A new exhibit opening March 12 at the Newseum in Washington, D.C. will look at Elvis Presley as the groundbreaking media phenomenon who changed the way celebrity is covered by journalists.
Some of the artifacts of his life to be displayed have never before been made public, even at Graceland, according to exhibit curator Cathy Trost. They include a leather Harley Davidson jacket and an original acetate recording of his first appearance on "The Louisiana Hayride" radio show, in 1954.
The Newseum is a journalism museum that includes television studios, Pulitzer Prize-winning photographs and iconic items showing technical breakthroughs in news coverage. "Elvis! His Groundbreaking, Hip-Shaking, Newsmaking Story" will run through Feb. 14 of next year.
Elvis Presley Enterprises has cooperated fully in the venture and has sent such items as the original keys to Graceland and the King's first Grammy Award, from 1968, for the album "How Great Thou Art." Of course, there will be a costume cape and belt.
"It really gave us a chance and an opportunity to explore how Elvis really impacted American pop culture and how the media not only helped create Elvis but also, kind of in the beginning, helped spur all the controversy," said Graceland's director of archives Angie Marchese.
It's a big year for Elvis in the nation's capital. Already, to commemorate his 75th birthday, The National Archives has showcased his quixotic, 1970 visit to Richard Nixon's Oval Office. The Smithsonian Institution's National Portrait Gallery is displaying "One Life: Echoes of Elvis" through Aug. 22 and screened "Viva Las Vegas" earlier this month. In October, the gallery will have the traveling "Elvis at 21: Photographs of Alfred Wertheimer" that's now in Los Angeles.
"One of the cool things that is going to be part of the Newseum exhibit is the jacket that Elvis was wearing when he met Nixon," said Marchese (pronounced Mar-kay-see), who started out as a Graceland summer tour guide in high school. "When I brought the artifacts up there last week, when I landed in Washington, it kind of ran through my mind that this jacket has not been here since 1970 when Elvis wore it. It was kind of one of those surreal moments."
Airport Transportation Security Administration agents needed a second look at Elvis' gold belt worn at the same White House meeting because, "When you send it through the X-ray, it did not look like a belt," Marchese said.
According to Kenneth A. Paulson, the Newseum's president and CEO, the genesis of the idea of an Elvis exhibit came from Commercial Appeal editor Chris Peck.
Peck said efforts to build a stronger relationship between the newspaper and Graceland started with brainstorming last summer, then led to Peck's call to Paulson. They talked about the news media's role in building the myth and image of the King of Rock 'n' Roll, and then in helping in the destruction of the image with criticism of his comeback and his handling of "various demons," Peck said.
"Sometimes it's easy to dismiss or diminish the importance of a regional newspaper in a hyperactive media world, but in fact the Elvis exhibit at the Newseum is a great example of the old saw that newspapers are the first rough draft of history," said Peck.