THURMAN - Since he was a teenager, part-time Thurman resident Russ Howe was fascinated with the swagger, style and persona of Elvis Presley.
His interest in the Presley mystique led him first to become a tribute artist, then - over the past 30 years - to gather a collection of Presley memorabilia. In 2004, he joined forces with another Elvis fan, Bud Glass, to form a collection which toured state fairs in the U.S. and was hailed at a showing in Berlin, Germany.
Just two weeks ago, on Oct. 21, this collection opened as the Kings Ransom Elvis Museum - with considerable fanfare and media attention - at the Imperial Palace casino and hotel in Las Vegas.
The collection has been hailed by Elvis' friends, bodyguards and backup musicians - a substantial number of whom attended an opening party for the museum last week.
The exhibit includes items that span Elvis' lifetime, including selections from his stage and movie wardrobes, jewelry, guns, and personal clothing items, Howe said.
"I never got to see him perform, and collecting these items made me feel closer to him," Howe said Saturday.
Ranging from a showy Lincoln Continental Mark III he presented months before his death to backup singer Cathy Westmoreland, to a bottle of Mylanta found in one of his medicine cabinets, the collection reveals fascinating aspects of his character and private life, reviewers have said.
One outstanding item in the collection is Elvis' personal Bible, including his own notations and phrases he underlined.
"The exhibit takes you through Elvis' life from the first rifle his parents bought him as a boy to the Bible that was found beside his bed the day he passed away," Howe said.
The collection includes the blue jacket Elvis wore in the 1966 movie Spinout, and a two-piece black leather stage outfit, circa 1974, that he wore in Vegas shows.
Also included is a hand-engraved gold Walther .38 caliber pistol, half of a matching set - Elvis gave the matching gun to Jack Lord, star of the television series Hawaii Five-O.
Also featured is the earliest signature by Elvis known to exist - his signature as a 12-year-old on a library checkout card when he lived in Tupelo, Mississippi.
The exhibit is far more than a collection, reviewers have said, as it includes text and photographs that tell the story of Elvis' life, personal and public, Howe said.
"Throughout the exhibit, you get to learn about the man behind the image - there's a lot we included to read about Elvis."
The Kings Ransom Collection, Howe said, is contracted to run until April, but it may become a permanent addition to the Imperial Casino, Howe said.
The party celebrating the opening of the collection included nine Presley-linked celebrities, including Elvis' bodyguard Sonny West; Elvis' road manager Joe Esposito, and the swivel-hipped singer's girlfriend, Linda Thompson, as well as co-stars from several of Elvis' movies, including Cynthia Pepper and Darlene Tompkins.
Howe, his wife Nereida Howe and other family members spend frequent weekends in Thurman.
They live in the farmhouse on Mud St. his mother Geri Howe and late father Donald bought in 1964 as a second home, and moved there permanently in the 1980s after Donald retired. Geri moved into Warrensburg about five years ago, and Russ and Nereida Howe now own the home.
Geri Howe and other family members attended the museum opening and party, and enjoyed the festivities, she reported Friday.
Russ said he's an avid outdoorsman, and loves to hunt. Incidentally, for Thurman's Bicentennial, he performed as an Elvis tribute artist.