When we left Sikeston, we moved to a membership park called Big Buck RV Resort near the little town of Hornsby, Tennessee. It’s an older resort that the previous owners had neglected and allowed it to deteriorate quite a bit. The new owner is working hard to restore it. Being so late in the year, there were very few people there and some of the amenities were closed for the season. In spite of that, we enjoyed our stay and made a few new friends. Oh, and the leaves are coming out in full color! It has been quite dry, and many leaves have been simply dying and turning brown.
We have been to Memphis before but only long enough to visit Graceland. It’s now time to see more.
The Tom Sawyer’s RV Park where we stayed is actually across the Mississippi River in West Memphis, Arkansas. Like the campground at Trail of Tears State Park, it is situated right on the banks of the river where we can watch the towboats pushing their many barges up and down stream. The park obviously floods – major electrical junction boxes are on platforms raised 15 to 20 feet above the ground. There is one building with a sign showing the depth of the river crest in May 2011 that is 25 or 30 feet above the ground.
Memphis was once a major center in the slave trade. So, it is also logical that it played an important role in the Civil Rights Movement. We began our exploration of this aspect of Memphis at the Lorraine Motel where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated. It is now part of the National Civil Rights Museum incorporating the motel, the Lorraine Hotel, and the boarding house across the street from where James Earl Ray is believed to have fired the fatal shot.
The motel/hotel portion of the museum has excellent displays that begin with the coming of slavery in America in 1619 and travels through the Civil War, Jim Crow Laws, the Bus Boycott, sit-ins, the Sanitation Strike, and the assassination of Dr. King, including the room where he stayed and the balcony where he was shot. Across the street is The Legacy portion of the museum where we saw the room where Ray stayed and the bathroom window where he fired the shot. It also tells about the search for him and quite a discussion about the three different commissions that studied who did it and where he was when he fired the shot. Although it is generally accepted that James Earl Ray fired from the boarding house, there is no absolute proof.
After the Civil War and into the early 1900s, Beale Street became the capital of Black Memphis. It had an opera house, a fashionable hotel, a finishing school, and one of the largest office buildings in Memphis. “It was a mecca for musicians, politicians, ministers, business men, gamblers, conjurors, and bootleggers … a few blocks of brick and cement where the well-heeled and down-and-out hope and dream and have a life.” It fell on hard times in the 1960s but was revitalized in the 1980s as a tourist attraction and as a memory for people who experienced it in its heyday. Now, it is mostly blues clubs and a few restaurants along the three blocks that are barricaded off as a pedestrian mall. We had ice cream at A. Schwab’s historic soda fountain.
Cotton is so important to the life and economy in this area that a visit to the Cotton Museum becomes a “must see.” Located on the ground floor of the Memphis Cotton Exchange Building, it is divided into the history of cotton and modern cotton technology. The history side tells about life as a slave and later a share cropper, early equipment used in the growing and processing of cotton, buying and selling cotton through the exchange, and cotton products and their influence on the everyday and social life of both blacks and whites, including the origins of the blues and jazz. The modern side presents advances in the technology of growing and harvesting cotton and new uses for cotton.
While out exploring for other things, we discovered that there is a Gibson Guitar factory in Memphis. This is the largest of Gibson’s three factories. One is in Bozeman, Montana, and the third, including the headquarters, is in Nashville, Tennessee. Unfortunately, they don’t allow photography in the factory, so all we can show you is the brightly colored, shiny new ones offered in their on-site store.
The Peabody Hotel Duck March is an entertaining event. In 1933, the Peabody General Manager and a friend returned from a duck hunting trip feeling a bit tipsy. As a practical joke, they placed some of their live duck decoys (live decoys were legal then) in the fountain in the center of the Peabody lobby. The stunt was so enthusiastically received that still, after more than 80 years, each morning at 11:00 am the ducks take the elevator down from their private roof-top apartment and march to the fountain where they spend the day. Then, at 5:00 pm, they march back to the elevator and return to their apartment.
The Memphis Pyramid was originally constructed in 1991 as a 20,142-seat arena downtown. Between 2004 and 2015, it wasn’t used regularly as either a sports or entertainment center. In 2015, it re-opened as a Bass Pro Shops “megastore”, which includes shopping, a hotel, restaurants, a bowling alley, and an archery range, with two outdoor observation decks adjacent to its apex. We spent a couple of hours in the pyramid starting with lunch at Uncle Buck’s Fishbowl & Grill. After that, we wandered about the place just looking at the stuff. Right in the middle is the tallest freestanding elevator in America. We rode the elevator and passed through the restaurant at the top to step out onto each of the two observation decks just below the pinnacle.