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Elvis doesn’t leave the building as home next door to museum burns

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DEPEYSTER — Robert D. and Shirley E. Gagnon may have lost their home to fire Friday night, but it’s what the flames didn’t destroy that is helping them cope as they rebuild their lives.

The Gagnons’ home at 130 Newcombe Road may be gone, but their Memories of Elvis museum next door survived the fire with a broken window and the stench of smoke that by Monday had managed to find its way into the five-room, two-bathroom, 1,152-square-foot modular home that has been a memorabilia-packed shrine to “the King” since 1996.

Mr. Gagnon, 70, was home when the early evening fire broke out. By the time the damage was done, the couple’s own modular home, two garages, a car port and a work shed were gone. The museum was likely saved because he relied on the firefighters’ advice: keep the building hosed down with water.

The alternative was to break in and attempt to salvage as many of the 50,000 Presley mementos as possible. And maybe risk injury or worse.

“It was my call,” Mr. Gagnon said, adding that an attempt to salvage wasn’t just risky, but not worth it. Not even for a half century of Presley memorabilia collected by him and his wife, also 70.

“I thought, if it was going to go, it was going to go,” he said.

Another factor in keeping the museum wet was the presence outside of a 750-gallon fuel tank and a 300-gallon propane tank.

The Gagnons are glad the museum was spared.

“It’s a 24-foot-by-48-foot house with everything about Elvis,” Mr. Gagnon said. “It’s wall to wall Elvis.”

Wall to wall, and the floors and furniture as well. There are hundreds of plates and countless other Presley items — posters, magazines, dolls and a life-sized statue of the King, who would have turned 77 on Jan. 8.

With a relatively rural address — a dead-end country road — the museum manages between 25 and 50 visitors a year, Mr. Gagnon said.

And a curiosity for Mr. Presley extended to the firefighters. Some of them came back on Saturday to have a look.

“They wanted to see what they worked so hard to save,” Mr. Gagnon said. “I can’t thank the firefighters enough.”

Fortunately, the Gagnons aren’t homeless. They also have a cabin-style home just down the road at 4521 Route 17.

“Our retirement home,” Mr. Gagnon said with a grin.

As for the museum, there are plans to build a barn on the Route 17 property, one large enough to accommodate a new museum and Mr. Gagnon’s woodworking business.

In the meantime, the couple could use clothing. According to Mrs. Gagnon, the apparel and respective sizes are: men’s pants, 38 waist, 29-inch inseam; shirts, large; shoes, 8 1/2 wide; T-shirts, large; women’s pants, extra large; blouses, extra large; and sweaters, extra large.

The clothes can be dropped off at the home of the Gagnons’ next-door neighbor, Sonny Gladle, 124 Newcombe Road.

The fire, according to Mr. Gagnon, is still under investigation. He estimates the damage at $250,000.

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