Mementos from Elvis' alma mater lives on in restaurant basement

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) - The Humes room isn't dead. It's just hidden in the basement of a Beale Street restaurant.

Diners, bands and barflies reign upstairs at Superior Restaurant and Bar on Beale Street. But downstairs it looks like a museum of photos and keepsakes from old Humes High School, including lesser-known photos of its most famous graduate, Elvis Presley.

The collection has moved several times, and for the last 11 years, Humes alumni have followed it, meeting monthly under the mounted memorabilia, to eat and socialize.

It should have been the end last year when its former home, Anna's Steakhouse in Bartlett, closed, and owner Anna Hamilton, 59, auctioned off some of the Elvis collection.

Instead, it sprawls undiminished over every inch of the big basement painted in Humes school colors, orange and white. Not a lot of people know it's there, said Jimmy Silvio, a partner in the restaurant.

"We want it to be a kind of hidden Memphis (attraction)," he said. "We're pretty protective of it." He lets one tour company book it on tours; and he allows select private parties there. The last Monday of every month, Humes alumni dine there.

This week, 23 showed up early. Barbara Sutton Lamberth, class of '49, pointed to the photo of a pretty cheerleader. That was her.

Her late husband, also on the wall, was a Humes football star. "We didn't have much growing up, but we had camaraderie," said Dr. Hubert Dellinger, 74, a pediatrician who now lives in Southwind.

He likes to swap stories, "some of them true," with old classmates. Old North Memphis was one of the poorer neighborhoods then as now, said Alfred Ray Williams, 75, class of '51. He grew up in a two-room apartment there. But there was a sense of community that lasted.

"The principal at Humes would call Elvis at Graceland when they needed money ... and he would give it," said Williams. "He took care of a lot of things at Humes."

Judge George Blancett, 72, tells of riding around with Elvis and other boys in a 1940 red Studebaker while Elvis played his guitar and sang in the back seat. At a school talent show, "he was so good, they asked him to sing again.

He sat on the apron of the stage and sang a couple of more songs," he said.

When Humes closed as a high school in 1967 (it reopened the next year as a middle school), alumni were asked to come get class photos and keepsakes.

Hamilton, class of '65, picked up her class photo and in 1995 hung it in her Collierville restaurant Anna's Steakhouse along with her diploma and honor society sash.

The next year a Humes Middle School principal gave her trophies, plaques and certificates from the old high school. A friend built a case for the trophies.

At around the same time, Williams had spread the word about the restaurant, and alumni began eating there regularly.

They brought their school souvenirs too, and Hamilton would frame each piece and hang it. The collection eventually took up the whole one-room restaurant. It got its own room when Hamilton moved her restaurant to Bartlett.

At her last location, also in Bartlett, the Humes room doubled in size. At Superior, mementos dating back to the mid-1920s start at the top of the stairs.

There are report cards, newspaper clips, varsity jerseys, certificates of merit and photos of everything from the football teams to boys in shop class.

There is a devastatingly good-looking Elvis getting a Coke from a machine. In another, he gets a kiss from girlfriend Anita Wood Brewer before leaving for military service.

When Silvio bought Hamilton's restaurant equipment last year, Hamilton asked him to also become the caretaker of the collection, which belongs to the alumni.

When Silvio opened Superior in 2006, the group resumed meeting late that year. Mike Freeman, former owner of Elvis' Audubon home, loaned Elvis items he had bought at Hamilton's auction, and helped create an Elvis corner.

Some of the Elvis photos there are original, said Hamilton. Some are not well-known; she believes one or two may not have been published.

Humes school spirit is not all about the past. Hamilton gave Humes Middle School some of the proceeds from her Elvis collection sale, and she helps maintain a classroom there that looks as it did when Elvis attended.

The money that fans pay to see it goes to the school. Williams and other alumni have visited there and given books, clothes and other help.

Hamilton says she has preserved Humes memorabilia "because I love my school and I want to do anything that will encourage interest in Humes and keep it from being torn down," she said.

There was an effort to do that a few years ago. "But by the time Elvis fans got through with them, they decided not to." Folks better not lay a hand on Humes while Hamilton and other alumni are around. "It's my history," she said.

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)