Last Saturday was a big day here in Fayetteville, and spring means even bigger and better days are on the horizon. This month, this town is bursting with fun-filled days of carriage rides, music, great food, minor league baseball, Easter eggs, visual arts, local crafts, motorcycle rides, Dogwood queens, hockey games, river concerts, symphony concerts and even live theater performances featuring a Lion, a Witch or a Devil’s food CAKE.
The warmth and friendliness of this community and the Southern hospitality it radiates make me proud to call Fayetteville and Cumberland County home. The best way to experience it is to get out and immerse yourself in it.
Last Saturday, April 13, more than 2,500 people came downtown to get their first look at the city’s new baseball stadium and home of the Fayetteville Woodpeckers, our Class A minor league team affiliate of the Houston Astros. Based on the comments and the smiles and laughter of the young and young at heart, this event was a major league home run. Congratulations to our city officials and the dozens of people who made the day happen.
The AsONE Prayer Walk and festivities took place in Festival Park that same day. There, too, music, food and fun were the order of the day as this annual pre-Easter event reminded us that love, empathy and compassion continue to play a vital role in humanity.
Across the street from Festival Park, at Gallery 208, Up & Coming Weekly hosted an event of a different nature. The Crown Coliseum board was gracious enough to let us borrow the commemorative photos and plaques documenting Elvis Presley’s visit to Fayetteville in August 1976, when he performed for three nights in a row at Cumberland Memorial Auditorium.
These mementos also honored him after his death on Aug. 16, 1977, just nine days before he was to return to Fayetteville to a sold-out concert scheduled for Aug. 25. Dozens upon dozens of disappointed, shocked and saddened Elvis fans donated their ticket refunds in his honor to purchase special medical equipment to aid cardiac patients at Cape Fear Valley Hospital. The names of all those dedicated and generous Presley fans are on those plaques.
Those mementos are very important to our community, and they went missing around 2008 when the complex was undergoing major renovations.
PWC employee and devoted Presley fan Phil Barnard realized they were no longer displayed in the auditorium. He posed the “what happened to them?” question to longtime Fayetteville Observer columnist Bill Kirby, who made it his quest to find the answer. After talking with several people familiar with the history of the facility, Kirby contacted former Coliseum Manager Paul Beard, who at the time of the Presley concert was the facility manager of the complex under General Manager Rick Reno.
Beard is a Fayetteville resident and currently the general manager of the Florence Civic Center in Florence, South Carolina. Beard not only knew where they were — he had preserved them and placed them in storage for nearly 11 years.
Beard knew these Presley mementos represented one of the greatest entertainment performances ever held in Fayetteville, and he didn’t want to risk them being discarded as trash or destroyed. It was more than a decade before anyone even knew they were gone.
Both Kirby and Beard were on hand at Gallery 208 Saturday. Coincidently, all three of us were in our 20s when this amazing hunka hunka of burning love hit this town like a tornado and spent three days entertaining and honoring our military families in a community he couldn’t wait to get back to.
The amazing talent of Presley is, no doubt, lost to this younger generation. That’s all the more reason to preserve memories and unique treasures like these. Kirby hopes the Crown Coliseum will work with him to restore and display these mementos to amplify the significance of Presley’s presence here when he came to the Fayetteville community.
I doubt that Presley, when on tour, did many three-night stands in any one city or town like he did here. So, I’m with Kirby. Let’s build that display and honor the King!
Special thanks to everyone who came by, especially Robin Johnson, who brought out her mother’s full, lifelong collection of Elvis memorabilia. It included an Aug. 17, 1977, edition of The Fayetteville Observer with an “above the fold” photo of then 24-yearold Hope Mills resident Milton Smith, a talented pianist who was to go on tour with Elvis. Smith never got to meet him.
Thanks also to Joe Riddle for coming by and checking out the Elvis albums and to Barnard and his wife Mary, who got this party started by asking the question.
A special thanks to Rocket Fizz Soda Pop and Candy Shop at Marketplace for setting everything up — Elvis style.
Thanks to all our readers, especially the three gentlemen from Cleveland, Ohio, who came by after reading the Elvis article in last week’s Up & Coming Weekly at the Holiday Inn on I-95. And ... thank you for reading Up & Coming Weekly.
Photo: L to R: Up & Coming Weekly Publisher Bill Bowman, former Coliseum Manager Paul Beard and Fayetteville Observer columnist Bill Kirby.