Elvis Shrine bar neighbor likes Elvis, really

MICHAEL OLESKER

July 23, 1992|By MICHAEL OLESKER

This is to announce, with all due respect for the occasion, a list of complaints from Florence Chenowith of East Baltimore, handed over by her attorney at law, Pauline B. Olsen of O'Donnell Street, which is to be taken with much seriousness even though it involves certain persons who still debate the condition of health of Elvis Presley.

"How serious are we?" says attorney Olsen. "Serious enough to sue, except no one has any money."

"How serious?" adds Chenowith. "Serious enough that three guys tried to rip a tree out of the ground to harrass me."

"A tree?" she is asked by someone barely muscular enough to snap a twig.

"A tree," confirms Chenowith.

"It's clear harrassment," says Olsen, hovering protectively by her client. "She can't keep her door open. She goes to a bar for a drink and people say, 'Oh, you're the Elvis hater.' "

"How serious?" adds Chenowith. "Serious enough that somebody threatened to kill my dog while I was outside washing my truck."

"Clear harrassment," nods Olsen.

"How serious?" says Chenowith, brushing right past her attorney's words. "Serious enough that people come out of the bar late at night and scream, 'Elvis is alive. The king is not dead,' when I'm trying to get some sleep."

The bar she mentions is Miss Bonnie's Elvis Shrine bar on Fleet Street, the subject of much television and radio and newspaper coverage over recent months. Some of the coverage, notably by out-of-town media, carries a certain hint of veiled snobbishness, as in: Oh, look at the charming primitives of East Baltimore, worshiping at the cathedral of Elvis.

Other coverage has focused on a little feud between Lavonda Hunt, also known as Miss Bonnie, and this other woman who has complained about her bar. The other woman is Florence Chenowith, who happens to live next door.

It's a simple problem: Chenowith thought music from the bar's jukebox was too loud. She complained to the city liquor board. So the music was lowered, and Chenowith is perfectly content. She can get her sleep. She is 48 and rises early each day for work at a book bindery.

However, more trouble was on the way. A mural of Elvis was painted on the bar's outside door. Someone called the liquor board to complain, and one newspaper account seemed to hint that Chenowith was the culprit. She denies it.

"I have no complaints about any mural," she says. "I have no complaints at all about the bar. The music is low enough, and the issue of Elvis . . . well, Elvis has never been the issue. I like Elvis. In fact, there's no more issues at all."

The city's exhausted liquor board, which has fielded myriad cross-complaints from bar owner Hunt, from Chenowith, and from other Fleet Street neighbors, will be pleased to hear this.

But problems persist.

And now, here stands Chenowith with her list of complaints, formally typewritten and handed over by her attorney. The list is entitled: "Ms. Chenowith's Problems," and it includes the following:

"1. Everyone thinks she hates Elvis.

"2. If she goes out socially, everywhere she goes, people give her a hard time.

"3. People harrass her at her home and try to damage her property. (There has also been a threat to kill her dog.)

"4. People call her boss at work and ask him why he hired an 'Elvis hater.'

"5. Ms. Chenowith feels she is being harrassed by the news media (print, TV and radio.)"

OK, let's take this from the top.

"I don't hate the man," says Chenowith, referring to Elvis. "I enjoy listening to his music. Elvis was never the issue, and neither was the mural on the door. My problem was the noise, but now the noise is gone."

But the memory of her complaints apparently lingers. Some nurture grudges. Peace has gone undeclared.

"People saw these accounts in the media," she says, "and I've been painted as the woman who hates Elvis. It's not fair. They come out and stand in front of my door and scream about Elvis. It wakes me up.

"When the mural went up, there was this little tree in front of my house that the city planted. It's about ten feet high. Three guys tried to rip my tree out of the ground. Then my boss has to hear about all this. He said somebody called and asked, 'Why did you hire an Elvis-hater?' He laughed, but it upset me."

The feud has taken on a life of its own, no longer related to the complaints that prompted it. Chenowith and bar owner Hunt have not exactly made peace, but they've learned to keep a discreet distance. The Elvis mural is fine, and the jukebox music is low. The king can rest in peace.

But Chenowith wants some peace of her own.

Note to those harrassing her: It's time to drop the grudge.

Therefore, this is to announce, with all due respect for the occasion, that Florence Chenowith does not hate Elvis, and she does not hate the Elvis mural, and she wishes merely to be left in peace.

And anybody who still wishes to make this an issue will have to deal with her attorney.

And with the ghost of Elvis, who happens to hate bullies.

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