Walking the boards with Elvis of O.C. POSTCARD FROM THE BEACH

June 27, 1994|By Dail Willis | Dail Willis,Ocean City Bureau of The Sun

Ocean City -- He's just a little man with a boombox next to his ear. But everybody knows him, and his passage down the Boardwalk is slowed by fans.

"It's Boardwalk Elvis!" one woman tells another. "Hi, Elvis!"

"Hey, it's Elvis!" says a young man to his friends. "Let's get our picture taken with him. Come on, Elvis, pose with us!"

And he does, stopping and standing very still as the young men zTC surround him, draping arms around his narrow shoulders and mugging for the camera.

Norman Webb, 55, has been Boardwalk Elvis for as long as anyone can remember, making his way up and down the boards with his boombox, singing along with an Elvis tape. Even he doesn't remember how long it's been -- "A long time. I don't know how many years," he says.

He walks the boards on weekends, stopping in to see the merchants who affectionately call out to him when he passes. Cadillac Jack's is a favorite. So is the Purple Moose.

He has two Elvis suits, one black and one red, both with lots of sequins and contrasting vents in the pants, just like Elvis in his Vegas days. Mr. Webb has added a few touches of his own, too: a big straw hat with a picture of the King in his heyday stuck in the band like a press card, and white bucks.

"He's been around forever," says Tim Gilbert, a longtime friend and fan. "He's become a fixture. People standing in line for Thrasher's fries expect to see Norman on their vacation."

Mr. Gilbert, who vacationed in Ocean City through childhood and moved here from Baltimore in 1974, says Elvis is just Mr. Webb's latest persona.

"As a kid I remember Norman -- if you bought a sandwich and set it on a plate on the Boardwalk, he'd walk by on his hands and pull it off the plate with his teeth," Mr. Gilbert recalls. "My neighbor, who's a few years older than me, remembers Norman in Bishopville at dances in the 1950s. He'd come with a radio and sing along."

When the King died, Mr. Webb took it personally, Mr. Gilbert recalls.

"I figured Norman would be crushed. I said, 'I'm really sorry Elvis died, what do you think?' Norman said, 'They really need me now!' "

Mr. Webb lives in Showell and has worked all his life in agriculture, in such places as chicken-processing plants and Eastern Shore farms. He now works loading soybeans into bags during the week.

"The city should subsidize him," says Mr. Gilbert. "He's just always been a part of the landscape, like the beach, the sand. He's always been there."

Mr. Webb takes a simpler view of his role.

"I like meeting all the nice people," Mr. Webb says when asked why he's the Boardwalk Elvis. "I like the Boardwalk all right."

And he's gone, mingling with the night crowds on the boards, crooning softly to himself along with an Elvis tape, and the melody mixes on the wind with the cries of gulls and the smell of Thrasher's fries.

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