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|SHEAR HISTORY AT FORT CHAFFEE
July 26, 2016 - Democrat Gazette / Elvis Express Radio
|FORT CHAFFEE -- Today it would be covered live on Fox News, CNN and MSNBC (though probably not on C-SPAN). Color photos would go viral almost instantly across the rippling
universe of social media. The subject might even take a selfie of his shearing.
On March 24, 1958, in the last monochrome decade before color TV, the event spawned mere snippets of black-and-white film shown hours later on the evening news. Still
photographs, also in black and white, had to wait for the next editions of daily newspapers across the land.
What they portrayed was newly inducted Pvt. Elvis Presley getting his initial Army haircut at Fort Chaffee. That clip job on the budding King of Rock 'n' Roll is presented with
nostalgia-sparking detail at Chaffee Barbershop Museum on the former military base southeast of Van Buren.
Opened in 2008, the museum is part of Chaffee Crossing Historic District, established as a commercial development after the fort was closed to active-duty service in 1995.
Also on the site is the Museum of Chaffee History, with unexpectedly interesting exhibits on the former Army base. Visitors are reminded that Fort Chaffee at various times housed
German prisoners of war, South Vietnamese refugees, so-called Marielitos fleeing Fidel Castro's Cuba, and survivors of Hurricane Katrina.
Barber chairs are lined up in the room where Presley got his haircut on the day he was inducted. He'd been informed months earlier that he'd be drafted, then given a delay in
reporting to finish the Hollywood filming his fourth film, King Creole.
Propped in one chair is a cardboard silhouette of the 23-year-old rock star and barber Pete Peterson. As the photograph shows, Presley was spared the standard buzz cut that
skinned new soldiers down to the scalp. He still could run a comb through the hair left on his head, although the sideburns and duck-tail pompadour were gone. He'd asked for no
special treatment, but evidently got a bit of it here.
One photograph shows Presley blowing a wisp of hair from the palm of his hand as Peterson looks on. The rock star is said to have quipped: "Hair today, gone tomorrow" --
definitely a groan-worthy pun.
Presley spent just three days at Fort Chaffee before being shipped to Fort Hood in Texas for basic training. He served most of his two Army years in Germany with the 3rd Armored
Division, gaining promotion to sergeant.
The fascination with Presley's military life evidently continued during his service. Posted near the entrance to the barbershop is the cover of a themed magazine, Elvis in the Army,
devoted to the subject.
The issue contained "150 pix" and "10 big stories." The topics included "His Hours of Tenderness and Turmoil," "His Mom -- in Living Memory" (she died while he was in the Army),
"Scoops From Germany" and "Those Foreign Dating Parties."
Chaffee Barbershop Museum, 7313 Terry St. in Chaffee Crossing Historic District, is open 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday-Saturday. Admission is free; donations are appreciated.