October 2, 2013
In 1967, Elvis Presley purchased a ranch located ten miles from Memphis in Horn Lake, Mississippi. Elvis named it The Circle G ranch (the G stood for "Graceland"). It would provide Elvis and his new bride, Priscilla, a place to relax, ride horses and enjoy times with friends.
However, the lack of privacy on the property would prove troublesome. Even though a ten-foot wooden fence was built around the property, that did not provide enough protection like the brick walls that surrounded Graceland. In the early 1970s, Elvis sold the ranch.
Yet, Presley always held a sentimental spot for the ranch and would go back often to visit. Knowing the attachment Elvis had for the ranch, lifelong Elvis fan, Lesley Pilling, has decided to start a campaign to "Save the Circle G" ranch and restore it to a condition where Elvis fans and people from the local community can once again enjoy it. Pilling started the "Save the Circle G" campaign and The Circle G Foundation which describes the Circle G as the place "Where the King became a Cowboy."
The Elvis Presley Examiner was recently granted an exclusive interview with the founder of the "Save the Circle G" campaign, Lesley Pilling.
1) What motivated you to start the campaign?
I’m an Elvis fan – have been since the age of 7 in 1968. Of course I’d heard of the Circle G Ranch, but when I got the chance to finally visit it during Elvis Week 2010 I was heartbroken to find it literally being allowed to rot by the roadside. I promised myself (and Elvis), there and then that I would do whatever I could to save it. I knew that if I didn’t at least give it my best shot, I would never forgive myself.
On returning home to the UK at the end of Elvis Week I launched the campaign on Facebook (Friends of Elvis – Save the Circle G Campaign) and within days it was perfectly clear that Elvis’ fans from all around the world feel exactly as I do – we have to save the ranch. In 2012 we launched the non-profit organization The Circle G Foundation. We now have representation around the world; a management team of 10 and 28 Ambassadors. We continue to go from strength to strength and supporter numbers grow on a daily basis – which continues to motivate and inspire me.
2) Why was this location special or significant to Elvis during his lifetime?
The Circle G Ranch was (and is) a very special place. Elvis bought it in 1967 as he was approaching a very significant period in his life. In May of that year he married Priscilla. They spent a large part of their honeymoon at the Circle G. The ranch was special to Elvis because it became a home away from home; a place he could escape the pressures of being ‘Elvis Presley’ and just be the ‘ordinary guy’ – riding horses, having picnics with family and friends, just the ‘normal’ things we all take for granted.
We believe Elvis could feel closer to God on the ranch – after all it was the large white cross that drew him there in the first place. During the time at the ranch he would have learned he was going to become a father – another milestone in his life. He was also approaching a cross roads in his career; the movie contracts were coming to an end – it isn’t too far fetched to consider the time he spent at the ranch enabled him see his life objectively and make decisions to better it.
3) Since Elvis decided to sell the property after a few years, why do you think it is still worth saving?
The ranch isn’t just special because of Elvis’ period of ownership; it’s of historic significance to the people of Horn Lake too. There are records of the property going back to the early 1800’s and the original ranch house was built on the site in 1893.
As fans we all realize how much Elvis loved the ranch, despite owning it for a relatively short period of time. Priscilla herself is quoted as saying that Elvis ‘found peace’ there and we have many messages from those who were there with him attesting to how special it was to him.
We have heard from several sources how Elvis returned to visit the ranch even after he’d sold it. It obviously continued to hold a very special place in heart throughout his life.
However, we have another reason. There are many Elvis sites that just focus on the ‘legend’ that is Elvis Presley. We at the Circle G Foundation want to celebrate the man behind the myth. The man whose charitable and humanitarian legacy we want to continue. It’s our goal to establish services and facilities at the ranch to benefit the disabled and the needy and those who have served in the armed forces (just as Elvis did). The Circle G ranch offers the space and potential for us to realize our dream.
4) Can you share any interesting stories or facts about the time Elvis spent at the ranch?
One of the most popular stories involves Elvis losing his wedding ring at the ranch – it has never been found!
Elvis had many horses at the ranch – some of which he moved there from the stables at Graceland.
