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Dolly Parton Collector Hopes to Open Museum in Nashville

Dolly Parton Exhibit
Erika Goldring, Getty Images

A devoted Dolly Parton fan who owns an enormous collection of memorabilia has gotten the singer’s permission to open a museum exhibit devoted to her career in Nashville.

Patric Parkey had already been collecting Parton items for 15 years when he bought one of the singer’s dresses at an auction in 1998. It was his first major acquisition, and from there, he tells MSN, “It kind of snowballed.”

That’s putting it mildly. The 54-year-old retired office worker and his partner, Harrell Gabehart, now own a vast collection that they estimate numbers from 30,000 to 40,000 items, including Parton’s king-sized bed, wigs and stage wear, and even one of her old Christmas trees. They have spent a total of $250,000 on the collection, which they estimate is worth $500,000 now.

Parkey says he spends 10 hours a day caring for the collection, which is overflowing the house in Pigeon Forge, Tenn., where he and Gabehart moved three years ago so they could be closer to Dollywood.

“Dolly’s from top to bottom, wall to wall, and in every bathroom,” he says. “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.’”

The pair had the first public display from the collection at this year’s CMA Music Festival at the invitation of Stephen Shutts, whose company, Rockology, curated a small fraction of the collection for the exhibit. Parkey admits he was “petrified” when he got the offer, since none of his items had ever left the house before. But the exhibit turned out so well that he got the idea for a Dolly Parton museum in Music City, and he plucked up the courage to approach the singer — whom he has met many times before — for her permission.

“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,’” he says. “I was feelin’ bad for tryin’ to make money off it, but she gave us her blessing.”

If Parkey and Gabehart are successful in finding a location and funding for the museum, they hope to re-create Parton’s old Dollywood apartment, which was dismantled to make room for offices. They currently own almost everything from the apartment, with the sole exception of the bathtub. Parton herself found her old mattress for them after she visited their home in 2011 and realized they were missing that key item.

More than 400 Dolly Parton fans signed a book at the recent CMA Music Festival exhibit saying they would support a Dolly Parton museum.

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