November 29, 2021
I was singing Chuck Berry’s classic song “Memphis, Tennessee” as I drove into Memphis last week:
Long distance information, give me Memphis, Tennessee
Help me find the party trying to get in touch with me
She could not leave her number, but I know who placed the call
‘Cause, my uncle took the message and he wrote it on the wall…
Y’all will be singing this song too driving into Memphis. I think everybody does. The funny thing about that though is it’s Chuck Berry’s song, and he was from St. Louis, not Memphis. Memphis is the home of this guy, the King:
Never mind that — you can hear Elvis doing his version of the Chuck Berry classic right here: Elvis – Memphis Tennessee (YouTube version).
With that introduction, welcome to my wander through Memphis, Tennessee on a mid-November day, going roughly from the north end of downtown to the south end near Beale Street, and then on down to Graceland.
Memphis is the seat of Shelby County, Tennessee. The courthouse in Memphis is a grand two-story limestone structure dedicated on January 1, 1910. The historical sign claims it is the largest and most ornate courthouse in Tennessee.
The courthouse interior includes “mahogany doors and paneling, brass doorknobs embossed with the county seal, and flooring comprised of seven varieties of marble.
Inside the courthouse, the Statue of Andrew Jackson, 7th President of the United States and the first from Tennessee, dominates the main hallway. Jackson was born in the colonial Carolinas but lived most of his life in Tennessee. The inscription on the statue reads “Our Federal Union must and shall be preserved.” The inscription is ironic in that Tennessee seceded from the Federal Union during the Civil War sixteen years after Jackson’s death in 1845.
Carved from single blocks of Tennessee marble, six statues surround the entrances of the Shelby County courthouse. The six are titled: Liberty, Authority, Peace, Prosperity, Wisdom, and Justice.
A few blocks to the south and west of the courthouse, Fourth Bluff Park marks the founding spot of the city — high on a bluff overlooking the Mississippi River. “Fourth Bluff” refers to the 4th of a series of bluffs along the east side of the river collectively known as Chickasaw Bluff, providing high ground safely above the Mississippi’s flood plains.
Memphis means barbeque, and Charles Vergos Rendevous is one of the best places for barbeque in town, especially for ribs.
The Rendezvous and Corky’s in Memphis have always been my favorite two barbeque joints in Memphis. (Corky’s is on East Poplar and not downtown.) Both establishments are known for their dry rub ribs, dry rub is the way to actually the way to go — barbeque sauces tend to cover up the taste of the meat while dry rub brings out its taste. Also, Rendezvous’ mustard-based coleslaw is unique and worth taking home by the quart.
A block from the Rendezvous, stands the massive and massively luxurious Peabody Hotel, known for the famous Peabody Duck March, a daily tradition since the 1930s.
From Wikipedia’s description of the daily Peabody Duck March:
“Every day at 11:00 a.m., the Peabody Ducks are escorted from their penthouse home, on the Rooftop, to the lobby via elevator. The ducks, accompanied by the King Cotton March by John Philip Sousa, then proceed across a red carpet to the hotel fountain, made of a solid block of Italian travertine marble. The ducks are then ceremoniously led back to their penthouse at 5:00 p.m.”
Today was a bright but windy weekday. I didn’t see many people walking the downtown streets, perhaps due to Covid restricting office use. It also may be so because Memphis is a night town. Beale Street is an institution here.
Beale Street is known as the birthplace of the Blues. The street is lined with blues venues and nightly becomes one big block party, rivalling New Orleans’ Bourbon Street for music and fun.
I spent most of the afternoon at Graceland, Elvis Presley’s home. Tickets were $75 for a combined tour of the Graceland mansion, Elvis’ aircraft, and the many exhibits. I thought $75 was steep when I bought the tickets but found it well worth the price at the end of the day. Tickets to tour Graceland can be purchased online here.
The tour of the mansion came first.
We were given a tour of the ground floor and basement rooms. What surprised me was how small the home was compared to what I am expecting. As you can see from the photos below, rooms within the house are only a little larger than what one might find in a typical middle-class American home.
Rooms within the Graceland mansion, decorated for Christmas (clockwise from top left): living room, dining room, downstairs media room, and the famous “Jungle Room,” known to Elvis as the den.
Through the back door of the mansion, the tour continued into the backyard area where we saw Elvis’ swimming pool and, next to the pool, the graves of the King, his parents, and his grandmother.
One of the backyard buildings contains some photo exhibits and artifacts from Elvis’ life. The photo shown below is my favorite shot of the whole day, it shows a very young Elvis Presley with his father Vernon and his mother Grace, taken in Tupelo, Mississippi during the Great Depression. The young family was dirt poor; Vernon supported them on whatever odd jobs he could find. After becoming a star and buying Graceland, Elvis moved his parents into a bedroom suite on the main floor.
I didn’t consider myself a big Elvis Presley fan before visiting Graceland, but I consider myself a bigger fan now.
The Graceland tour includes a wide variety of exhibits — everything from Elvis’ vehicles to his gold records, housed in display venues across the street from the mansion. Below: Elvis’ famous pink Cadillac, a photo of Elvis serving the Army in Germany in the 1950s, and a wall full of recording achievements.
Finally, Elvis’ airplane, the “Lisa Marie”:
A list of all photo posts from the American County Seats series in TimManBlog can be found here.
All photos were taken by the author on November 17, 2021.
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