Partic Parkey and Harrell Gabehart’s Dolly Parton Collection

Last month, Rockology brought a unique
“Dolly Parton” collection to the CMA Music Fest in Nashville, just one
of many popular “must-see” stops for visitors to the event. [As a
reminder: CMT plans to air “Raiders of Rock,” a new weekly series
featuring Rockology’s Stephen Shutts and Robert Reynolds of the Grammy
winning Mavericks. Stay tuned for more details in the coming weeks.]
Meanwhile, here’s a story about Partic
Parkey and Harrell Gabehart’s Dolly Parton collection. by respected
writer Alanna Nash for MSN Entertainment.

Patric Parkey (left) is an “uber” Dolly Parton fan who recently brought
his collection — via Stephen Shutts (right) of Rockology — to the 
2013 CMA Music Fest in Nashville.

By Alanna Nash
Special to MSN Music
In 1998, Patric Parkey bought one of Dolly Parton‘s
dresses at an auction. It wasn’t such an unusual move for a die-hard
Dolly fan who spent his Saturdays as a 5-year-old “lyin’ on the floor
with the family, watchin’ ‘The
Porter Wagoner Show’ on a black-and-white TV.”
But then just like “A Habit I Can’t
Break,” the title of one of Dolly’s 1972 songs, with the acquisition of
that first dress, a beaded relic from Parton’s 1980s television show,
Parkey was hooked. Bad. He’d been collecting Parton memorabilia for 15
years already, but with the Tony Chase original under his arm, “It kind
of snowballed,” he says.
Today, it’s taken over the retired office
worker’s life. Parkey, 54, and Harrell Gabehart, 53, a restaurant prep
cook (“I Dolly-ized him,” Parkey says of his partner of 24 years), own
some 30,000 to 40,000 Dolly items. The collection includes such holy
grail pieces as the singer’s king-sized bed, a plethora of her wigs and
stage wear, and even her castoff Christmas tree, still decorated in
lights and tinsel nearly as sparkly as the lady herself. They keep it in
their master bathroom Jacuzzi tub, because there’s no room for it
anywhere else.
Parkey estimates he spends 10 hours a day
caring for the collection, which he and Gabehart spent approximately
$250,000 accumulating. It’s worth, they estimate, $500,000. At least one
other estimate pushes that number higher.

“Dolly’s from top to bottom, wall to
wall, and in every bathroom. I’ve got some wig heads, and I don’t have a
place to put ’em. A lot of ’em are in the bathroom. I’ll have a friend
come over, and they’ll say, ‘I can’t use the bathroom with her starin’
at me.'”
There are so many Dolly pieces crammed
into the couple’s three-story, 2,800-square-foot cabin in Pigeon Forge,
Tenn. — where they moved three years ago from Euless, Texas, to be
closer to Dollywood — that in 2011, when Dolly herself came to take a
look at the life-size cutouts, the framed letters, the original title
from one of her old cars, and the rows of dainty shoes in size 5 ½, “She
just couldn’t believe it,” Parkey remembers. “She just stood there,
speechless. I ain’t never seen that before.”
The moment was preserved for a cable TV special, “My Collection Obsession,” on TLC.
“Every little book, every little card. And
pictures!” Dolly said when she finally found her voice. “It’s just
fascinating. Even I can’t keep up with my stuff like that.”
The highlight of Parkey and Gabehart’s
collection is undoubtedly 40 original outfits they’ve accrued through
auctions and fellow collectors in the U.S. and Europe. A number of them,
like the $10,000 rhinestone-encrusted top, skirt and boots (also
designed by Tony Chase), are iconic in Dolly world. The ensembles range
from everyday clothes, to outfits Parton wears on her album covers, to
stage and TV costumes.
“I’m not aware of anybody who has that
many stage outfits of one artist,” says Stephen Shutts, a music and
pop-culture memorabilia specialist whose company, Rockology, curated and
exhibited a fraction of the collection June 6-9 for the Country Music
Association’s CMA Music Festival in Nashville. Shutts, whose “Raiders of
Rock” show bows in September on the CMT cable channel, calls it
“clearly the largest private collection outside of Dolly’s personal
holdings. And it covers five decades of her career, so you get the gamut
of styling, fashion and imagery, all somewhat flamboyant.”
And then some. The rarest item in the
collection is an outrageous costume Parton wore to her former manager’s
Halloween party in the ’80s: a pink spandex suit in peacock-feather
print, with a peacock beaded on the back of the matching fringed jacket.
Real peacock feathers festoon the accompanying mask and shoes.
The couple displays the costumes on
full-sized mannequins of Parton, replete with blond Dolly heads and what
Shutts calls her “most famous assets.” Parkey commissions the figures
from a maker in California at a cost of $2,000 to $3,000 each.
Parkey and Gabehart were searching for
display cases when they met Shutts several years ago. When the
entrepreneur first asked them to exhibit items from their collection in
Nashville this summer, Parkey was “petrified.” The treasures had never
been out of the house, and he and Gabehart were even protective of their
address. It was Dolly who made the difference. “When I told her,”
Parkey remembers, “she said, ‘Oh, that would be great! The fans would
love it!’ So I said, ‘OK, Stephen, let’s do it.'”
Dolly has met Parkey and Gabehart at so
many Dollywood events through the years that she crows, “Here’s my boys
again,” when she sees them. It’s a family feeling, Parkey says. And so
he felt comfortable approaching her last month about perhaps setting up a
Dolly museum in Nashville. More than 400 fans signed a book at the
recent CMA Fest saying they’d support it.
“She doesn’t know how much money we’ve
spent, but she’s a businesswoman, so she said, ‘Go ahead. It’s time for
you to start makin’ money.’ I was feelin’ bad for tryin’ to make money
off it, but she gave us her blessing.”
If Parkey and Gabehart succeed in
establishing the museum, Parkey wants to recreate Parton’s old Dollywood
apartment, which was dismantled to make room for corporate offices. He
still needs the bathtub, though he already has most of the furnishings,
including the custom-made iron bed frame, a more recent acquisition.
“When Dolly came to our house in 2011, she
said, ‘Honey, did you get my bed?’ I said, ‘No, ma’am,’ and her face
went from bubbly to oh-oh.'” Parkey wasn’t interested in paying $10,000
for a bed frame without the mattress that Dolly had actually slept on.
But he had erroneously been told the mattress was destroyed.
“She just looked at me and clicked her
heels, and then she said to her people, ‘I imagine we can find that
mattress somewhere, don’t you?'” The original mattress was available
after all, which soothed over a tense moment.
“Before she realized what I was saying,
she went to laughin’, and she said, ‘Honey, you don’t want my mattress? I
don’t have no bedbugs!’ I grabbed her arm and I said, ‘Dolly, as long
as they’re your bedbugs, I wouldn’t care.'”
Alanna Nash is a New York Times
best-selling ghostwriter and author. She has also written scores of
magazine articles for Vanity Fair, People, Rolling Stone, USA Weekend,
and Entertainment Weekly. Her office is lit by two lamps that once
adorned the living room of Graceland, and she saw the Beatles live in
concert three times.

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