Pigeon Forge, Tennessee
The "world's largest private collection of Elvis memorabilia," has been a fixture in the Gatlinburg/Pigeon Forge tourist mecca since shortly after the King's demise. It began even earlier, in 1971, when Elvis took off his belt and gave it to museum founder Mike Moon (the belt now has a place of honor at the front of the museum). Many of the display descriptions here suggest that The King's idea of a "gift" was to give away his used stuff -- but do you really want someone else's sweaty clothes? The answer is indisputably "Yes," if the sweat came from Elvis.
The Museum's claustrophobic black hallways thread their way through a world of immoderate cars, coats, jewelry, and firearms. Elvis's gold karate card is a featured exhibit, as is his safety-orange toilet seat cover and furry bathroom scale.
His "Shazam" pimp hat is here, so named because an awestruck Elvis uttered, "Shazam!" when he first saw it. The hat went well with Elvis's 1973 Lincoln Continental, also here, with its fur-lined doors, back-seat bar, and television. "He saw it in the movie 'Shaft'," a sign explains, "and liked it so well that he purchased it for his own personal use."
What makes an Elvis museum special are the otherwise mundane items that are now display-worthy simply because they were once touched by The King. Where else, for example, would people pay to see someone else's bedroom sheets, or his swim trunks, or his set of World Book Encyclopedias?
Elvis, a sign informs us, "owned an extensive personal library of books," and the examples on display include a dog-eared copy of The Omen and a slip-covered edition of The Art of Living, whose aphorisms were later turned into a line of Hallmark greeting cards.
The first dollar that Elvis ever earned is juxtaposed with a special Bicentennial edition of the Bible. Then there are the famous fan panties -- several pair of silk lingerie underpants, hurled by female admirers onto the stage at Elvis concerts, and then draped by Elvis over the head of his bass singer, J.D. Sumner. "These panties were saved by J.D. as a reminder of the fun-loving practical joker Elvis was."
Elvis's Drug Enforcement Agency sweat suit is exhibited as well, although not in any ironic way.
Tragedy and mortality are liberally applied here. Visitors can see Elvis's last tour bottles of Brute cologne and Prell shampoo, his last tube of Crest toothpaste, and "ace bandages used for wrapping his ankles swollen from weight gain." His final sunglasses and racquetball are displayed separately from the other exhibits, as both were used on the day before he died.
Rival Elvis collections have fallen off of the charts, including the Elvis-A-Rama Experience and the Elvis Is Alive! Museum. But the Pigeon Forge museum continues its long run, part of a complex that includes the obligatory Elvis gift shop as well as the unique "TCB Suite," where fans can spend the night surrounded by Elvis collectibles -- as if they could sleep after seeing artifacts such as Elvis's solid state Panasonic pop-up mini-TV and two sets of his x-rays.