Hello from the History Department – And long live the King! Elvis Presley, that is.
Caddie (Johnson) Barnes was 14 years old when Elvis himself spent less than 24 hours in Kalama, WA, an event that is still discussed with fervor and excitement today.
“Oh, he was just sooooo handsome!” Caddie recalls. Hard to dispute that fact – it was Elvis’s heyday, with the hair and the cheekbones and oh, she could go on and on.
It was the evening of September 4, 1962. Teenage Caddie was at home with her mom when the telephone rang. It was her girlfriend, yelling that she’d heard on the radio that Elvis was staying at what is today known as the Kalama River Inn, just blocks away. “You better get down there,” her girlfriend said, “they say he’s getting ready to leave!”
According to historylink.org:
The star and his nine-man entourage — who had left Los Angeles in a two-vehicle convoy early on the 3rd — tried to avoid unwanted attention by driving 30 miles past Portland, and pulled off Highway 99 (I-5 had yet to be completed) to spend most of the daylight hours of the September 4, 1962, sleeping in rooms (No. 219 and 220) at the obscure Columbia Inn Motel in the tiny backwater berg of Kalama, Washington.
Despite Presley’s desire to remain incognito, the all-knowing teenage grapevine was soon thrumming with rumors of his whereabouts, and before long hundreds of young fans from little towns up and down the highway had gathered in the motel parking lot. By all accounts Presley was quite gracious to his fans, and after eating breakfast late in the day, he stepped outside around 6:30 p.m. to greet them and sign autographs. Later that evening Presley and his posse got ready to head back on the highway to begin their 137-mile journey northward to Seattle.
And that’s exactly when Caddie got her girlfriend’s frantic phone call – this was before social media, of course; news traveled much slower then.
Caddie, it should be noted, was deathly afraid of the dark. Her girlfriend’s parents wouldn’t let their teenager leave the house, so Caddie was on her own. But that night, she says, nothing could have stopped her from flying out the door of her house and sprinting through the darkness the three blocks down the hill to the highway motel.
When asked how many fans were gathered at that hour, Caddie estimated it was only about 25 who were left – the rest had already gone home, shortly after Elvis had arrived hours earlier and retreated into his room.
“Everyone was standing in the parking lot,” she remembers, “and suddenly he walks out [see left]. We were in awe. There was security everywhere. And he just heads out to this big motorhome. I seen him get in, so I walked around the other side – I was the only one who did that!”
Elvis was in the driver’s seat of his newly purchased Dodge House Car, apparently planning to drive the bus himself the two hours up the highway to Seattle. When he saw the teenager at the side, he rolled down his window.
“How ya doin’?” he asked her.
“Will you sign my hands?” she responded.
He produced a pen and signed “Elvis Presley” on the back of both Caddie’s hands. They chatted a little bit before he said to her, “You be a nice little girl, now.” And then he and his entourage (a.k.a. the Memphis Mafia) rolled away, headed to Seattle to film MGM’s Take Me to the Fair (soon renamed It Happened at the World’s Fair) on the busy grounds of the exposition.
Caddie returned home up the hill in a starstruck daze. She then carefully wrapped both her autographed hands in Saran Wrap and refused to wash them for “days and days,” she recalls with a laugh. “He was just extremely nice and sweet.” One reporter on the Seattle film set recounted that after interviewing the star, Elvis said, “‘Nice to have met you, sir.’ In the writer’s column the next day, the journalist wrote, “That ‘Sir’ did it; I felt like a million years old. And now that I’ve met Elvis, I’ll have to listen to some of his records and find out what the hero worship is all about.”
Not everyone felt the same way, appartently. Caddie’s mom owned the beauty shop in Kalama and did everyone’s hair and heard everyone’s stories. And, according to motel staff, Elvis’s room was a shocking mess upon check-out: “There was make-up everywhere. Food and dirty dishes everywhere. Just a mess.”