Graceland is having a blue Christmas, a really blue Christmas. The blue lights Elvis Presley chose to outline his driveway have been joined by 2 million more lights, mostly blue, that twinkle like stars in the night.
For the first Christmas since Presley's death 22 years ago, something belonging to someone other than Elvis has been displayed at his home.
That someone is Jennings Osborne, known as the king of lights in his home town of Little Rock, Ark., a man with a serious (and to some, bothersome) affection for illumination.
Osborne arrived at Graceland in September with his designs.
These were not ordinary Christmas lights that Osborne wanted to use. He offered a 40-foot, netlike wall of blue lights supporting the words "Peace on Earth" spelled out in golden lights. Then there would be large, futuristic-looking, sail-shaped Christmas trees made of blue lights and topped with golden stars. And why not little angels wearing gowns of blue lights and fluttering gold wings?
Graceland, which is run by a trust, said okay. All of that can go out in the back pasture.
But wait, he had an even bigger idea. How about a 100-foot tree of blue lights with a 12-foot Elvis-like figure on top? The figure would dance and play the guitar, and Elvis's trademark of lightning bolts with the letters TCB ("Taking Care of Business") would shoot out from his feet.
The perfect spot for that, said the officials, would be across from the mansion in the plaza that houses the museums and gift shop. Osborne was relieved; he had worried about how Elvis's fans would feel about this invasion of their hallowed grounds. "I didn't want to make anybody mad. I had enough when I had my lights on my house," he said.
Osborne and his family created spectacular holiday decorations at their home from 1986 to 1993. Red lights covered their 22,000-square-foot house and spread out across the grounds. Christmas trees of lights towered 80 feet over it all. The display was so brilliant that pilots could spot it from the air as far as 80 miles away.
The neighbors grew weary of the gawker traffic jams and the music played from 40 loudspeakers. They went to court to have the whole thing declared a nuisance.
Eventually, the Arkansas Supreme Court ordered the display shut down and told Osborne if he did anything further to cause a nuisance he would be fined $10,000. When a family arrived to see the lights a few minutes after the court's order, Osborne couldn't resist. He flipped the switch back on.
"It was a quick $10,000," he recalled, not without pleasure. Today, one lonely angel cries outside his house.
Osborne is the founder of a medical testing company. His life revolves around three things: Christmas lights, barbecues and fireworks. During the year, Osborne, his wife and a small staff travel to small towns with trucks loaded with food, and everyone in the town is invited to come eat and stay for the fireworks. Like the lights, these events are gifts from Osborne.
His lighting shows are spreading. A few years ago, Walt Disney World invited him to bring his lights to Orlando. Around Arkansas, the state Capitol and 32 other sites have been "Osborneized." And now Graceland.
The Graceland display is behind the mansion in the pasture where Lisa Marie once played with her pony, Mariah. The blue angels hover not far from the Meditation Garden, where Elvis, his mother, father and grandmother are buried.
On a recent chilly evening, Elvis's voice filled the air from a nearby public address system. "I'll be home on Christmas Day," he sang.
"This is like walking in a winter wonderland," said Jeff Renk, a teacher and writer from Boise, Idaho. "It's so amazing. Nothing beats Elvis Presley singing soft Christmas songs. The angels are wonderful. This is what Christmas is all about."
Ramona Davis of Nashville, Ind., did not share Renk's enthusiasm. "I loved the tour of the house, but I don't like the decorations. They should leave it the way it was."