Tennessee--Memphis, Home of the Blues
Trip Start Apr 16, 2009
32Trip End Jul 12, 2009
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DAY 9--Graceland was on the agenda for today. It was different from what we expected, not as elaborate or outrageous. It was a two-story "mansion" with LR, DR, kitchen, family room, and Vernon Presley's bedroom on the main floor, a TV room and pool room in the basement, an added-on Jungle Room, furnished with animal furnishings and décor, and bedrooms upstairs (not open to the public). There was a pool and area for horses and a racquetball building Elvis had built. Everything in the house is as it was when Elvis died, so it's very 70's dated. Elvis is buried with his parents in the back Meditation Garden. Elvis's image is on everything imaginable in the numerous gift shops across the road where you catch the shuttle to go to the house.
With a little time to spare, we ventured downtown to see the renowned Peabody Ducks. At the Peabody Hotel, comparable to the Jefferson in Richmond, the ducks have marched to and from the lobby fountain on a red carpet in time with the John Phillips Sousa march following the Duckmaster for 76 years. Hundreds of tourists gather each day at 11:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. to observe the time-honored tradition. The drinks in the lobby bar are expensive to subsidize the entertainment.
Our impression of Memphis: very sketchy, run down, not well maintained, seriously reflecting the impact of "white flight", very threatening, worse than Knoxville. To us, Nashville is easily the best city in Tennessee. (I want to live in Nashville!)
DAY 10--We visited the National Civil Rights Museum in downtown Memphis. It is located in a building added on to the Lorraine Motel where Martin Luther King, Jr. was slain on the balcony by James Earl Ray on April 4, 1968. We appreciated the audio headset as there was so much reading in the museum about the history of the movement. There were not a lot of artifacts until the second part of the museum in a former rooming house from which James Earl Ray shot King. There we saw the bullet that killed King, the autopsy report, and the actual evidence used against Ray in court. The FBI tracked Ray through various aliases and falsified passports to London where Interpol arrested him two months after the shooting.
Afterwards, we rode around to see some of the notable sites:
ˇ Sun Studio, where Johnny Cash, B. B. King , Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison, and Elvis cut their first records
ˇ the Victorian Village with elaborate houses, dating back to the mid 1800's
ˇ the Pyramid arena
ˇ the horse carts in front of The Peabody Hotel
ˇ Beale Street, Danny Thomas Blvd., and Elvis Presley Blvd
On the riverfront there are sites reflecting Memphis history: Jefferson Davis Park, Confederate Park, and a street named Colonel Washburn's escape (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Second_Battle_of_Memphis ). High up on the bluff backing up to the Mississippi are beautiful mansions in a gated community. I guess this is where the moneyed live.
Tonight we checked out the famous Beale Street, Home of the Blues, a three-block mecca of restaurants, bars, and music venues, very similar to Bourbon Street in New Orleans. In its earlier days, this was a primarily black area, where blues was born (the first W. C. Handy "blues" song was written here). The music played in this stretch had a big impact on Elvis Presley in addition to gospel and rockabilly influences. We saw the best Elvis impersonator ever--Tony Rocker ( http://www.tonyrocker.com/ ) who from a distance looked like Elvis with all his moves and sounded so much like him it was amazing. This guy has quite a fan club in Wisconsin: two bus loads from Madison, Wisconsin had come on a trip to Memphis to hear him sing in this club on Beale Street.
DAY 11-We are heading out of Memphis, not wanting to come back except maybe to Beale Street. We heard on TV this morning that Memphis was just been listed at the #2 most dangerous city in the U.S., just behind Detroit.