I can hardly be the first traveler to visit Graceland and Rowan Oak, William Faulkner's Mississippi estate, on back-to-back days, given that Memphis and Oxford are only an hour and a half apart, but I didn't expect the two would resonate so strongly with each other for me. I don't remember ever putting these two icons of the 20th century South (and children of northern Mississippi) in the same thought, but spending time in the oddly similar structures they lived most of their lives in made the echoes of one present in the other.
The differences are obvious: Graceland is the definition of glorious tackiness (though I have to say I found it rather tastefully so--at least in the divine, fabric-wrapped pool room and the appropriately exuberant TV room) while Rowan Oak is almost Shaker in its spareness of furniture and ornament. And Graceland is truly tacky in the layers of souvenir hawking that have encrusted themselves around the property, while Rowan Oak has nothing for sale and is hard to find even if you are looking for it (how many Old Taylor Roads are there in Oxford?), despite its being, like Graceland, the biggest tourist spot in its town.
At Graceland you are necessarily (though not inhumanely) herded along from room to room with no real chance to meander, while at Rowan Oak the host takes your five dollars and goes back to her reading, giving you the run of the place for the most part. Visiting in what I take to be the offseason, with Ole Miss out of session and the temperature around 90, I saw no one else while I poked around the building and wandered the ample and whisperingly quiet grounds alone for many minutes until finally a young couple, who had come across the place by accident, asked if you needed to pay to get in.
And of course at Rowan Oak, there are no neighboring exhibits of the author's personal jets or car collection, nor is there a separate building constructed for racquetball, though there is a smokehouse.
But the homes themselves are of similar size (at least to my perception, though Rowan Oak has no basement and in Graceland you aren't allowed upstairs) and present themselves similarly, with pillars but no front porch and a second-floor balcony. (There's an architectural name for this style that I should know but don't.) And for all their differences in "taste," they represented something similar for their owners, who each bought them in the first years of their success and never traded up, returning to them for decades (both after long sojourns in Hollywood) and remaking them in their images over time. Both kept horses, and both raised a single daughter there. And Faulkner may not have favored sequins and white jumpsuits but he looks quite the dandy in his red-jacketed riding outfit in a painting in the parlor.
There is no doubt an excellent dissertation to be written (and it may well already have been) about these two men, each of them both radical and conservative in the ways they brought the racial and sexual passions of their place and time to the surface while declining the role of rebels. But rather than theorize any more, I'll just present some visual comparisons on their own terms, which arose almost without planning on my part while I photographed whatever I wanted to remember (okay, I did take Faulkner's wallpaper with just this comparison in mind).
The approach (that's my younger son in front of Graceland--I couldn't convince either of them to join me at Rowan Oak):
The dining room and chandelier:
The wallpaper (Elvis's, if I remember right, is from his downstairs bathroom, while Faulkner's I believe was used throughout the front hall and stairway):
And the beverages. Elvis's are from the bar in his custom jet, Lisa Marie (the audio guide avers that he didn't like alcohol and preferred sodas), while Faulkner's are on display in a hall case. Everyone agrees that he did like alcohol.