By Travis Gulbrandson
Although “motorcycle” isn’t the thing that comes to mind when most people think of the National Music Museum (NMM), that is exactly what was on display there last Friday.
It helped, of course, that the bike in question belonged to Elvis Presley.
The 1978 Harley Davidson Electra Glide 1200 CC was on display courtesy of the Pioneer Auto Show of Murdo to help kick of the unveiling of the museum’s new “celebrity collection.”
The two-day event drew approximately 530 visitors to the museum.
“That was a success to us,” said Dr. Margaret Banks, senior curator of instruments at the NMM. “The fact that we got a lot of people in from town who had never been in here before, too, was another success I think. A lot of families came in, a lot of kids.”
The motorcycle arrived last Thursday, and then went through the arduous process of being brought into the museum without disturbing any of the displays.
“I had to map it out to try to get through all the displays, and the door (to the gallery) was just not quite big enough,” said Doug Snider of Pioneer Auto.
The transfer was documented in a series of photos that are now on display on the NMM’s Facebook page.
“This is the second time I’ve gotten to ride it. I rode it to the trailer,” Snider said. “I think last time was Auto Mania in Sioux Falls about two years ago. So, it doesn’t leave very often.”
The bike still has only 1,200 miles on it.
“Elvis couldn’t have ridden it much,” Snider said with a laugh.
Even so, its title is still in Presley’s name.
Banks said the bike’s trip out of the building – which had to be complete by 9 a.m. Saturday – was not without its difficulties, but may have been a bit easier.
“I didn’t actually see what happened, but I think they had some of the same issues,” she said. “It might have been easier to get out because it was a straight shot to the elevator. I think part of the problem was getting it out of the elevator.
“I was sad to see it go. I think that was a big draw for many people,” she said.
Perhaps the biggest draw were the six “celebrity” instruments now in the museum’s permanent collection that are currently on display:
- A 1975 C.F. Martin that Presley used in 29 concerts during the last year of his life;
- A 1966 custom-made Grammer-branded Johnny Cash guitar;
- A 1961 electric guitar used and autographed by Muddy Waters;
- A 1958 Explorer model bass guitar once used by The Who bassist John Entwistle;
- A 1954 electric guitar once owned by Chet Atkins; and
- An A-flat Hohner Marine Band 1896/20 model harmonica once owned by Bob Dylan.
Heck’s Dakota Style Barbecue served Memphis-style barbecue for both days of the event.
Commencement weekend also was a big factor in the high visitor numbers Friday and Saturday.
“It peaked at times – of course after commencement Saturday there were people coming in (wearing) their caps and gowns still, and families,” Banks said. “On Friday night we had a fellow who was getting his law degree, and he had his gown on, and his family was from Hawaii. Otherwise they might not ever have been here, I suppose.”
One of the many visitors was Shanna Formisano, who came with her husband and their three young children.
Formisano said they come to the NMM on a fairly regular basis.
“We come to the brown bag lunches,” she said. “They love it. They have a little bit of a short attention span, but they loved the gong show last week.”
While her children also liked the motorcycle, Formisano said it meant less to them than it did to some of the other visitors.
“They don’t even know who Elvis Presley was,” she said. “We tried to explain to them, ‘He’s very famous.’”
Snider said this is a not-uncommon reaction among the very young.
“A lot of times I observe when youngsters come in (at Murdo),” he said. “We have a statue of Elvis on a stool playing guitar right when you walk in the door. Youngsters say, ‘Mom, who is that?’”
However, there is no question the Presley name helped to bring people in over the weekend, with many of them taking pictures of and with his guitar and motorcycle.
Snider said he and the museum were glad they could help out.
“I think it’s great,” he said. “I hope a lot of people come up to see this place. It’s pretty neat.”
Banks said this was the first time the NMM held an event like this, and according to Ted Muenster, capital campaign director, it might not be the last.
“I think with (new director) Cleveland Johnson coming, it opens a new era for the museum, and these instruments open a new dimension for the museum,” Muenster said. “We’ll be doing more of these kinds of special events going forward, and the museum will be more appealing to a broader range of people. …
“Historically, the real treasures are still the (classical) instruments, but this is fun,” he said.