradually, she worked her way up in the organization and has loved every minute of it.
"I get paid to play with Elvis' stuff," she said. Really, though, she, Kern and everybody else on the staff takes what they do seriously. It is their responsibility to keep Elvis' legacy alive. But Graceland was Elvis' home, his retreat, and he was a person, not a brand.
Kern said, "Elvis was revolutionary. He was a major part of American culture."