Saturday, August 16, 1997
Long live the kitschy King!
Local collectors cherish all things Elvis from before and after his death 20 years ago today

BY MIKE PULFER
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Elvis
Barbara Bennett of Highland Heights hugs her life-size cutout of Elvis.
(Yoni Pozner photo)
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For Barbara Bennett, Elvis has not left the building.

But then, why would he want to? He's got his own room in the Bennett house, dedicated exclusively to the sole focus of a collector gone off the deep end. Or so some of Mrs. Bennett's friends contend.

Actually, she's a sane (well, pretty much sane) vice president of a Newport printing company who visits Graceland once a year, usually returning with more memorabilia for the overflowing room upstairs at her Highland Heights house.

Mrs. Bennett, 42, has attended Elvis Presley memorial ceremonies in Memphis for the past 12 years. She returned to Graceland Thursday and Friday for events leading to today's 20th anniversary of Elvis' death.

"I have to be there for the candlelight services," Mrs. Bennett says. "It's like a whole part of me would be missing if I didn't go."

When you enter Mrs. Bennett's "Elvis room," the first thing you see is Elvis in leather. There he stands, a life-size cutout ready to greet you.

Elvis
Elvis plates from the Bradford Exchange.
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After that, there's no avoiding him. Sun in your eyes? Pull the Elvis curtains. Hungry? Eat something from an Elvis plate. Late? Check one of the Elvis clocks or watches.

In the mood for some music or a movie? Well, guess what you'll find among the dozens of video tapes, albums and compact discs? And there's more. Elvis postcards and trading cards, books, pictures, autographs and trinkets.

"Some of the stuff is worth some money," Mrs. Bennett says, "but not a whole lot."

Her husband, Jim, encourages her. "If he's out somewhere and sees something I'd like for the collection, he would buy it for me." He even goes golfing on Friday nights so she can have her weekly date with Elvis on videotape.

"I come home from work, fix something to eat, pull out one of his movies and watch it," she says. Every week. "It's my Elvis night."

Elvis, she says, appeared in 33 movies, and she owns 29.

Elvis
Barbara Bennett's Elvis wristwatch.
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Steve Chuke, an Elvis impersonator who runs a Newport jewelry store part of the time and concentrates on Elvis collections and Elvis performances the rest, particularly is fond of his Elvis jewelry - rings, bracelets and necklace - and a console RCA Victrola stereo reportedly once owned by the King.

"It came out of the Jungle Room" at Graceland, says Mr. Chuke, who has researched the stereo and talked with Elvis' relatives and employees at the Presley mansion to learn its history.

Another Elvis collector, Tom Moehringer, a 36-year-old corporate marketing executive from Kennedy Heights, prefers "the campy aspect of the King," which includes key chains, playing cards, shot glasses and refrigerator magnets. He cherishes the baby-blue-and-white desk lamp built on a bust of an ample 1970s' Elvis in sunglasses and ascot.

"By choice, I like the stupid stuff, the amusing stuff . . . mostly for the humor value," Mr. Moehringer says.

Is his collection valuable? "Only in the eye of the beholder," he says.

Elvis
Elvis' likeness is everywhere.
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Mr. Moehringer, who organizes a local "Bowl with Elvis" party every February, is in Memphis this weekend. Sunday he will compete in the Elvis Presley International 5K run, which has its finish line at the gates of Graceland.

Mrs. Bennett has her special time at Graceland, too. "I sit at Graceland Mall and wait for the crowds to thin out, and then I go up to the grave site about 4 or 5 in the morning."

Mrs. Bennett's husband didn't accompany her to Memphis this week. He supports her devotion to Elvis, but only so far.

"He says, 'I love you and I love what you're doing.' But when I tried to move some of the Elvis stuff to our bedroom, he said that's where we draw the line."