Casinos were always lucky places for Elvis Presley, so maybe he left just enough luck behind to rescue a piece of his legacy blown out of a Mississippi casino by Hurricane Katrina. Or at least that's one way to look at the remarkable recovery and restoration of the badly damaged Army uniform costume Presley wore in 1960's G.I. Blues, the first movie he did after getting out of the Army himself.
The khaki costume, which he wore to sing the film's title track, had just been installed in the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Biloxi when Katrina destroyed the gambling barge just days before its grand opening in 2005. The costume, acquired by Hard Rock in 1988, floated out into the Gulf, along with other rock memorabilia collected by Hard Rock. Like so much else destroyed by Katrina, it was thought to be gone for good.
And then, incredibly, the costume washed up on shore days after the storm, complete with its Army green service cap. It was a mess — torn, stained with oil, rust and mildew, encrusted with salt and smelly. But it was still recognizable. "It's amazing to me that people would think enough to get this stuff back to us — that would not be the first thing on my mind after a storm," says Don Bernstine, head of acquisitions for Hard Rock. After 35 years of collecting, Hard Rock owns what is believed to be the largest hoard of rock artifacts in the world — 69,000 items worth about $45 million.
But the costume needed a lot of restoration work, and for that Hard Rock turned to Imperial Gown Restoration of Fairfax, Va.,which has restored garments for the Smithsonian. Steven Saidman, the company's president, says Hard Rock told him to restore the costume but not to hide what it had gone through. "Clean it, preserve it, repair the tear so that it doesn't fall apart — but that tear is now part of its history," Saidman says. After 60 hours of work over two months, at a cost of about $3,000, the restoration is complete. The costume will return to Biloxi, to be reinstalled in the rebuilt Hard Rock casino opening this summer. "We're ecstatic," Bernstine says. "This is something that can't be replaced."