Memphis, Tennessee (December 26, 2021)

We woke up in the land of Elvis, my first celebrity crush!

Mist and a low layer of fog hung over this historic city that lies on the Chickasaw bluffs above the river where the borders of Arkansas, Mississippi and Tennessee meet. In the distance the de Soto bridge, all decked out in seasonal red and green lights, welcomed us to the land of music, the Liberty Bowl, Sun Studios, Saint Jude’s, Beale Street, Graceland, pork barbecue, and the Gibson guitar.

Our guide this morning started out by saying, in his southern drawl, “As they say around here, the Mississippi is too thick to drink and too thin to plow.” He was born and raised in Memphis and quite proud of his city. He mentioned the example of his ‘white elders,’ however, and the need to reeducate himself over time on some of their teachings, particularly on race relations. He spoke of this on the way to the Lorraine Motel where Martin Luther King, Jr., visiting the city in support of a sanitation workers’ strike, was murdered by a sniper in 1968. A large wreath hangs on the second story balcony railing where Dr. King was standing when the fateful shot was fired from an open window across the street. The motel now houses the National Civil Rights Museum.

Jacqueline Smith worked at the Lorraine Motel for $10 a day and also lived there for 11 years. She was its last resident, as a matter of fact, and staunchly opposed its becoming a museum. At the time of her eviction she promised, “If I can’t live at the Lorraine, I’ll camp out on the sidewalk out front.” And she has held true to that promise for just shy of 34 years. Her main objection is based on her belief that the $27 million used to renovate the motel into a museum was not in alignment with Dr. King’s beliefs. We met with Ms Smith on our way back to the bus.

Our city tour took us through the renowned medical district, past the mansions on millionaires row, and down to the Orpheum Theater and Beale Street. We passed a number of Elvis-as-a-young-man locations like the public housing project where he lived with his parents; the movie theater where he worked; his high school; the Arcade Restaurant where he had a private booth; the iconic Peabody Hotel where he went to the prom and signed his first record contract; the amphitheater where he performed live for the first time; and Sun Studios (think Million Dollar Quartet). The holy grail for Elvis fans is obviously Graceland, but we had been before and didn’t have time for a second visit this trip.

Our last stop was at the Memphis Pyramid which was built in 1991 as a sports arena but is currently a Bass Pro Shop megastore which includes shopping, a hotel, restaurants, a bowling alley, archery range, ponds with live ducks and alligators, and an observation area at the top. It is by some measures the tenth-tallest pyramid in the world.

On the way back to the boat we were brought up to speed on the 1862 Battle of Memphis, one of only two purely naval battles of the Civil War. It lasted less than two hours and was fought in front of enthusiastic spectators watching from the bank of the river. Our guide described it as a Three Stooges sort of affair with poor decisions on both sides. Memphis surrendered before lunch and spared itself from being burned and sacked. With its infrastructure intact it could sell cotton to the North and contraband to the South throughout the war. One might consider it a lucky loss.

Our guide closed with a quick review of the tragic tale of the SS Sultana, a paddle-wheel steamboat which was sabotaged across the river from Memphis. The war was finally over and most of the passengers aboard the grossly overcrowded (seven times capacity) vessel were Union soldiers returning to their families from Confederate prison camps. The boat mysteriously exploded and burned on April 27, 1865. It is acknowledged as the greatest maritime disaster in U.S. history, even outnumbering the death toll from the Titanic! This tragedy, overshadowed by the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, has long been overlooked.

Dan, Cleone, and Walter grabbed a quick bite between tours and did not join me for lunch. Planning on staying on board this afternoon I headed to the dining room for a leisurely meal. Al, also alone, asked if he could join me. It was a treat to hear his stories about career (engineer turned professor), his marriage of 76 years (anxious about the new covid-19 variant, his wife stayed home), music preferences (exclusively classical), and his Navy service leading up to WWII including in Key West where he often ran into Ernest Hemmingway!

While Walter explored a car museum and Cleone and Dan went to the Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum I read, relaxed, and walked the top deck. We have to be on dry land before 8:30 tomorrow morning to allow the crew ample time to prepare for their next and last-for-the-season guests who will be coming on board at noon for their cruise south, so I thought it might be wise to do a little packing too.

Our last meal and entertainment were just as wonderful as all the rest.

We’ll be leaving tomorrow morning happy with our decision to spend the holiday on the water.

Fun Memphis facts….. 

Pre-presidency, Andrew Jackson was one of its founders.

Memphis grew into one of the largest cities of the Antebellum South as a market
for agricultural goods, natural resources, and the slave trade.
After the Civil War it became among the largest world markets for cotton and lumber.

The largest employer in the city is FedEx making the Memphis International Airport
one of the two (with Hong Kong) busiest cargo airports in the world.

The annual blues festival pays homage to Memphis being one of the birthplaces of the blues.
Memphis is credited with huge contribution to the development of soul music as well.

Memphis has also been called the birthplace of rock and roll thanks in large part to my boy Elvis, one of many musicians who launched careers from the city’s famous Sun Studio. Close to 25 percent of the earliest inductees in the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame came from within a 100-mile radius of Memphis.


7 thoughts on “Memphis, Tennessee (December 26, 2021)

  1. Wow, Schele, you ended the blogging as strongly as you started! So many interesting and informative stories! And I loved hearing about your sweet lunch with Al!
    Hope you are enjoying your beautiful snowy days at home.



  2. The snow is beautiful, that’s for sure. And thank you for your sweet comments.

    Lunching with Al was a treat. Can you imagine cruising alone at 96! I didn’t mention lunch with Richard a couple days before. He was a delight also and asked right off if I was sailing solo. 😉


  3. I totally forgot about the Memphis Pyramid

    Matt Mongeon, PMP, Technical Project Manager II
    Engineering Management Office
    PMP,ITIL Foundation, RCV, OSA, SOA, PPO
    5159 Federal Blvd., San Diego, CA 92105
    • 619.266.5675 (ex. 55675) |( 619.822.4661 | •


  4. It’s been great following your lower Mississippi trip!

    My brother-in-law lived in the same public housing as Elvis and he remembers when he bought his first pink Cadillac. He says they all called Elvis’ mom “Big Mama” which is a very common nickname in the south😂

    I look forward to your next adventure, you should write a book!


  5. You are kidding me Karen! That’s just as cool as Al running into Hemmingway on the streets of Key West.

    I am so glad you have enjoyed the blog and I hope your plan to drive part of the River Road come together this year.

    A book huh? I’ll have to give that some thought. 😉


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