My recent road trip around the United States gave me an opportunity to spend time in some fascinating places and discover this amazing country. I didn’t always get as much time in each place as I would have liked and Memphis was one of them. Here’s what I managed to squeeze into my few hours in The Home of the Blues.
We drove into Memphis in the early afternoon sun, around 5 hours after leaving New Orleans. 400 miles wasn’t the longest drive we had on this epic trip but I was looking forward to stretch my legs and explore the city. Due to the lack of time available (we were due to head to Nashville the following morning), we would have to be clever with how we spent our day. A few people headed straight for Graceland, a huge estate once home to Elvis Presley now serving as a museum to The King. Containing awards, possessions and memorabilia, it is a must visit attraction for any music fan. We were lucky enough to be staying in the Graceland campground just a couple of minutes from the entrance. So while I didn’t go inside, I can say that I slept in Graceland. Right? Right??
Since I am not a massive Elvis fan, I decided to check out the National Civil Rights Museum instead. I am interested in history, but know very little about American history and especially the Civil Rights Movement. The museum was recently refurbished and now features more multimedia content including archive footage and short films which bring the subject to life. During my time in the museum I learnt about the Greensboro sit in protests and the Montgomery Bus Boycott among many other facts about this period of black civil rights history.
The museum is built around the Lorraine Motel, where Martin Luther King Jr., was assassinated in 1968. I had a chance to see the room that he regularly stayed in during his visits to Memphis and the spot where he was shot. The museum complex also includes the boarding house where MLK’s killer, James Earl Ray, allegedly fired the fatal shot from. It now houses a permanent exhibition dedicated to the assassination and its aftermath. The visit to the museum is very thought-provoking and required some reflection afterwards.
I started making my way to downtown Memphis, passing the FedEx forum, home of the Memphis Grizzlies basketball team, part-owned by Justin Timberlake. I was heading to Beale Street, which has been voted as the Most Iconic Street in USA by USA Today newspaper. Home to countless blues clubs and bars, it’s a popular tourist attraction and regularly attracts big crowds. Today, it attracted bikers. Loads of them! Turns out that every Wednesday night is Bike Night and hundreds of bikers come down Downtown to show off their motorcycles fitted out with thousands dollars’ worth of liveries, lights and engine enhancements.
We were due to come back to Beale Street later in the evening to enjoy the nightlife and check out more of the city, so for now I grabbed a coffee and headed back to Graceland for dinner and a shower. I can pretend, OK?
After returning to Beale Street later that evening, we grabbed some beers and wandered down the street, checking out the bikes which now lined each side of the street and illuminated it better than the orange streetlights above. The sound of blues streaming out of bars mixed with revving engines and created a unique melody. We left the lights and the sounds of the area and walked towards the banks of the Mississippi River. We passed the Orpheum Theatre, rebuilt in 1928 after a fire destroyed the original building, which is still a popular show and concert venue and heard about Mary, a child who is said to haunt the theatre.
We made a little detour to the Peabody Hotel, famous not for its luxurious rooms and grand lobby, but for ducks! One of these “only in America” things, the tradition sees a family of ducks living on the hotel’s roof descend to the lobby in an elevator and walk down the red carpet to the lobby fountain. The twice daily procession attracts many tourists and there is even a job attached to the custom – the Duckmaster is a prestigious position and the original Duckmaster held the role for 50 years! Unfortunately we were too late to see the ducks but I would love to see them next time I am in Memphis.
We headed to the Tom Lee Park and watched the distant lightning storm briefly illuminate the dark waters of the Mississippi below us. I thought about my brief affair with Memphis and decided that I will definitely return and take in the sights and sounds of this wonderful Tennessee city for a few more days.
I travelled with Trek America on its 43 day Grand Trek trip. Apr-Sep from £3189 www.trekamerica.co.uk