At Towson Eatery, Elvis Is Everywhere

July 16, 1993|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,Staff Writer

What's lunch without entertainment?

At Louis and Betty Hanes' Graceland Cafeteria in the basement of the old Baltimore County courthouse in Towson, entertainment is spelled "E-L-V-I-S."

First, there's the life-sized bust of "The King," with lightning-bolt necklace and sequined shoulder pads. It's the centerpiece of a large wall display and sits atop a lighted fountain, which features water spilling from two lions' heads into aqua-colored, upturned oyster half-shells. Behind are several artificial trees, accented with large bouquets of artificial flowers.

The whole setup is flanked by two near-life-sized suits of armor. Everything but the fountain came from a flea market on North Point Boulevard, Mr. Hanes said.

Mr. Hanes, 52, grew up on South Broadway in Baltimore in the 1950s and married Betty Lou, his neighborhood sweetheart, when she was 17. He was an Eddie Fisher fan until Elvis' "Heartbreak Hotel" hit the charts.

At the cafeteria, he sits wearing a huge gold lightning bolt, suspended from a thick gold necklace. He has long sideburns and thick, white hair (styled like you-know-whose), heavy, silver-colored glasses frames, a dark-brown polyester shirt set off by a white sweater vest and a belt buckle heavy enough to sink a toy boat. Elvis favored heavy belt buckles, Mr. Hanes confided.

He should know. Soft-spoken and legally blind, he and his wife have been avid Elvis Presley fans since their courting days. Several wall photos attest to that -- Mr. Hanes at 21, his hair dyed black and styled in a pompadour like Elvis'.

Each year, the couple makes several pilgrimages to Memphis and the Presley estate at Graceland. A room of their Harford County home is devoted to Elvis memorabilia.

Although Mr. Hanes knows some may think he's gone a bit overboard in decorating the recently renovated space his Blind Industries vending franchise occupies in the old courthouse basement, it doesn't deter him.

"Believe it or not, people in the county [government] love it," he said. "I have attorneys, judges, who suggested I put a life-sized statue [of Elvis] in the middle of the room."

Mr. Hanes said he's considered it, but it would be too expensive and too heavy.

He knows some Hollywood portrayals of Elvis are meant for poking fun rather than expressing reverence, and that his hero died after using too many powerful pills for too long. But he takes no offense and is not swayed from his admiration.

"If the government wants to put a stamp out, it must be OK," he said, adding that the shows and impersonators mean no disrespect. "He's more popular today than before he died. They're just trying to keep him alive. . . . He was just a poor boy from the South who really made it big."

The cafeteria's visitors have offered their own Elvis pictures to add to the wall display, but Mr. Hanes has politely refused.

"You don't want to get too tacky," he said, showing off the framed gold Elvis records he bought at Best and Co. for $100 each, and the photos of Elvis and of the Hanes' three daughters and son, all mounted on heavily glazed, stained wood.

One day recently, almost all customers queried about the shrine giggled at first.

"It's very interesting," said Desia Holt, a county employee who lunches daily in the cafeteria. "Every day I look around. I might miss something."

Another county employee, who insisted that his name not be used, said, "I think it's tacky. But who cares what my personal taste is?"

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