Elvis Slept Here - Part Deaux

(continued from previous post.)

We expected to see a guard shack or at least an "Entering Ft. Chaffee" sign to indicate we had found our destination, but from the way we came in, the only indication was a large commercial sign touting a haunted house up ahead. To our left we saw a couple of old barracks buildings in an advanced state of decay with peeling paint and broken windows. They were surrounded by a weed-infested fence with rolls of barbed wire topping it. To a couple of military vets like Chip and myself, we knew right away it must be some kind of old military prison complex. Spying more old buildings on down the road, we took a left turn and straight away found what we were looking for, the Barber Shop Museum in Building 803, the place where Elvis had his locks shorn. I'm not sure if my old Elvis-fanatic female friends would have broken down weeping at the thought of a peeled-onion-headed Elvis or if they would have just been beyond themselves to be in the same place he had walked.

Entrance to the Barber Shop Museum
 - building 803
The building was well maintained and a sign was out front, but I noticed there were no cars in the parking lot. It was 3:55pm on a Saturday so we figured it was either closed on weekends or we had missed the hours it was open. Deciding we would get out, look in the windows and walk around taking a few pictures, we walked up to the entrance and saw a small sign saying it was open until 4:00. Without much hope, I turned the knob and was surprised to find it still open.

The barber chair Elvis sat in.
We were greeted by Gina and William, volunteer docents. I asked if I could just take a picture of where Elvis got his haircut before they closed and was told, "Sure, no problem. Take your time and look around. We'll keep it open for you." Very nice folks and very knowledgeable as well. The museum was a bit on the small side, but in addition to the chair where Elvis sat, there were a number of memorabilia and historical pictures of the base. While walking around looking at all of the items and reading the informational plaques that went along with them, our two wonderful hosts told us about some of the interesting history of Ft. Chaffee, a history we were totally unaware of. We came simply to see where Elvis got his haircut and, like most good road trips if you let them, we ended up in a more interesting place than we had set out for.

One of the interesting stories Gina and William told us was about the time back in 2010 when they accompanied the TV show Ghost Adventures' crew one night trying to find ghosts at the old hospital. According to Gina, it was dark, it was eerie, it was a little bit scary, but as the night wore on, it was boring. When the show aired, they played up a couple of "unexplained" sounds and something banged on a wall. Gina didn't say the sounds were faked, but did say the building had been abandoned for a number of years and had many broken windows. Rats or other animals? The wind? Before it was over, they were just ready to get back to their room and get some sleep. Pretty cool to be able to say you've done that though!

The building where Elvis lived for a time.
We could have stayed and listened to Gina and William stories on into the evening, but it was way past closing time so we made our goodbyes and headed out to take some pictures of the old barracks. As I was getting a different camera from the truck, Gina and William walked out, stopped and said, "There was a bowling alley over there" and then pointed over to barracks number 823, just a few feet from where we stood and casually said, "That's where Elvis bunked while he was here." Say what? Elvis slept there? There was no sign proclaiming so, but Gina and William said so and they seemed to have a storehouse of factual information so I had no reason to doubt them. I gave Gina a business card and told them I would write about this. So if you guys are reading this, thanks for a wonderful time, thanks for sharing your stories, and thanks for being so nice. And by the way, I researched it later and you were absolutely correct, Elvis slept there.

Row of barracks - Elvis lived in the 1st on the left.

After walking around the locked barracks and looking in a few windows we headed back to the what we now knew, thanks to Gina & William, were the POW barracks which housed German POWs in WWII. We didn't go in to the buildings as they were surrounded by that barbed-wire-topped fence, but mostly because we would have had to tramp through a good distance of chigger infested weeds. Everyone in the southern United States knows about chiggers, but for other folks who might not, trust me, chiggers are little bitty mean, nasty buggers that you can't see, but will make your life miserable for a few days. They live in grass and especially weeds and wait until you walk along and brush up against them whereupon they get on your clothes, make their way onto your skin and bite you and make you itch until you are ready to scream. And they are not easy to kill. You usually just have to endure for a few days until daily bathing finally washes them off. Us southerners are very familiar with the little beasts, but that doesn't mean any of us want to have an encounter with them. I put on my long camera lens and took pictures from afar.

One of the POW barracks which held
Germans in WWII.
We tried to find the remains of the hospital which had burned just 2 months before, but it's a big base with lots of roads and we never were able to find it. We did find another old, abandoned building, but were unable to determine what it was in the past. Apparently, at one point, it had been used as a nursery as there were a number of planting pots, dead plants, and wooden pallets strewn around, but it appeared to be completely abandoned now.
Except for 3 or 4 guys we saw working next to one of the old barracks, we had the base to ourselves. We didn't see anyone else except a couple at the still open golf course and the Janet Huckabee Nature Center. We were free to roam around, take our time and see what we wanted to see. As the sun was sinking, we headed back on Hwy 22 to Ft. Smith for the steak dinner I had to buy Chip because my beloved Longhorns had lost to those dang Sooners.

Fence & barbed wire around the POW 
barracks - & chiggers in the weeds!

If you happen to visit Ft. Chaffee, as always, bring your curiosity, take time to enjoy; bring your camera and take nothing away but pictures. Do no damage and leave things as they are so the next person can enjoy. And if you are fortunate enough to meet Gina & William, tell them I said hi and have them show you where Elvis slept.

One of the old, abandoned barracks building.















 
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