The Elvis Presley statue atop the Happy Day Diner in Rosedale. (Algerina Perna, Baltimore…)
Ever since Elvis Presley's death 33 years ago, people have breathlessly reported Elvis sightings here, there and everywhere. On Tuesday morning, he was spotted again, hanging out in a cemetery with a pair of angels.
As it turned out, it was a fiberglass Elvis, a 6-foot-tall statue that had gone missing a couple of weeks ago from the roof of a diner on Pulaski Highway in Baltimore County, much to the consternation of the restaurant's owners and regular customers.
When found, the white-suited Elvis, his coiffure intact but his microphone gone, was propped between two angelic statues in the Gardens of Faith Cemetery, a few miles north of Rosedale's Happy Day Diner, whose roof he had graced for a decade.
Whether or not the real Elvis is communing with angels, his earthly appearance in the cemetery's Garden of Wisdom was a brief one, according to the man who found him, George Kropkowski, who lives nearby. He called his son Steve, who provides uniforms to the diner, said he thought he'd spotted the missing statue, and told him he'd better come and take a look.
"It was put there last night," Steve Kropkowski said by phone Tuesday afternoon. "My dad would have seen it if it had been put there before that."
Steve Kropkowski, whose grandfather is buried at the cemetery, drove over, verified that the statue of the rock 'n' roll legend was indeed the diner's — it was missing its right foot, which had remained bolted to the building's roof when the thieves yanked Elvis free — and called Maria Pigiaditis, who owns the restaurant with her husband, Dimitrios.
"Are you sure it's the right one?" she recalled asking him. "At first, I thought he was playing around."
She asked Kropkowski to wait while she called the detective who had worked on the case. She was told that he was on vacation and was eventually connected to another detective and was talking to him when Kropkowski — having loaded the 90-pound statue into the back of his Ford Expedition and driven the four miles to the diner — pulled into the parking lot. He couldn't wait, he said.
"They're nice people, and I wanted to surprise them," Kropkowski said of the Happy Day's owners. "They deserve it."
Apart from the damage to his foot and his missing microphone, Elvis suffered no serious harm that a coat of paint might not fix, said Dimitrios Pigiaditis, whom everyone calls Jimmy. But he is worried about whether he can reattach the foot, which is clad in what is supposed to look like a black suede shoe (it was unclear why it wasn't blue).
If the statue cannot be repaired to his satisfaction, he will replace it, Pigiaditis said. Even before his Elvis was recovered, he knew of two identical statues, one on eBay and the other in an antique store in Virginia Beach, Va. — the latter asking $1,200.
"I have no choice," he said. "My customers ask me every day, 'Where's Elvis?' If worse comes to worst, I'm going to have to buy a new one."
The statue had been placed atop the entrance by the restaurant's previous owner, who purchased the figure for $1,500 from a Harford Road antique shop. Pigiaditis, who also owns a construction business, said his insurance company has agreed to cover the cost of the statue's repair or replacement as well as the approximately $4,000 it will take to replace the neon lights the thieves broke during the abduction.
Whichever Elvis ends up on the roof, Pigiaditis is not taking any chances. "I'm going to put two cameras up on the roof," he said, "so if they try to do it again they'll be on camera, big time."
In any event, Pigiaditis will not be addressing the Elvis issue anytime soon. On Thursday, he is leaving for a month's vacation in his native Athens, which he left in 1978.
"I was always a fan of Elvis, even before I left Greece," said Pigiaditis, who remained perplexed by the theft, especially since it occurred next to a busy road. "I would like the police to find out who did it and why."
His daughter Georgia, 15, who works at the diner on weekends, had a theory. "I think it was kids," she said. "They just wanted to be cool by stealing a statue of Elvis."
Alice Rader, who has worked at the Happy Day for eight years, was relieved that Elvis was back, even if only leaning on a table in what used to be the diner's non-smoking room.
"I'm glad they didn't break him up and put him in a trash can," she said. "Elvis is in the house."
A previous version of this story misstated the status of the room in the Happy Day Diner into which the Elvis statue was placed after its return. It was known as the non-smoking room before smoking was outlawed in eating establishments.