Before he became an international legend, Elvis Presley was sitting around a swimming pool in Las Vegas with his buddies. It was 1956 and Elvis was appearing at the New Frontier in Vegas.
“This guy who owned a jewelry store came up and said, ‘You are going to be a star and I want you wearing one of my watches,’” said Jimmie DeRamus. “Elvis took his watch off to put the new one on and asked if any of the guys needed a watch.”
Longtime Elvis friend Scotty Moore said he had broken the band on his watch the day before and could use his friend’s Lord Elgin watch.
“The Lord Elgin was the first watch that Elvis ever wore on national TV,” DeRamus said. “Many people think that was the Ed Sullivan Show but it wasn’t. Before he was on Ed Sullivan, Elvis was on the Steve Allen Show. And before he was on Steve Allen, he was on the Dorsey Brothers Show. That was back in January 1956.”
Two months after the Dorsey show, Elvis wasn’t doing so hot in Vegas. “He bombed,” DeRamus said. “Audiences out there just didn’t appreciate his music or him. He was different.”
So getting that vote of confidence from the jewelry shop owner was a boost for Elvis. Of course, the rest is history.
LEGENDS AND LORE GALORE
As for the old Elgin watch with its important past, Moore kept the watch from 1956 to 1994. Moore and some of Elvis’ former band mates joined with singer Ronnie McDowell for Elvis tribute performances.
“In 1994, Scotty Moore gave the watch to Ronnie McDowell as a special present,” De Ramos said. “They took the watch and had it put in a display case with a certificate of authenticity.”
Then in 2012, McDowell sold the watch to DeRamus, a lifelong collector and star of the Cajun Pawn Stars series. The watch is now displayed at Silver Dollar Pawn & Jewelry Center in Alexandria, Louisiana. And owner DeRamus is happy to share the story when folks come into his unusual business.
“Everything has a history and that’s what makes it interesting to me,” DeRamus said. “If you don’t know the history, then it is just a thing.”
The family-owned pawnshop featured on the History Channel’s TV series Cajun Pawn Stars is a major draw for visitors, said Kelli M. West of the Alexandria Pineville Area Convention & Visitors Bureau. “It amazes me how many people from across the United States come in asking about Cajun Pawn. It is our most-requested attraction.”
When visitors stop by the store, DeRamus will give free tours of the 20,000-square-foot showroom and share the history behind some of the more than 100,000 items he owns. The former president of the Louisiana Pawnbrokers Association, Jimmie “The Don of Pawn” DeRamus is hailed as a walking encyclopedia and frequently called upon across the country for his expertise. DeRamus opened this museum-like pawnshop, Silver Dollar, over 25 years ago.
“I’ve been collecting memorabilia and antiques since I was a boy,” DeRamus said. “We lived out in the country and didn’t have much money when I was growing up. We had only had two TV channels – one was snowy and the other one you had to go out in the rain to turn the antenna so I didn’t watch much TV.”
Instead, DeRamus said, he would often spend evenings writing to movie stars and getting autographed photos. “Back then, you could get a book that had lots of stars; addresses so I would write to them.”
One of his biggest treasures is a personal item. “When my wife and I got married we were so broke that we couldn’t afford the $76-a-month payments on her car so we sold it,” he said. “Years later, I found that car, restored it and gave it to her on our wedding anniversary. That 1970 olive and black Cutlass Supreme will never go anywhere. It is hers.”
Other gems include the last Winchester that war hero Sgt. York ever held in his hands, a guitar signed by George Jones, pearls owned by Lucille Ball, the hearse that carried Martin Luther King and a diamond ring once owned by rocker Jerry Lee Lewis.
Jerry Lee was pounding the piano with his usual gusto when the 5-caret diamond in his ring flew off his hand. The big gem landed in the drink of “The Killer’s” cousin Jay Brown.
“Jerry Lee could see that Jay was disgusted because it messed up his drink so he gave Jay the diamond and the rest of the ring,” said Jimmie DeRamus. “I bought it from Myra Lewis, the 13-year-old cousin that Jerry Lee married when he was 22. She is Jay’s daughter.”
Someday, DeRamus said, he plans to open a museum but visitors are always welcome to stop by his shop and marvel at the historical treasures.
“It is really a special place,” West said. “You never know what you are going to find there.”
Alexandria Pineville Area Convention & Visitors Bureau
Silver Dollar Pawn & Jewelry Center