My grandkids came to visit for a month this summer. It’s the second year in a row we’ve had a month-long visit, which makes June and July my new favorite months of the year. Part of our new tradition is meeting halfway between our house and theirs, in Memphis, Tennessee. We pick up the kids there and bring them home, and we meet up again with their parents at the end of our visit.
Having just made two whirlwind trips to Memphis in a month, I decided to share a few things you may not know about the city. Here they are, in no particular order:
#1: Everybody probably knows that Elvis Presley moved his family from his birthplace in Tupelo, Mississippi to Memphis and that his home there, Graceland, is a huge tourist draw. But we’ll get to that later. Did you know that Memphis is the most populous city in Tennessee? Or that its metropolitan area sprawls over Shelby and Tipton counties in Tennessee, Crittenden County in Arkansas, and De Soto County in Mississippi? The city had a population of 1,316,100 in 2010. Every time I go there, I’m surprised by how close to the city the state line is, whether I’m traveling north or south or east. I’ve never come into the city heading west, but I suspect that’s a different experience.
#2. Memphis is the site of the National Civil Rights Museum, established at the Lorraine Motel on Mulberry Street, the site of the 1968 assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. The museum (the first of its kind in the nation) chronicles the civil rights movement from the colonial period to the present day. In 2002, it expanded to include the adjacent building—the Main Street Rooming House—which is where James Earl Ray allegedly fired the shot that killed King. The museum is open from 9:00AM TO 6:00 PM daily except Tuesdays. I haven’t made it to the museum yet. Our trips are always too short to do much. But I hope to make it to the museum someday soon.
#3. Memphis is a well-known music center and it’s been the home of several famous musical sounds. One of the best-known places in the city is Beale Street, where W. C. Handy, the “father of the blues,” wrote and performed his music. His first blues composition was The Memphis Blues written in 1912 as a campaign song for a Memphis mayoral election. He immortalized the street in Beale Street Blues (1916). A statue of Handy stands in a park named for him on Beale Street.
#4. Memphis was named for the Egyptian city on the Nile River. Memphis in Egypt was a hub of activity, with a busy port and a high density of workshops, factories and warehouses. Memphis, Tennessee is also home to a busy port and it’s one of the largest warehouse and distribution centers in the country.
#5. And, of course, there Graceland, the former home of Elvis Presley turned tourist attraction. It’s the second most visited private home in the United States, second only to the White House in Washington, D.C. We’ve spent some time at the gift shops and restaurants across the street, but we haven’t yet taken a tour of the house or even walked on the grounds. It’s definitely an item on our to-do list, if ever we stay in Memphis long enough to actually take a tour I can’t shake the feeling, however, as I look at the prices of even the smallest item in the gift shops, that Elvis himself might not be all that happy with what’s happened in his name. If you’re really wanting an Elvis pen or mug, check out the gift shops that aren’t part of the official Graceland enterprise. We found one just a block away with prices much more reasonable, even if the official paraphernalia is a bit more limited.
So there you have them: five things you might not have known about Memphis, Tennessee before today.