Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Memphis stays true to its roots

This was originally posted on The Chicago Moms.


When we started planning our Spring Break trip to Memphis, we realized we could go in so many directions — music, civil rights, nature, sports. Everything was available to us, but with just a few days to explore we had to plan carefully to get everything on the schedule. The beauty of Memphis is that everything was easily accessible so we were able to do it all.

On our first day we started at the Memphis Rock N’ Soul museum. I am always telling our girls about the music Grammie and Grampa played when I was growing up. The Memphis Rock N’ Soul museum showcased a lot of familiar entertainers and told interesting stories through the interactive iPod tour. Two years ago we spent Spring Break in Nashville. Our girls were able to connect our Grand Old Opry visit to the Memphis Rock N’ Soul exhibits. It’s fun to watch our girls start to put all the pieces together to create a larger story.

From the Memphis Rock N’ Soul museum we walked to the National Civil Rights Museum. This museum was built around and in the Lorraine Motel where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was killed. As we arrived at the entrance, a huge red wreath hung from the second floor balcony. It marked the spot where Dr. King was assassinated, but also served as a reminder that there is still work to do. The museum itself is beautifully designed. The story of civil rights in America is laid out as an interactive history lesson that reminds us of how much work is still left to complete.

We wandered Beale Street after the National Civil Rights Museum, stopping at Dyer’s Burgers for lunch. We found Dyers on the Diners, Drive-ins and Dives website, where we find most of our fun travel dining spots. The place lived up to its great burger billing, but the real treat was the staff. Everyone who walked through the door received the same homey greeting and attentive service.

After lunch we walked a bit more before deciding to head to Sun Records. We’ve seen Million Dollar Quartet a few times so the stories the tour guide told felt familiar — in a good way. Perhaps the most interesting part of the tour was when we stood in the studio itself. The tour guide talked about how everything was the same as when Sam Philips owned the studio. She noted that this happened because the building itself sat empty for decades. It was just luck that no one else bought the studio to modernize it.

We visited another Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives restaurant for dinner. Tom’s Bar-B-Que took us out of downtown and into a industrial area where we had another fun dining experience. Our food was as good as we expected and the staff was charming. It was a slow Monday evening so they had some time to chat with us.

The next day we put Graceland on the schedule. We made reservations, which turned out to be a very good idea. Graceland itself was everything we had hoped, from the homey stories to the multi-media features on the interactive iPad tour. Growing up my parents were huge Elvis fans, so we watched every special and every interview. I felt like I knew so much about Graceland, but there was still so much to see. After touring the house, we toured his vehicle collection. It was fun to see the vehicles up close and read the stories. One thing about Graceland that surprised us was how long it took to get to and from the house itself. There was a long line to get on a bus (think 12 person tour bus, not big, yellow school bus) to go to the house. We waited an hour to get on a bus each way and the staff kept telling us it wasn’t a very busy day. When you tour the house you understand why only a few people were allowed in at a time. It’s a large, lovely home, but it’s not as big as you’d expect for a place called the Mansion. In general, homes weren’t on steroids when Elvis Presley bought Graceland. It was a large, lovely home on a beautiful piece of property when he bought it. With all the precautions needed to keep the contents safe and people from overstepping, only a few people can fit in any room at a time. It was worth the time, but it’s important to keep the wait time in mind if you are travelling with children.

We kept our music theme in place as we headed to the Stax Museum of American Soul Music. I’ll admit I had not heard of Stax Records before the tour, but I certainly knew their music. At one point after the introductory video I made the others on our tour laugh when I told our girls to let me know if they needed me to sing any of the songs. I knew all the words to every song, so I was happy to sing to them. Of course everyone laughed because our daughters (quite appropriately) reacted with horror. As I told another Mom, what’s the point of having tweens if I can’t embarrass them once in a while? I never did sing to them, but we danced through the entire museum.

We made it back to the Peabody Hotel to see the ducks walk up to their rooftop home. Yes, it was as silly as it sounded when we were planning, but it was also good fun. The people watching the duck ceremony enjoyed the stories as much as the duck parade. It was a fun way to visit the Peabody. After watching the ducks we wandered Beale Street enjoying the music when a man came up and started asking everyone how much they would give him to do flips down the street. We hadn’t heard of the Beale Street Flippers, but everyone else seemed to know them. A man standing near us told stories about Beale Street Flippers while we waited for the show. We waited and watched and clapped. We’re now Beale Street Flippers fans.

The last part of our trip centered on Shelby Farms. This huge park had everything from beautiful walking trails to golf Frisbee courses to a large children’s play area. We took advantage of the warm Spring weather to drive the grounds so we could see everything. We scheduled a trail ride, which took us through some lovely fields around a large pond. We also walked some of the trails to enjoy the warm weather. We were amazed at how many people were at the park on a weekday. It was clear that Shelby Farms was always busy with people taking advantage of the beautiful space.

We ran out of time before we could get to everything on our list. We didn’t get to visit Mud Island, the Cotton Museum, Victorian Village or the Gibson Guitar Factory. We wanted to spend more time listening to live music on Beale Street. A new riverside park is opening soon that looks like fun. We have a few more restaurants on our list as well. It’s not a question of whether or not we’ll be back in Memphis. There is so much family fun to be had that it’s only a matter of when.

 

Shari writes about life with twins at
Two Times the Fun. National Civil Rights Museum image courtesy of Brand USA. Memphis Rock N’ Soul Museum image courtesy of Phillip Parker / Copyright © Memphis Convention & Visitors Bureau 2011 All Rights Reserved. No part of this document may be reproduced without written consent from the author.

Disclosure: I received free admission to certain attractions. We paid for our hotels, meals and other tickets ourselves. My words and opinions are my own.

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