When you think of important landmarks in American history, Elvis’ Graceland mansion might not be the first thing that comes to mind. The U.S. Capitol, the Empire State Building, Lexington Green where the shot heard ’round the world was fired in 1775— those are landmarks. But in March 2006, the U.S. Department of the Interior officially designated the King’s Memphis castle as a National Historic Landmark, the highest honor bestowed by the federal government on culturally and historically significant properties. “It would be difficult to tell the story of the 20th century without discussing the many contributions made by this legendary, iconic artist,” said then Interior Secretary Gale Norton.
Graceland is regularly ranked as one of the five most visited house museums in the country, in addition to Biltmore, the Vanderbilt family estate in North Carolina; William Randolph Hearst’s San Simeon estate in California; and George Washington’s Mount Vernon and Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello estates, both in Virginia. The mansion opened to the public in 1982 and draws more than 600,000 visitors annually. It is the most recognizable residence in America after the White House.
Elvis is not the only musical icon to be honored in this way. The homes of John Coltrane in Philadelphia, Duke Ellington in New York City and Louis Armstrong in nearby Queens are also National Historic Landmarks.
Originally published in the August 2007 issue of American History. To subscribe, click here.