By Renée S. Gordon
“Then I’m walking in Memphis, Walking with my feet ten feet off of Beale.”
–“Walking in Memphis” by Marc Cohen
People have always traveled. Initially it was to follow a food source, then to facilitate trade and commerce. In the Middle Ages religious pilgrimages became popular and established routes were developed with stops along the way. Though I consider those treks a form of leisure travel you had to have the time, the desire and the money to embark on such a trip. The modern concept of travel for pleasure did not really develop until the mid-1800s when the time and money for leisure travel coincided with the Industrial Revolution. Today travel is the number one leisure activity and the automobile is the primary mode of transport.
To help you hit the road Tennessee has created a series of 16 trails that highlight the state’s five National Scenic Byways. The trails are designed to incorporate sites and attractions in all 95 counties and feature history and themes that are purely Tennessee. The routes are self-guided and allow travellers to mix and match according to interest, proximity and time. www.tntrailsandbyways.com
All trails, river, rail and road, led to Memphis and so it is the natural place to launch into the West Tennessee Trails. Historically it is considered to be ground zero for all things rhythmic in the state and beyond. Just as Memphis is the city, the Memphis Peabody Hotel is the place. It is widely believed that the Mississippi Delta starts in the hotel lobby and ends in Vicksburg, Mississippi. The Italian Renaissance Peabody was built in 1869. The current hotel was constructed for $250,000 in the 1920s at a different location but replicates the original. The hotel has hosted such luminaries as Jefferson Davis, Andrew Johnson, William McKinley, Daniel Faulkner, Charles Lindbergh and Elvis Presley. www.memphistravel.com
The signature feature of the four-star, AAA Four-Diamond hotel is the twice daily March of the Ducks down the red carpet and into the Grand Lobby marble fountain. In 1932 three English call decoy ducks were put in the fountain. The ducks were so popular that an 80-year old tradition was born. These days five North American Mallards, four female and one male, parade each day. These very lucky Peabody Ducks live in the Duck Palace located o the roof of the hotel for three months prior to retirement at a nearby farm. It must be noted that duck is never on the Peabody’s menu. The parade takes place at 11 AM and 5 PM to Sousa’s “King Cotton March.”
The Peabody, two blocks from Beale Street, is filled with luxurious spaces that include both the accommodations and the public areas. A tour of the hotel includes a number of significantly historic areas. Elvis attended his 1953 Junior-Senior Humes High School prom in the Continental Ballroom. The beautifully appointed Smoking Room is not only where men retired after dinner to smoke, but also where they were given their dinner check because it was never presented in front of your party. The Memorabilia Room is not to be missed because it is filled with tangible objects that tell the hotel’s story and notably the Peabody was the site of field-recordings by record companies. Scouts would hold open calls for local bluesmen in hotel rooms. A number of these musicians would go on to fame. No trip to Memphis is complete without a visit to the venerable Peabody. www.peabodymemphis.com
Arguably Memphis most famous trail is the Memphis Blues Trail located along Highway 61. There are 29 sites that represent the best in American music.
Graceland, a 13.8-acre National Historic Landmark, was Elvis’ home from 1957 until his death in 1977. The 23-room mansion was purchased for a little over $100,000. Lisa Marie Presley inherited the estate and sold 85 percent of it, excluding the mansion and artifacts, in 2005. The mansion is the third most visited private residence in the country and audio tours are offered in nine languages and tickets can be purchased online. www.Elvis.com/Graceland
The complex is open daily and encompasses four restaurants, seven attractions, Heartbreak Hotel and a number of shops. Highlights of a tour are the Lisa Marie and Hound Dog II Jets, the Mansion, the Automobile Museum and the “Sincerely Elvis” exhibit. This exhibit features performers, including Bob Dylan, Wilson Pickett, Sam Cooke and James Brown, who either influenced or were influenced by Elvis. Visitors also have the opportunity to marry or renew their vows in Graceland’s Chapel in the Woods. www.Elvis.com/chapel
Continuing on the Elvis portion of the music trail a must stop is the Arcade Restaurant. The restaurant, dating from 1919, is the city’s oldest. The Greek revival building was to have seven levels but the depression hit prior to completion. The food, originally cooked on potbelly stoves, is award winning and the restaurant has been featured on the Food Network, The Travel Channel and CNN.
The Arcade has been used in such movies as “The Firm,” “Great Balls of Fire,” “Walk the Line,” and “The Client.” Elvis ate here often, always entering by the back door, sitting in a back booth facing a mirror in the rear. The booth has been preserved and provides a great photo op. www.arcaderestaurant.com
In 1977 Congress designated Beale Street as the official Home of the Blues. The street boasts nearly 30 music, dining and retail establishments and a vibe that is unduplicated anywhere else. When a predominately black district, Beale Street housed the largest venue for black entertainment in the South, the Palace Theater.
Anchored by statues of Elvis and WC Handy, linked by the Beale Street Walk of Fame, you can’t help but have a good time. www.bealestreet.com
Enslaved and free African Americans established First Baptist Church at 379 Beale St. and though the church predates the Civil War this building was begun in 1871. It was in this church that journalist Ida B. Wells published her newspaper, “Free Speech.”
