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Rodney's Ramblings: Visiting Magical Memphis

Rodney Gascoyne was enchanted by magical Memphis.

On a trip to Memphis a few years ago, just after the Mississippi flooding had started to subside, I learned much about this interesting Tennessee city. Apart from being the home of the Blues, Gospel music and Rock n’ Roll, it had its own place in history; as a local focal point of conflict between the Spanish and the new United States, this was solved by Pinckney’s Treaty of 1796, and the site became part of the US as the Spanish left; later it was a centre for the slave and cotton trades; and in 1861 became a Confederate stronghold before falling to Union forces in 1862.

Fast forward to April 1968 and it was where Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his last speech before being assassinated at the Lorraine Motel.

We stayed at the Peabody Hotel, the magnificent masterpiece of a luxury hotel in Downtown Memphis, built in the 1920s and renovated in the late 1970s in the grand old style. It is now largely famous for its marching parade of mallard ducks, one drake and four hens, who spend their days in the central lobby fountain, and nights in their Plantation rooftop penthouse. Each morning at 11am they are escorted down in the elevator and troop out to their watery playground, where they stay until 5pm and an equally choreographed return home. This attracts large crowds daily to watch both ceremonies.

http://www.peabodymemphis.com/peabody-ducks/

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p10YyBuzicQ

On trips out of the city, we saw the extent of the flooding in the area, part of the river then being almost a mile wide as it invaded low lying land nearby and closing off many roads and farming areas that were deep underwater. The crest had happened two weeks earlier and the focus at that time had moved closer to Baton Rouge when barrier gates were opened, to allow flooding of farmland, to save the cities.

One evening we went to Graceland, the past home and resting place for some of the Presley family. This site is now thought to be responsible for almost half of the crowds and tourist income for the whole city and area. The impressive mansion is the centre of an extensive 14 acre estate, and this has been added to with a further site across the main road, where related museums and exhibitions have been set up, including Elvis’ two planes and a large visitor shopping and parking area. We arrived early evening after normal closing time and spent the whole evening, first with escorted tours of the main mansion and outbuildings, then a special dinner, in the museum housing his car collection, catered by our Peabody staff. It was enlightening to see the interior of the mansion, maintained more or less unaltered from his days there, showing a taste for the familiar and comfortable, rather than the excessively ornate and superficial. It must have been a great home for his family in their heyday.

The last evening we went to the other main tourist site, close to the Peabody, on famous Beale Street, and BB King’s Blues Club and restaurant. This is the centre of nightlife and hosts a cacophony of music styles, booming from every doorway of the numerous bars, restaurants and clubs.

There are steamboats plying the river, the Mud Island district, and many other sites and sounds to check out in the city, but one that I liked enormously was the collection of colourful old street cars, or trams, they have rescued from many sources, and run them along a few of the main streets in and around Downtown and close to the Riverfront. They are painted in many bright colours and are a splendid sight and atmospheric addition to the whole area. It’s a city well worth visiting and experiencing.

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