Last year, when Anna Hamilton closed her Bartlett restaurant, Anna's Steakhouse, she had to find a new home for her Humes High School memorabilia. For more than a decade, Hamilton has been acquiring items from her beloved alma mater — including photos of its most famous graduate, Elvis Presley, class of '53 — so she wasn't about to let the collection fall into the wrong hands.
Then she met Jimmy Silvio, who was opening The Superior Restaurant and Bar at 159 Beale; he wanted to buy her used restaurant equipment. Spending several days together getting the equipment moved, Silvio and Hamilton struck up a friendship, and she asked if he'd take over housing the Humes collection. After all, she knew the 40-year-old Louisiana native grew up with four sisters who loved Elvis.
"Jimmy said, 'Figure me a price,'" recalls Hamilton, "and I said, 'How does free sound?'" His only condition was that she hang the items, all 700 or so of them.
Now the collection adorns the orange and white walls — Humes' school colors — of The Superior's basement, which Silvio renovated as a surprise to Hamilton; he also custom-installed a trophy cabinet. The room is off-limits to the public and used only for select events, including Humes alumni's monthly meetings.
Silvio explains why he has turned away numerous requests to rent the room: "This stuff is irreplaceable. I don't want a bunch of partying guys down here. It's not about money. It's about a piece of rock-and-roll history, where Elvis went to school, a kind of hidden Memphis thing." Besides, he laughs, "I don't want Anna to whup me."
Hamilton graduated in 1965, two years before Humes closed as a high school (it later re-opened as a middle school). Upon its closing, she went to get her honor-society sash and a few other pieces. Today the memorabilia features everything from newspaper clippings and class composites, including those of the first and last classes to graduate (1928 and 1967), to boxing trophies and football jerseys. Among the countless photos is one of a group of boys wearing dresses and makeup in the "Male Revue." Says Hamilton, "When this was in my restaurant, a deliveryman left me a note that said, 'Miss Anna, I hate to say it, but Humes had some mighty ugly girls.'"
Naturally, collectibles of "The King" are prominent. Among Hamilton's favorites is a photo she auctioned off with other Elvis items in 2006. A few months later, Silvio came across it and bought it, unaware that it had once belonged to Hamilton. "Jimmy told me he had this great photo for me. I saw it and said, 'That's my picture! I was sorry I sold it and I'm so glad you got it back.'" It features the 1953 graduating class, with Elvis on the right end of the back row, looking down. "It's not official — the photographer was probably just checking his equipment," explains Hamilton. "That makes it even more special."
Hamilton, who worked three jobs in high school, articulates the love she and others feel for Humes: "We didn't have a lot of material things, so we depended on each other. And the teachers knew we had strikes against us from the beginning. They were phenomenal."
Did she ever imagine she'd have a veritable school museum? "No," she responds. "And when the Travel Channel came here to do a piece, they said they'd never seen a high school collection this big."
Asked where the collection might be in another few years, Hamilton says, "Right here." After all, adds Silvio, "We have 29 years left on this lease."