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Exclusive: Elvis Haircut Day commemorates Chaffee Barbershop Museum’s defining role in music history

On this day 64 years ago, the “haircut heard 'round the world” changed music history forever. As a 23-year-old Elvis Presley sat in the barber’s chair at Fort Chaffee barbershop in Fort Smith, Arkansas, his disappearing signature sideburns and pompadour unequivocally confirmed what lie ahead - a two-year tour of duty in the US Army and, much to the dismay of millions of fans around the world, a lengthy postponement of his trailblazing ascent as the young "King of Rock ’n' Roll." In a light-hearted moment with the onlooking press, Elvis jested, “Hair today, gone tomorrow!”

Fort Chaffee head barber James B. Peterson gives Elvis Presley his first regulation haircut March 25, 1958.

Elvis Presley leaves the Fort Chaffee barbershop March 25, 1958. (Photo: Don Cravens, The Life Images Collection, Getty Images)

Tomorrow the Chaffee Barbershop Museum’s annual Elvis Haircut Day event is returning after a two-year hiatus to once again commemorate its big moment in music history and, for 2022, the 80th anniversary of Camp Chaffee. The celebration is open to the public and will include free admission to the museum, free G.I. buzz cuts, light refreshments and a new addition, the Elvis Fun Run & Bike Ride. We caught up with Lorie Robertson, Director of Marketing at Fort Chaffee Redevelopment Authority/Chaffee Crossing, who generously made time for us this week so that we could learn more about this special place and this weekend’s activities. Thank you, Lorie!

AMLP: Tell us about your exciting Elvis Haircut Day event coming up this Saturday at the Chaffee Barbershop Museum. We understand this will be your first event in two years and that new activities will be introduced this year.

Lorie: Admission to the Chaffee Barbershop Museum is free and there will be light refreshments and free G.I. buzz cuts 9 a.m. until noon, courtesy of River Valley Cosmetology Institute students based in nearby Poteau, Oklahoma. The new Fort Smith Coffee Co. is opening a pop-up shop from 7:30 am until noon. They will soon have a permanent home in The Barracks at Chaffee, a $25 million renovation project of 30-plus former military buildings in the heart of the Chaffee Crossing Historic District. Local radio station KTCS 99.9 FM is hosting the first car show in the historic district, Haircuts, Hotrods & Heroes Family Fun Day from 10:00 am until 2:00 pm on Ellis St. Proceeds from the car show benefit Make A Wish Foundation.

Lorie: This year we are also celebrating the 80th anniversary of the opening of Camp Chaffee and we added an Elvis costume Bike Ride and Fun Run (registration is $20 to help with maintenance and repairs to the museum). Pre-registration starts at 7:30 am and the ride/run starts at 8:30 am. Advance registration is available here. One of the sponsors, Phat Tire Bike Shop, is also moving to the Chaffee Crossing Historic District (Barracks at Chaffee) in a former Army barrack that will be adapted as a bike store.

AMLP: You’ve mentioned that proceeds from the inaugural “Elvis Bike Ride and Fun Run” will go towards maintenance and repairs to the museum. Can you talk a little bit more about what repairs the museum is currently in need of and how those who aren’t able to attend this year’s Elvis Haircut Day event might lend their support to help with that or other preservation and interpretation efforts at the museum?

Lorie: The exterior siding on the Chaffee Barbershop Museum is in need of repair as well as some mechanical things like a new heat and air system. We are able to use the likeness of Elvis Presley through an agreement with Elvis Presley Enterprises, however we cannot ever charge admission to the museums. We thought that Elvis costume bike ride and fun run would be a cool way to raise some funds for those projects. We have a 501c3 set up for museum donations, the Chaffee Crossing Historic Preservation Organization. Checks can be mailed to CCHPO, 7020 Taylor Ave., Fort Smith, AR 72916. We also have the capability to accept credit card donations. Call 479.434.6774 for more details.

Chaffee Barbershop Museum (Photo: Chaffee Crossing Historic District)

Chaffee Barbershop Museum (Photo: Chaffee Crossing Historic District)

Lorie: The newspaper camera used to take photos that day, actual television news coverage video and other memorabilia including a letter from the National Archives are on display, among other artifacts. Museum guests experience a 1950s-era barbershop that looks exactly like it did the day that "the King" strolled through the doors.

Times Record photographer Jack Cleavenger’s 1950s Crown Graphex camera on display at Chaffee Barbershop Museum. (Tripadvisor: nowincolorado)