In retrospect, only spending a week each in Nashville and Memphis was probably short sighted as there is so much to see in these two great cities. Also, waiting until I visited both of them to write this blog was also probably a mistake as I’ve got tons of pictures and stories to share. So, I will apologize in advance if this blog post is too long winded. But with so much wonderful history to describe, it’s the only way to go. So, let’s get into it!
No visit to Nashville would be complete without a visit to the Country Music Hall of Fame. Besides recognizing those who most contributed to country music via their induction into the HOF, the museum also sports the largest collection of country music artifacts. The walls are covered with hundreds of platinum and gold records, and cases filled with memorabilia from all walks of country music life. This includes an iconic hat and dress worn by Minnie Pearl, and lots of guitars from legendary players like Chet Atkins. It even has an Elvis owned gold-plated Cadillac, and the “Bandit” car from Smokey and the Bandit II. While I’m not very well versed in current country music and its musicians, I did recognize many of the inductees from years past.
Downtown Nashville is a fun place to go. Its skyline has lots of beautiful buildings – including the tallest building in TN the AT&T Building – or as it it often referred to by the locals – the Batman Building. I also got to visit the Marathon Motor Works which was an early automobile manufacturer that ran from 1907 to 1914, and was the only brand of car built in Tenessee. The museum houses a handful of the few remaining cars in existence. It was said that Jay Leno also has one in his private collection.
Besides the museum, the old Marathon manufacturing building now hosts a number of art and antique stores. One of those stores in particular is the Nashville location for Antique Archeology – the famed storefront to the popular TV show American Pickers where hosts Mike Wolfe and Frank Fritz travel around the country in search of antique treasures. I’m a big fan of the show, and was thrilled to checkout their Nashville location. Among the many items for sale were several NFS items from the private collections of Mike and Frank. This included Mike’s VW motorcycle, and the jacket worn by Evil Knievel. What I found most interesting was the VW Bug hood that was transformed into some sort of devil-like artwork. I had just seen the episode that featured them getting this pick a few weeks prior. How cool was that!
All of the above places were the more common tourist attractions visited by all who visit the area. I also did get to visit with some not so common or well known Nashville icons. First and foremost, I got to visit with a dear friend named Thomas who happens to live in the Nashville area. I’ve known Thomas for upwards of two decades and first met him when he and a couple of his colleagues came to the company I worked for to perform a government mandated IT Controls Audit. So, he was an outside auditor coming into our house to dig for any dirt he can find (sort of like a colonoscopy) to then report back to our government customer. Well, maybe not exactly like that. I think it is unusual to become friendly with your auditors, but you have to know Thomas and the others he worked with (MG for example). They were the most fair, reasonable, professional, and likable folks I’ve ever had the pleasure of being audited by. I’ve had many many subsequent audits by them over the past 20 years, and it was always a pleasure to see them. We’ve remained friends and and work associates throughout all the years. It was really nice to see Thomas again. Thanks for stopping by and sharing a beer with me!
Not far from my campground was a really cool old fort known as Mansker’s Station. Mansker’s Fort is an authentic reproduction of a 1779 frontier forted station typical of early Cumberland settlements. During the week, they have folks do demonstrations of what life was like back in the late 1700’s and early 1800’s. Sadly, I showed up when it was closed. Oh well – maybe next time! The fort was definitely cool though.
Another town heavily influenced by the music scene would be Memphis – home to at least two kings – the King of Rock & Roll: Elvis Presley and the King of the Blues: BB King. I took a Memphis bus tour that included stops to over a dozen famous places representing all that is Memphis. It started with a trip to Sun Studio where Elvis recorded his first hits. The main floor is now a museum featuring lots of recording history memorabilia, but recordings continue to this day down in the basement.
Next stop Graceland – home to Elvis. I didn’t do the extended Graceland tour, so I only got to see the mansion from outside the gate. I did see his two private planes that are on static display in the area. The entrance to the mansion has these beautiful “Song” gates, and a rock wall with endless graffiti writings from all his fans. I was amazed by the number of folks who were at the extended tours which included the mansion, the car museum, and of course the meditation garden featuring Elvis’ final resting place.
Next stop included Beale St – one of Tennessee’s top tourist stops and home to a large collection of Blues restaurants and clubs with nightly fine dining and live Blues music. They also frequently have concerts and festivals that fill the almost 2-mile long stretch of roadway. It was a hopping and happening place with the smell of BBQ and the sounds of Blues everywhere. Like the walk of fame in Hollywood, the sidewalks of Beale St are adorned with award winning songs and handprints of the singers who made them famous.
