Archive for May, 2013

For the last few articles I have discussed National Parks and places tour companies might take you. But I also want to write about a few cities that have so much to offer on their own, in case you find yourself there. Everyone knows about N.Y., L.A., and Chicago but I want to discuss some smaller cities that also have a lot to recommend.

First up—Memphis, Tennessee. The population is approximately 650,000 in the metro area and over 1,000,000 in the greater metro area. Way back in the early years of our country before there were roads, the rivers were the main means of transportation. With the Mississippi River running through Memphis, the city was no exception. Lots of explorers, like De Soto, LaSalle, and Marquette & Joliet came through here in the 1500, 1600, & 1700’s, and there is evidence of the Mound Builders living here a thousand years before the explorers came.

The first permanent structure was built in the bluffs in 1739. In 1814, an unknown lawyer from Nashville, who as a Major General helped the US win the Battle of New Orleans during the War of 1812, became prominent because of his actions. His name was Andrew Jackson, a future president, and he helped found and name the town in 1819.

Due to the river, Memphis has a Nile like appearance and in Egypt the name means “place of good abode”. Actually, if you look at a map of Tennessee and Missouri, along the river, you will see many towns with the same names as along the Nile River in Egypt. Although, Tennessee has many industries, music has played a large part in its economic growth.

Everyone knows about Country and Gospel music in Nashville. But Memphis is known as the birthplace of the Blues which started with W.C. Handy. Right next to Memphis is Tunica, Mississippi. Now famous as a gambling Mecca; at one time, Tunica was described by Jesse Jackson as America’s Ethiopia, the poorest county in the poorest state of the US. The land was worked by black sharecroppers and field hands who toiled in the scorching hot and humid cotton and soybean fields all day long doing back breaking work. From this the blues were derived. And, of course, who can forget Elvis Presley. He didn’t start rock n roll but it grew by leaps and bounds due to his music. Today, millions of visitors from all over the world flock to his home, Graceland.

The Union took over Memphis in 1862 and with a lack of river trade and reconstruction, the city was almost destroyed. Then in the 1870’s, yellow fever epidemics that were rampant all over the U.S., killed over half of the population. In one month 25,000 people fled the city and over 50,000 died. But Memphis eventually bounced back.

Today as you come into town, you see the thirty two story pyramid which is a sports and entertainment complex and links Memphis to its namesake in Egypt. It seats 22,500 and the base covers six football fields. The pyramid is taller than Statue of Liberty. Other notable places are the Memphis Medical Center and St Jude Children’s Research Hospital which Danny Thomas helped found. Martin Luther King was assassinated in Memphis at the Lorraine Motel and now the “National Civil Rights Museum” is located there with exhibits and audio visual displays of scenes from those times. Also downtown is the fifty two acre Mud Island with a pedestrian, auto bridges, and a monorail (which was seen in the movie “The Firm”). The site contains a river museum with steamboat, tugboat & Union gunboat, hall of river music and Native American artifacts. The island includes a 5,200 seat amphitheater for live entertainment.

Another favorite place to stop at when downtown is the Peabody Hotel where the famous Peabody ducks live on the rooftop. Each day in the morning a duck master escorts the ducks by elevator to the lobby to the music from a John Phillip Sousa march. In the evening he takes them back up the elevator to their rooftop homes. Only a couple of blocks walk from the Peabody Hotel is the very famous Beale Street; the soul of old Memphis. Immigrants came to the bluffs in the 1800’s and homes, businesses theaters, clubs, produce stands, prostitution houses, churches and pawnshops sprang up. By the 1840’s the Beale Street area was an affluent suburb of Memphis. During the Civil War the Union forces took over the city and many black freedmen settled there. Also many Irish living in the city became policemen and their old station is now a visitor’s center and free museum. In 1966 Beale Street was placed on the National Registry of Historic Places and by the early 1980’s, a full renovation was changing the seediness back to the past glory days. This is a great place to take in Memphis nightlife or dance to the bands that play outside in Handy Park. The park was dedicated to Handy and there is lots of outside music at night on the weekends. You can sit by the bronze statue of Handy holding his trumpet as you listen. And one last place on Beale Street which is a must to stop at is A. Schwabs—a century old dry goods store. It opened in 1876 and has creaky floors, an antique cash register, and voodoo supplies. There is a FREE souvenir for visitors, as well as cheap items like 99 cent ties as well as men’s pants to size 74 and women’s pants to size 60. “If we don’t have it, you don’t need it” is their motto.

Memphis, so much to see and do in this fun city. And don’t forget to try the ribs!

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