The relocated William Christopher “WC” Handy Home and Museum is located on 4th and Beale. In this tiny brick shotgun house Handy resided after 1912. He lived in Memphis from 1905-18. www.heritagetoursmemphis.com
“If you can’t find it at Schwab’s you are better off without it.” Abraham Schwab founded Schwab’s, the only original business remaining on Beale, in 1876. The store is filled with all manner of merchandise, from soap to voodoo supplies.
Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum, in conjunction with the Smithsonian, interprets the story of the creation of Memphis music, the artists who created it and its cultural impact. The tour begins with a video and proceeds as an audio tour into the exhibition with a display of a front porch, a commonality of black and white rural poor communities, where music skills were honed and passed on. The galleries after this are divided with the left side tracing the development of Black music and the right side the concurrent development of White music. Important features are the beginnings of race records, hillbilly music and early Memphis radio stations. www.memphisrocknsoul.org
Soulsville Foundation administrates three programs, 2000 Stax Music Academy, 2005 Soulsville Charter School and the 2003 Soulsville: Stax Museum of American Soul Music, the only soul music museum in the world. Since 2008 100% of the seniors in Stax Music Academy have gone to college. The museum is a 17,000 square foot, state-of-the-art facility erected on the footprint of the original Stax Records, the only integrated recording studio in the city. There are more than 2,000 interactive exhibits, 16 exhibit areas, as well as a wide-range of objects, costumes, instruments, audios, videos, photographs and interpretive materials.
Tours begin with a brief but comprehensive introductory video and lead into an exhibit of the relocated 1906 Hooper’s Chapel AME Mississippi Delta church. The church and surrounding exhibits explore the gospel roots of soul music. Highlights of the museum are Al Green’s robe and Bible and Isaac Hayes meticulously restored 1972 Peacock blue Cadillac El Dorado. The fur-trimmed car rotates to the theme music from “Shaft.” Midway through the tour visitors are encouraged to dance their way through a gallery. The tour ends with a homage to the life and career of Otis Redding and a visit to a replicated Studio A, sloped floor and all. www.staxmuseum.com
The African American History Trail runs through Memphis with a number of significant sites, none more unique than Slavehaven and the National Civil Rights Museum.
Slavehaven, the Burkle Estate, is one of a limited number of interpreted Underground Railroad sites in the South and in 1991 a historical marker was added. Jacob Burkle, a German immigrant, built the estate on the outskirts of Memphis in 1856 probably for the express purpose of serving as an UGRR station. The secluded home was two blocks from the Mississippi River and freedom seekers were secreted in the attic, which has no interior stairs, and a hidden cellar. The family passed down the story orally until 1985 when an African American evangelist purchased the estate for use as a church.
Slavehaven has offered a very special 45-minute tour since 1998. It begins with a general history of slavery in America and then narrows its focus to the immediate area. The one-floor museum displays antiques and artifacts as well as slave sale broadsides from Memphis Adams Avenue slave sales and information on Bedford Forrest’s breeding farm. The story of Aunt Liddy and a male slave owned by Jacob is related in the kitchen. They escaped north and he failed to advertise for them until enough time had elapsed for them to reach their destination. John King’s story, easily the most poignant, is that of a slave whose hands were cut off, for learning to read. The second portion of the tour is devoted to the hiding places in the house. One of the relatives of Cinque of Amistad fame visited the museum and when in Memphis you must do the same. www.slavehavenundergroundrailroadmuseum.org
The National Civil Rights Museum, the jewel inn Memphis’ crown, incorporates the Lorraine Motel, the site of Dr. King’s assassination at 6:01 PM on April 8, 1968 while standing on the balcony of room 306. After being taken to St. Joseph’s Hospital he was pronounced dead at 7:05 PM. The Legacy Building is currently undergoing a 14-month, $27-million restoration but during the restoration the museum will remain open. During this period a rare opportunity will be offered, visitors will be allowed to stand on the iconic balcony, previously off-limits, Once completed, in early 2014, the balcony will be closed to visitors again. www.civilrightsmuseum.org
Of course there is a “foodie’ trail and you can locate lists of the best barbeque, fried chicken and southern food restaurants in Memphis. I, of course, have a few suggestions.
- Central Barbeque has been voted the favorite barbeque restaurant of native Memphians 10 times. There are two locations with a third on the way. www.cbqmemphis.com
- Gus’ World Famous Fried Chicken has been featured in USA Today and the line usually stretches outside for the spicy chicken. www.gusmendenhall.com
- Rendezvous has been the home of Charlie Vergos delicious ribs since 1948.www.hogsfly.com
- Trolley Stop Market is a heady mixture of farmer’s market, boutique and restaurant. They are most famous for their breakfast pizzas.
Tennessee is an affordable, accessible, family-oriented destination. The trails make exploration easy but you make it fun. Next week we hit the trails to explore more of West Tennessee.www.tnvacation.com
I wish you smooth travels!
Bucks County has done it again. They are offering a stunning variety of family activities for this holiday season. Highlights include “A Very Furry Christmas” at Sesame Place, the Holiday Light Show at Shady Brook Farm, the Grand Illumination and Christmas Festival in Peddler’s Village and a ride aboard the holiday train with Santa on the North Pole Express at New Hope and Ivyland Railroad. NO history buff should miss the reenactment of Washington’s Christmas Day Crossing of the Delaware. Additional activities, dates, times, fees, etc., are available at VisitBucksCounty.com/events