Saturday, October 25, 2014

Memphis, Tennessee: AutoZone Park

AutoZone Park won an award as the nation's best minor league park a few years ago, and you can guess why by this picture.

It was built in 2000, and is sort of shoehorned into part of a city block in downtown Memphis. It's across from the Peabody Hotel and seats about 14,000. You can see how well it fits into the neighborhood.

By the way, the plaza of the stadium is particularly nice. If you look in the corner, you can see a cap covering a grandstand.

Can't wait to see a game there some day.

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Memphis, Tennessee: The Peabody

When in Memphis, you have to go see the ducks at the Peabody Hotel downtown.

They are marching ducks. Honest.

It seems that the ducks were brought in as a joke and placed in the grand fountain in 1933. No one seemed to mind, so the ducks stayed. They have a regular home up on the roof, and stay there 18 hours a day. At 11 a.m., they march into the elevator, get off at the lobby, and march into the fountain (there are towels) for a swim. Then at 5 p.m., the route is reversed. The place gets very crowded, so get there early.

Here's a picture of two of the ducks in the fountain. He/she are in the lower middle of the picture.

This is a wonderful old hotel. It's worth taking a walk through the lobby. You can see a letter from the manager about a crisis that came up involving the restaurant. There's a fancy French restaurant there, and such places always serve duck. But since that is the symbol of the hotel, the manager wrote a letter stating that no dead ducks would be associated with this hotel. The letter is under glass. Souvenirs are available at the gift shop.

Also, be sure to go to the top floor for a great view of downtown Memphis and the river.

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Memphis, Tennessee: Rock 'n' Soul Museum

Some serious downtown development has taken place in Memphis in the past several years. One obvious spot is the FedEx Forum, a major venue for NBA basketball and other events.

Right next door is a relatively new "Rock 'n' Soul Museum," which tells the story of Memphis and its music. It works quite nicely, all things considered.

The museum is affiliated with the Smithsonian, and has all sorts of displays in the area. You can learn about Memphis Minnie and Mavis Staples, and everyone in between. And there are plenty in between.

Each guest receives a wand that plays sounds. Plug in the correct number when standing by a display, and you can hear the story behind it. A nice touch is the chance to hear full songs that way as well. It adds a lot to the visit.

The latest tunes were often heard at Poplar Tunes, named after its street. The store eventually closed, but the sign remains here.

By the way, Gibson Guitar has a factory right across the street. Tours of the facility are open to the public; reservations aren't a bad idea. No pictures are allowed, so you'll have to remember what it was like in your head. It's definitely worth a visit too.

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Memphis, Tennessee: Grave of Nathan Bedford Forrest

You can tell a bit about a society and a culture by what it chooses to remember. Such is the case for Memphis.

Nathan Bedford Forrest certainly is one of the most famous generals of the Confederate Army in Civil War history. But he comes with some baggage, and not just because he may have been involved in some war crimes.

Forrest was certainly an early member of the Ku Klux Klan. He may even have been a Grand Wizard of that organization, although there is some dispute over that matter. He died in Memphis in 1877, but in 1904 the remains of Forrest and his wife were moved to their present location.

So how about now? Forrest has more national markers and monuments dedicated to him that the Presidents from Tennessee. But "Forrest Park" is now Health Sciences Park, since it's near a huge hospital. The name still creates controversy, as some have tried to rename schools and building that were originally designed to honor Forrest.

In any event, the man is a significant figure in his time. He's located only a couple of blocks from Sun Studios, so feel free to take the stroll if you want to see what all the fuss is still about.

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Memphis, Tennessee: Sun Studio

Sometimes someone opens up the door to a recording studio, and an amazing stream of talent comes through. It happened in Detroit, Michigan, in the Motown Studios, and it happened a couple of times in Memphis, Tennessee - including here.

The Sun Studio is one of the legendary spots in all of music history. It's where Elvis Presley recorded his first song, and where Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash started their careers.

The building was only leased to Sam Phillips for 10 years (1950 to 1960), but it changed everything in the music business. The place is now available for visits by tourists. You can see some memorabilia upstairs, as well as hear some old recordings of the origins of rock and roll. Then it's down the stairs, around a corner, through an office ... and you are standing in the original Sun Studio. In the picture above, you can see a picture of the day that the four legends turned up in the studio on the same day. They did a little recording while they were together, and prompted the play "Million Dollar Quartet."

While visitors go through by day, this is still a working studio. Groups still record there at night in hopes of picking up some of the magic. It was declared a National Historic Landmark in 2003.

By the way, one of the original microphones is still on the property. You can pose for a picture of it and pretend you are the next Elvis. We did.

The entrance area has plenty of souvenirs, etc. available. Any rock music fan has to go through here. Here's an eight-minute video version if you can't make it in person for a while:



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Memphis, Tennessee: Graceland

Where to start in describing Graceland, that distinctly American travel destination? You know that it was the home of Elvis Presley, and that it's become a magnet for fans of all ages.

And how to only pick one picture to represent it here? Problems, problems.

Here are a few points that you probably didn't know:

Graceland is on Elvis Presley Boulevard. The actual estate is surprisingly small, as these things go. It's not a giant house by any means, but there is room for gardens, fields used by horses, etc. The commercial activity is across the street; more on that in a moment.

The tour takes you via shuttle bus across the street, where you go in the front door and around the lower lowel of the place. The upstairs is off limits. As you'd expect, there's a living room, dining room, kitchen, and den. There are plenty of rooms that were designed for play. You'll particularly like the room redecorated to look like Hawaii, complete with an indoor fountain.

Some of the areas in the complex have been converted into display areas for trophies, awards, clothes, and so on. For example, the room shows here is a converted racquetball court. Each visitor is given an iPad with tour information coming over the headphones. The tour of Graceland ends at the garden, where Elvis and some relatives are buried.

Back across the street is a major complex. You can pay extra and get a ticket to see such items as Elvis' two airplanes (one big, one small). Worth the money? Tough call, and the non-airplane attractions are nothing special, but you only go to a place like this once. There are a few special cars around, restaurants, and naturally plenty of souvenir stands. Parking is in the back.

It probably takes three hours to go through it all, unless you get caught in a line to see the house - which I would guess is quite possible. One trip should satisfy your curiosity.

Here's the official video:

 

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