We next stopped in the area of the National Civil Rights Museum, which includes the Lorraine Motel – the site of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King. A wreath marks the approximate location where Dr. King was when he was killed. Two vehicles, his personal transport car, and the car used by his security team, remain parked in front of the hotel as there were on that dreadful day.
We also toured the Mississippi Riverfront area of downtown Memphis, which took us to several area landmarks. Perhaps the most noticeable is the Memphis Pyramid. Built in 1991, this 32 story tall facility was originally a sports arena and housed 20,000 plus fans of the NBA team Memphis Grizzlies. It also hosted concerts, as well as the boxing mega-fight between Lennox Lewis and Mike Tyson in 2002, which Lewis won by a knockout in the eighth round. When the Grizzlies built a new facility and moved out in 2004, the pyramid remained virtually vacant. Following several years of negotiations and several more years of rehab, Bass Pro openned its doors in 2015 as one of the largest stores in the country. In addition to its normal sporting goods fare, it also features a number of restaurants and a 100+ person hotel, and several aquariums. It’s an amazing facility to visit.
There were a few other riverfront attractions I was able to enjoy. One in particular was the Hernando de Soto Bridge which runs along Interstate 40 and spans the Mississippi River linking Memphis, TN with West Memphis, AR. It is sometimes jokingly referred to as the Dolly Parton Bridge for its obvious construction style.
I also viewed the Memphis Suspension Railway which is a suspended monorail and upper walkway that links downtown Memphis with the entertainment complex on Mud Island. Its claim to fame is it was featured in the Tom Cruise movie The Firm (see movie scene video clip HERE).
The last picture depicted here was a road to nowhere. I just happened to see it while I was taking pictures in the area. I’m not sure if its famous for anything, but it certainly reminded me of the move Speed with Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock where they run that bus off the end of a highway. I’m not sure if this was the road from the movie, but it sure looked like it.
Finally, there were two other places I visited. One was the world famous St Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Built in 1962, this wonderful facility treats children with leukemia and other cancers. It reportedly operates on a budget $2.8M per day, and most importantly, there is no cost to the patients or their families. All costs are covered via endowments, fund raising, and the like. It was originally founded by Danny Thomas – a comedian, actor, and TV personality, and remains very much an active and ongoing philanthropic endeavor by his descendants. Both Danny and his wife Rose Marie are buried in a beautiful garden on the grounds of the hospital complex.
My last visit to report on was to a small temporary museum located in Marion, AR – just down the road from my campground. I had never heard of the Sultana before, so a visit was in order to learn more. The Sultana was a Mississippi River Civil war era side-wheel steamboat that was generally used to transport cotton as the ship traveled between St. Louis and New Orleans. The Sultana was under the command of Captain James Mason. In April 1865, while docked in Vicksburg, MS, Captain Mason was approached by Captain Reuben Hatch who was the chief quartermaster at Vicksburg. With the end of the Civil war, there were many soon to be parolees being held in Confederate prison camps, including one in Vicksburg, that would need to be transported back up to the north. Hatch offered a batch of folks to transport in exchange for a kickback of the payment he would receive for providing the transportation. So, they did the deal, and a few days later the Sultana was loaded up with 1960 parolees, 22 guards, 70 paying cabin passengers, and a crew of 85. A total of 2,137 people on a ship designed to hold 376 passengers. While heading north, 3 of the 4 boilers exploded causing the ship to catch fire and eventually sink. The exact casualty count is not exactly know, but is believed to be 1,547. This would become the worst shipping disaster in US history. Also, due to the general tiring of news related to Civil war battles and casualties, this disaster would go very much under reported as it happened at the close of the war. The museum does a great job bringing forward the facts of this disaster. On a final note, it was kinda funny that during my tour, there was a mother and daughter present who are direct descendants of Captain Hatch – who was their great uncle. Given that he was a bit of a scoundrel and likely played a role in the overloading of the ship, they were none the less well received in the museum.
Well, I don’t have any Roadside America to share with this blog post. I was too busy chasing mainline tourist attractions, and had little idle time for the Roadside items. Oh well, next time. I now continue my trek south as I head to warmer climate for the winter. I’ll be in Hot Springs, AR for a week, then will make my first landfall into TX, where I’ll be wandering for the following several months. Till later, safe travels!