From an over the top icon’s mansion to the sober motel
balcony where the leader of the civil rights movement fell, Memphis is steeped
in history. Perched along the Mississippi River and just a stone’s throw away
from the border with Arkansas, travelers often overlook this city, myself
included. After passing through Memphis several times this year on road trips
across the South, I kept finding even more reasons I should have planned for a
few more days with Memphis. Part of the appeal of this Tennessee city comes
through its many different museum sites, where a great deal of American history
National Civil Rights
Museum: From the outside, the National Civil Rights Museum looks like a
motel trapped in time. The museum finds a home in one of America’s most
chilling spaces, the old Lorraine Motel. It was here in 1968 that Dr. Martin
Luther King Jr. was assassinated on the balcony of his motel room. It would
later be turned into a gripping memorial to the civil rights movement. Through
placards and displays, the museum chronicles the struggle of African Americans
from the time of slavery to present day. Exhibits bring to life monumental
settings in the American civil rights movement including a Montgomery, Alabama
public bus replica like that Rosa Parks took her stand on and the Greensboro,
North Carolina lunch counter.
rock’n’roll legend Elvis Presley surely knew how to live well. The biggest
attraction in Memphis is easily Graceland, the star’s former home. In fact,
Graceland is the second most visited home in America after the White House.
Right up there with the home of the leader of the United States, Elvis’ mansion
presents several museum spaces to tour. Aside from a tour of where Elvis lived,
you can also take in the Elvis Presley Automobile Museum, home to the 1955 pink
Cadillac and two of his personal jets. Graceland is also the final resting
place of the actor, musician and personality.
Sun Studios: If
you have an interest in music history, chances are you have heard of Sun Studios,
the supposed birthplace of rock’n’roll. Owner and recording engineer Sam
Phillips would first record Elvis Presley in the studio space
in the early 1950’s. Artists like Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison and Carl Perkins
also recorded their sounds at Sun Studios in Memphis. You can tour arguably the
most famous recording studio in America, where B.B. King and Johnny Cash
crooned. At night it still serves as a recording studio.
Pink Palace Museum:
While it sounds like another Elvis Presley pilgrimage site, the Pink Palace
Museum is actually a mansion for those interested in seeing grocery store
history. Clarence Saunders built the pink marble mansion after World War II.
While the grocery store magnate would never see what it would became, no doubt
he would be proud. The Pink Palace Museum contains a replica of the first
self-service grocery store in the country, Saunders’ Piggly Wiggly. Aside from
showcasing the grocery store revolution, the museum oddly couples as a natural
history museum with dinosaur and fossil exhibits.
What’s your favorite
museum space in Memphis?
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Photo: Joseph Lee Novak
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