Angie Marchese got a summer job as a Graceland tour guide and never left. Now, as the Vice President of Archives and Exhibits, Angie “gets paid to play with Elivis’s stuff.” But it’s no small task to manage the million-plus documents and artifacts that continue to be uncovered. Angie has a limitless desire to build a complete picture of Elvis’s life and career and to share those findings with the world. She’s famous to Graceland and Elvis devotees, and we think you’ll adore her, too. Meet this fascinating FACE of the South, and get a glimpse of Graceland at Christmastime!
Tell me a bit about your younger years. How did you end up in this incredible role at Graceland?
I was born in Tampa and raised in Jacksonville. My dad was in the transportation business, and his job transferred him to Memphis in 1987. I thought my life was over. I’d lived 15 minutes from the beach my entire life, and now I’m moving to Memphis?! My first weekend here, my dad brought us to Graceland. I thought, Wow, this guy was pretty cool. I knew who Elvis was because Mom loved him and always played his records at the house on Saturdays.
My high school guidance counselor suggested I become a tour guide at Graceland. At that point, Graceland needed over 120 tour guides to make the operation work every summer, and they actively recruited drama kids and high schoolers who needed summer jobs. We were doing verbal spills back then for sometimes 13 or 14 hours a day.
Give us an overview of what you manage at Graceland.
My job is to maintain the collection of artifacts that Elvis left here at Graceland and the things we’ve acquired. Vernon, Elvis’s dad, kept everything. So if Elvis bought something, we have the receipt, the check he paid for it with, and the thing itself. We acquired his manager, Colonel Tom’s collection, in the early nineties, and he did the same thing. He kept telegrams, contracts, letters, handwritten notes, transcribed notes, and more. So our collection tells both sides of the story: Elvis’s personal life here at Graceland through his dad’s collection and his career life through Colonel Parker’s. When we combine the two, we get a complete picture of what was happening at any time during Elvis’s life.
What’s this time of year like at Graceland leading up to the holidays?
Elvis loved Christmas. It was his favorite holiday, and I love keeping those traditions alive. We turn the Christmas lights on when Elvis did. He would put the lights up right before Thanksgiving, and they stayed up until his birthday (January 8). The whole house takes on a new feeling during Christmas because we decorate it with Elvis’s original Christmas decorations. So when you’re going through the mansion, you can imagine Elvis’s family, friends, and entourage having Christmas dinner around the dining room table or exchanging gifts.
What’s a typical workday like for you?
There is no typical workday. I could be leading a VIP tour for a celebrity in town, digging through boxes in the archives, or going through documents to figure out a hot topic question like, did Elvis ever drink Pepsi, and do we have receipts for it? Or what was Elvis’s favorite cologne? Things like that. Inquiring minds want to know. When we plan our next exhibit, I’m getting graphics and text, designing layouts, and figuring out how this exhibit will work. How are people going to interact with it? How’s it going to flow?
Are you still adding things to the collection?
We do. Many people show up when somebody in the family passes away who was a huge Elvis fan. They’ll find a vast Elvis collection of records, magazines, or memorabilia and call us because they don’t know what to do with it. We have our fingers on the heartbeat of the Elvis collectible world. We consistently look at auction houses to see what’s out in the world that we could possibly reacquire to the collection if it helps tell a missing part of the story. We’re a very active archive. A lot of people donate artwork, and we still get fan mail!
Writer’s note: I cannot stop watching Angie’s “random unboxing” videos where she unveils and discusses fascinating Elvis memorabilia:
What’s a common misconception people have about Elvis? About Graceland?
This might not be a misconception, but it’s a perception. A lot of our guests are huge fans, but some are just driving through Memphis and want to see the shag carpet on the wall. But when they come to Graceland, it’s like walking into someone’s life versus “here are some gold records and some jumpsuits and everything he accomplished.” You’re walking into someone’s home. He is a legendary music icon, but he was a father, a son, and a friend. He had good days and bad days.
The funny thing is that Graceland was a mansion in 1939 times. But it’s not a mega-mansion that we think of today. So I hear, “Wow, it’s smaller than I thought it would be,” a lot. Elvis bought Graceland in 1957 when he was only 22, and he paid a little over $100,000 for it. It was 10,000 square feet. I mean, my house isn’t even 10,000 square feet today! I can’t imagine what it felt like at 22 to be able to buy this mansion for his parents with all this land.
Have you encountered a piece of memorabilia with a particularly fantastic story or place in your heart?
When I first got to the Archives, we were preparing to open up a bedroom for tours. Elvis’s Aunt Delta lived in the room, and it was Elvis’s grandma’s grandma’s room and Elvis’ parents’ bedroom before that. As we cataloged everything where it was found, I came across an old wicker trunk in a closet. At the bottom was a shoebox with lots of photos from the early 50s, and some were of Elvis in a photo booth practicing his look at age 15. There were pictures from fans, especially from Texas, who took pictures of Elvis in concert in the 50s and sent them to his mom. I guess if you can’t get to Elvis, you get to Mom.
Then, I found a graduation program and tassel from high school. I thought, “Wow, that is so special.” Because that’s just a mom saving this memento of her son. Elvis was the first Presley to actually graduate high school. It’s still one of my favorite pieces in the archives. Elvis’s wallet is another one of my favorite artifacts because he kept everything in it. There’s a movie ticket stub, a newspaper article, and business cards with phone numbers written on them. There’s a picture of him and Lisa. It’s crammed full of everything, just like my wallet is.
What’s something that people are often surprised to learn about you?
I guess that I’m a walking Elvis encyclopedia. Not only do I do all of the exhibits, but you can also find all of us on the front driveway or passing out iPads if we’re busy. People will say, “You’re Angie, aren’t you?” And I’m like, “Yes, I am. And this is how your iPad works today. And if you have any questions, please let me know.” It surprises people that I’m on the front line.
Where can we find you on your days off?
Either in Italy or at a Yankees game. My husband’s from New York. We met at a sports bar, but I didn’t follow baseball until I met him.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received, and from whom?
“Never ask anybody to do something you’re unwilling to do, have done, or won’t do right next to them.” It’s the best management advice I was ever given, and it was from the person who hired me here.
Besides faith, family, and friends, name three things you couldn’t live without.
Lots of coffee, my Yankees, and my mindless TV.
And one final “lightning round” of questions:
Can’t-miss hidden gem at Graceland: The new jumpsuit exhibit “Dress To Rock”
Favorite hidden gem in the South: Covington, GA. Yes, from Vampire Diaries, but it’s just such a charming small town!
Last vacation: Rome, Italy. (My daughter moved there and hasn’t come back yet!)
On your bedside table: My alarm clock, water, and Excedrin
Go-to birthday present (to give): A bottle of wine and wine glasses
Thank you, Angie, for chatting with us. What a treat! All photos were submitted by Angie Marchese or taken from Elvis Presley’s Graceland Facebook page. If you enjoyed reading about Angie, check out our pieces on Marion Keisker and Priscilla Presley.
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