Elvis also loved to go ‘snake hunting’ with the guys. The lake was stocked with fish, but we’re told that fishing was a little too quiet for Elvis, he preferred riding or tearing around the ranch in one of the many trucks he bought.
We have other stories in our Circle G Memory Bank. If you visit our website www.circlegfoundation.co.uk you can read one memory involving one of Elvis’ horses at the ranch and the excitement caused when she had a foal.
5) What is the current ownership status of the ranch and what exactly would be involved to "save" it?
The ranch has been in private ownership for quite sometime now and has been on the market for several years. Here at the Circle G Foundation we are constantly reaching out to investors and sponsors who have the foresight and the funding to appreciate the potential of the property and who are willing and able to help us achieve our vision. Obviously the property is currently in a serious state of disrepair. A great deal of work will be required on the solid structures, landscaping and general maintenance will be needed to bring the property up to a standard suitable for visitors.
Our vision includes providing horse riding for the disabled, cabins and accommodation to enable fans and non-fans to stay on the property. Perhaps a chapel near the cross where people could get married or renew their vows. There would be walking trails, the opportunity to see the honeymoon cottage and much, much more.
We have an excellent working relationship with the City Of Horn Lake, the Mayor and the Aldermen have been extremely supportive and we hope to work with them more in the future.
6) Are there any original artifacts or structures still left at the ranch that were there during Elvis' time?
There are some solid structures left on site. The honeymoon cottage, the stables, the cross and Elvis’ BBQ pit. They are all deteriorating at an alarming rate. However, it’s really important to remember that the Circle G is private property and it isn’t possible to ‘visit’ the site and access these things without the risk of prosecution for trespass. It doesn’t take very much imagination to realize how great it will be when fans are able to walk where Elvis walked and play where Elvis played – it will be amazing.
7) Would the purpose of saving the ranch be more to do charitable works or more as a historical landmark for Elvis fans to visit?
As previously mentioned, both these elements are important to us. Elvis fans want to see everything connected with him – and at the ranch there will be so much to see and experience. There really is no place like it in the Elvis world! The Circle G Foundation believes that it is down to the fans to continue Elvis’ charitable legacy – many fans raise money and donate to charity around the world. We hope that the ranch will be a focus for this. We want to celebrate and honor the heart of Elvis – his compassion and generous heart.
We also want the ranch to be a totally unique visitor experience, not just for Elvis fans but for a wider audience too. We want families to come to the ranch, young couples, newly-weds…..everyone. If we do this right, they will arrive as friends but leave as fans!
8) What has been the response from Elvis Presley Enterprises regarding your campaign to Save the Circle G?
We continue to reach out to Elvis Presley Enterprises and keep them fully informed of our projects and vision for the ranch. We have been told that at this time they are not looking to expand beyond the area immediately around Graceland; although it is our hope that we will be able to work with them and the Birthplace in Tupelo to establish the Elvis Golden Triangle: The Birthplace / Graceland / The Circle G. We see this as a wonderful opportunity to celebrate every aspect of Elvis.
9) What can fans do to help?
If a fan is reading this interview then they have already begun to help. Awareness of the cause is the beginning! Fans can get involved as much or as little as they like – it’s entirely up to them.
Visiting our Facebook page and ‘liking’ it is a great start. We post frequently about the importance of the ranch and our plans for it once we secure its future. Word of mouth is our biggest asset, so sharing these posts with friends and fans is a massive help – the further the word reaches the better. It’s important to remember that when we find those investors – we’ll need fan support to help us make it happen!
Fans should visit our website www.circlegfoundation.co.uk. It’s jam packed with information and stories. There’s the history of the ranch, our plans for restoration and improvements. There are also details of our Spirit of The Circle G project – check it out – it includes our plans to erect an original commissioned statue of Elvis – our Spirit Of The Circle G!
If you want to play a more active role – we have an amazing group of fans – Ambassadors for the Circle G – that are responsible for getting the word out there in any way they can – and they’ll have a hand in the plans for the future of the ranch. We are always looking for extra hands and would love any commitment big or small. Our fun group would be glad to have you!