Elvis and Hollywood Legends Museum
Pigeon Forge, Tennessee
In the forty-something years since Elvis left the building forever, his estate has systematically bought out and closed down nearly all Elvis attractions not officially licensed by Elvis Presley Enterprises, Inc. That makes the Elvis and Hollywood Legends Museum a rare independent survivor. Although small, it's worth a visit just to see a side of Elvis not counter-stamped by the suits at Graceland.
Elvis might enjoy this museum, which has been in Pigeon Forge in various forms since 1979 (Its latest incarnation debuted in 2014). Most of its artifacts were bestowed by Elvis on friends and favored employees. Elvis was always giving away his old stuff, even his underwear, a habit that was praised by all who knew him, as the gifts sometimes included luxury cars and diamond-encrusted jewelry. "Little did we know," says Mike Moon on the museum's audio tour, "that the generosity of Elvis giving his personal items to friends would help keep his legend alive."
Mike has collected Elvisabilia ever since The King gave him his belt in 1971. He's joined on the audio commentary (and accompanying museum guidebook) by Donnie Sumner, who lived at Graceland as one of Elvis's backup singers. The two combine to explain why every item you see is worthy of being in a museum.
The yellow 1954 Cadillac Coupe de Ville, for example, was driven by Jerry Lee Lewis into Elvis's famous pink Cadillac when the two grown men played chicken on the streets of Memphis. The significance of Elvis's velour "Shazam!" hats is explained (Elvis called all of his Superfly-inspired hats "Shazam!") as is the story behind Elvis's snub-nose revolver, whose filed-down hammer allowed him to quick-draw without snagging the silk lining of his coat.
One exhibit is devoted to the legendary LA-to-Memphis flight where Elvis ordered the pilot to land in Denver so he could order a peanut butter and banana sandwich. The restaurant also delivered a bottle of champagne, which Elvis refused to drink (It's on display). "Elvis had peanut butter on his clothes and the carpet of the plane while enjoying the sandwich," according to Donnie and Mike.
Separate displays showcase Elvis's karate paraphernalia; his wedding reception ice bucket; his bathing suits, beverage cooler, and personal Frisbee. In the Jewelry Vault section of the museum are gaudy watches purchased by Elvis in 1973, and his famous TCB Ring, "designed by Elvis himself," displayed on a rotating pedestal surrounded by fake gold nuggets.
Another showcase features the first dollar Elvis ever earned, which he signed and dated April 23, 1951. Elvis supposedly placed this in a church collection plate during a revival meeting, "the beginning of a lifetime of generosity" according to Donnie and Mike. Elvis, among his many talents, could apparently travel through time, as the "Series 1935F" dollar bill he signed in 1951 wasn't printed by the government until 1957! But is there anything Elvis couldn't do?
The "Hollywood Legends" portion of the attraction seems unnecessary (all stars pale in comparison to Elvis), although we were delighted to see President Ford's gold-plated golf putter in the same museum as Robin Williams' rainbow suspenders from Mork & Mindy. One of the two canoes from the film Deliverance is here, too; the other was in the now-gone Burt Reynolds and Friends Museum.
Items that you will never find in a Graceland-licensed attraction include relics from Elvis's final concert, such as his asthma inhaler and his yellow blow dryer, still set to "style." A pair of disco-tinted glasses, which Elvis wore to the dentist, were the last that ever covered his face. A racquetball racket, along with a ball painted black, were used by The King at Graceland mere hours before his untimely death. "I often wonder if this hard game of racquetball contributed to the heart failure Elvis suffered that night," says Mike. "We will never know for sure."
Mike Moon was quoted in a 1987 interview as being surprised that people would want to see Elvis Presley's everyday items, such as his rotary phone and garage door opener (Both are displayed here). Elvis, who loved being the center of attention, probably would be thrilled that they still draw the faithful and the curious, well into the 21st century. "Just another reason," according to Mike and Donnie, "to say, 'Thanks, Elvis, we sure miss you.'"