FLORENCE, Ala. — David Whitaker nearly hung up the phone when a caller from Florence started asking questions about his being an Elvis fan.
It was what the Lakeland, Florida, resident called an, “out of the blue call.” But Whitaker stayed on the line when the questions turned pointed.
“The guy asked me if I had been given a scarf by Elvis at one of his concerts when I was a kid,” he said. “And the fact was, I had indeed been given a scarf, then stupidly gave it up and have been trying to locate it the past 32 years.”
That caller was Mike Adams, a local Elvis tribute artist, and he had obtained Whitaker’s long-lost scarf.
Adams, a lifelong Elvis fan, has been working as a tribute artist since age 19, averaging 40-50 shows a year. He purchased the scarf in mid-July from a woman in Tennessee and was thrilled to get it. It had sweat stains that, in Adams’ mind, made it even more personal. But it was also packaged in a Ziploc bag and had an old photograph of a boy standing in what appeared to be about a 1970s-model living room. With the picture was a handwritten note bearing the name, David Whitaker. The feminine handwriting also noted the words, “Given by Elvis, Sept. 4, 1976.”
Whitaker’s mother had written the note and inserted the picture for safekeeping in the bag with the scarf. She had taken her son to that Elvis concert for his 11th birthday. She approached a body guard and asked for Elvis to give her son a scarf for his birthday. The guard waved to get Elvis’ attention, pointed at young Whitaker and The King reached down with the scarf saying, “Here ya go, son.”
Whitaker remembers it vividly. He recalls a group of about 30 women swarming him, even knocking him down to take the scarf. But he held on. Tightly.
Adams’ realized his call would seem random to Whitaker, which was why he got straight to the point after realizing from a Google search that he had the right David Whitaker.
“I really didn’t want to give up that scarf, but I knew after seeing that photo that this guy, if he was even still around, would want it back,” Adams said. “I even told God, ‘If the first name on the list is the right one, I’ll give it back because I’ll know it was meant to be.‘
Sure enough, the first call was the one.
“After I realized he wasn’t going to hang up on me, I just said, ‘Well buddy, I’m pretty sure I have your scarf here.‘ “
Adams said Whitaker listened to the details of how he came by the scarf, accepted that the call wasn’t a hoax and finally asked him the obvious question, if he could buy it back.
“I said ‘No sir, you can’t buy it. But you can have it, since it’s yours.‘”
Whitaker, now 48, remembers turning 16, getting his driver’s license and a car. Even today he bristles at the memory of selling the Elvis scarf. He sold it to a collector for a mere $150 to put the money into his car, a hand-me-down from his parents.
“It didn’t take long until I knew I’d made a mistake,” he said. “The guy drove off with the scarf, and I felt pretty bad right away. My parents had told me I shouldn’t sell it. Especially my mom, the huge Elvis fan.”
Sometime later, Whitaker put an ad in the local newspaper to get it back. He learned a woman living nearby in the Lakeland area had bought the scarf, but had moved. The chance of finding the woman, or the scarf, seemed to be a lost cause. Until Adams called.
“It was a stupid thing I did, made right by a million-to-one odds, that call. And a good person, who went out of his way to do the right thing,” Whitaker said. “I’m still amazed at all this. The lady who’d bought the scarf even called me after Mike found me. I think they were as excited about finding me as I was to hear from them. You just don’t find people like them these days. This kind of thing restores your faith in mankind.”
But there was still the issue of getting the scarf back into Whitaker’s possession.
Still an Elvis fan himself, Whitaker always wanted to see Graceland, Elvis’ Memphis mansion.
When Adams told him he would be performing in Memphis on the 37th anniversary of Elvis’ death, Whitaker knew he had to make the trip. He immediately planned for a three-day excursion to Memphis, taking along his two brothers and nephew.
For Adams, as well as Whitaker, the concert brought the story full circle as Adams presented Whitaker with the scarf, still stained, still accompanied by a photo of a proud 11-year-old.
Whitaker’s mother died two years ago at 86. She had always remained an Elvis fan, but never made it to Memphis to see Graceland.
“I just feel like Mom had something to do with all this, divine intervention,” he said. “Here I’d beat myself up for all those years, and searched and searched for that scarf, and then Elvis himself calls me up and wants to give it back.”
Whitaker, a member of a local Lakeland band called Focus Group, says he does a few Elvis numbers but, “I don’t sound anything like as good as Mike Adams doing Elvis.”
Whitaker said as he thinks back over the whole scenario and the nearly impossible odds of such a thing happening, he has to ask himself if he would have done what Adams did.
“Yeah, I’d have done the very same thing,” he said, with certainty. “My father had polio, and he and my mom always taught me to be kind to people. I try to always be kind. And while I can’t be more grateful to get this scarf back, I also have to think that me, Mike and Elvis, we have a lot in common. We believe in doing right by people.”