(FORT SMITH � Building 803 at Fort Chaffee is typically indistinguishable from other World War II era buildings surrounding it. Photo David Hamal

FORT SMITH : Elvis fans want lock off barber site.

On March 25, 1958, Building 803 held one of Fort Chaffee�s barbershops � the one where Elvis Presley got his famous haircut during a three-day stay as part of his induction into the Army.

�Everyone in the U. S. knows this building exists and yet it sits here without electricity and deteriorating like the other buildings on the base,� said photographer Rick Altes, who was in a group of about 20 people who gathered Tuesday at Building 803 to commemorate the event.

The group wants to invigorate efforts to preserve the building and establish a museum.

Altes donated five snapshots taken of Presley at Fort Chaffee that he found among items in a closet at an estate sale three years ago. Altes, who purchased the closet�s contents for $ 12. 50, said he could have made thousands of dollars selling the photos.

�I couldn�t see letting this part of Fort Smith history get away,� he said.

Among those attending the anniversary commemoration Tuesday were Edith Peterson, widow of the man who cut Presley�s hair, James �Pete� Peterson; Sheila Merrill, widow of Leon Merrill who swept up Presley�s shorn locks; and Fred Kinslow who was a barber at Fort Chaffee the day of the famous haircut.

Merrill said Tuesday that none of Presley�s hair was preserved. She said a major stood by and kept an eye on her husband while he swept up Presley�s hair from the floor and put it in a trash can with the hair of the others who also had their hair cut that day.

Merrill and Peterson got a military police escort when they went to dump the can containing Presley�s hair to ensure that none of it survived to be kept or sold as souvenirs, said Carolyn Joyce of the Fort Smith Convention and Visitors Centre.

�He never regretted� not getting some of the hair, Merrill said of her husband. �He was just glad he was there.� Kinslow acquired one of the chairs from the barbershop and gave it to his son, who has the chair in the den of his Greenwood home. Kinslow isn�t sure it is the same one Presley sat in for his haircut.

�If it came out of there, it�s close enough for me,� he said.

Another chair believed to have come from the barbershop is in Lisa Thompson�s barbershop on the current Fort Chaffee.

Thompson has the Paidar brand barber chair in a section of her shop that has been turned into an Elvis Presley shrine complete with photos, documents and a pew she said Presley sat on when he attended a church service on base.

She�s had the chair for 17 years and it has become a popular attraction. It�s common for foreign soldiers training at Fort Chaffee to have their photos taken sitting in the chair, she said.

Thompson said she has been offered as much as $ 7, 000 for the chair.

Building 803 now sits on a 7, 000-acre tract called Chaffee Crossing. The U. S. Department of Defence gave up the land in the 1990 s to be redeveloped for civilian use.

The walls and roof of the building seem sound, but the interior has been gutted. The sinks and chairs are gone, but dirt outlines on the floor against one wall show where barbers � cabinets once stood and, with some imagination, where the chairs were positioned.

Ivy Owen, Fort Chaffee Redevelopment Authority�s executive director, said he would like to discuss a possible museum with the Fort Smith Convention and Visitors Bureau, which will display the photos.

Such a museum also could involve a restored barracks and the old Maness school, a pre-Fort Chaffee stone schoolhouse near the Janet Huckabee Arkansas River Valley Nature Centre, Owen said.

The idea of preserving Building 803 dates to 1996, when Beard Elementary School teacher Jan Honeycutt had students begin raising money for the preservation as a class project. She said Tuesday the project is ongoing and has raised more than $ 1, 000 so far.

2008/03/26     By Dave Hughes -

Posted:  27th. March 2008 

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