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I’ve been to Graceland once, and the cheap necklace I bought in the gift shop with Elvis Presley’s “Taking Care of Business” lightning bolt logo dangling on a pendant broke before we got back in the car. I’ve never been a particular Elvis fan, but I love houses from the ’70s, particularly ones with lurid backstories, especially when they have well-preserved bathrooms and bedrooms. I was surprised then to find myself moved beyond measure by the neo-colonial mansion, chock 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 dying at Graceland in 1977. The tour was too short: There was so much visual stimuli in every discordant room that I couldn’t process what I was looking at. Was that a driftwood armchair in the jungle room? — I’d already moved on 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 that experience is an Instagram account I’ve become enamored of over the last year called Tiny Graceland, the 1:24 scale model of Elvis’s estate by a Toronto-based miniature artist named Heidi Athay.
Making Graceland — this monument to mirrored excess and green shag carpet — small enough to behold is an extraordinary task, and Athay’s work is remarkable. She told me over email that she’s starting with the house and driveway, but intends to eventually create the grounds and the outbuildings.
Tiny Graceland is an understandably slow-moving project, and posts are intermittent. This feels right — it’s an intimate experience seeing Athay’s thumb and forefinger handle a tiny MOVIELAND magazine in Gladys and Vernon Presley’s room, or a mini portrait of Lisa Marie by the front door, or the samurai sword stashed in the living-room drawer. The entire operation is small-scale: right now, just 4,400 people follow Tiny Graceland on Instagram, even though Athay’s work deserves 100 times more fans. Dedicated Tiny Gracelanders leave a miniature assortment of purple emoji hearts and lightning bolts in the comments to spread love in the way we imagine Elvis stans would have if he had lived long enough to see Instagram fan pages.
I’m particularly taken with her work on the bedroom and bathroom of Elvis’s parents, Gladys and Vernon. The detail is exquisite. Athay’s taken care to put miniature clothes in the closet and working lights in the chandeliers. The bed is dressed in deep purple to contrast with the pure white carpet. The room wasn’t always a part of the Graceland tour. Elvis’s mother died in 1958, and his father lived at Graceland for another two years after that. His grandmother Minnie Mae moved into their former bedroom simultaneously to a time when the other downstairs rooms around her were open for tours. She eventually moved into a room upstairs.
“All details in the bedroom are based on photos of the actual room. I’m always on the hunt for rare photos and have taken a lot of my own photos on previous visits,” Athay said. “The bathroom is all replicated from photos of the actual room, with the exception of the toilet. The toilet that’s currently there is white and appears to be a more modern update. I imagine that this would have been a matching suite in Gladys’s time, so I created my version of a lilac vintage toilet to match the sink and tub.”
When her hands aren’t in the frame for perspective, I’ve found myself mistaking her work for any other life-size photo on my Instagram timeline. Tiny Graceland’s attention to detail is so exacting that the entire operation feels almost lurid in the same way my attempts to peek around the stanchions and ropes at big Graceland felt voyeuristic. The Graceland tour doesn’t take you to Elvis’s private upstairs rooms — including the bathroom where he died — and neither will Tiny Graceland’s out of respect for the Presley family.
I have, of course, become obsessed with finding photos of the upstairs of Graceland, with little luck. The furthest I’ve gotten is this fuzzy photo set with Linda Thompson on the bed in one and his dog named Getlo in another. I’ll have to live with the fact that the upstairs of Graceland will never be mine to see. But the minis at Tiny Graceland offer an opportunity to carefully study the larger-than-life legacy the king left behind, so that it’s like Elvis never left the building at all.
Previously: A Place for Funny Stories That Don’t Matter