Two Must-Sees in Memphis Tennessee

Memphis, Tennessee is a city of about 1 million people. Most folks come here to see Graceland, but did you know Memphis has a most extraordinary museum? The National Civil Rights Museum. THIS is the thing to see in Memphis, and if you have extra time, head on out to Graceland. Trust me. If you appreciate American history and the tireless work of Martin Luther King, go. Pack your bags right now and go.

We stayed in the La Quinta, and it was just fine. A bit on the small side yet with comfy beds only 1.5 miles from Graceland and about 5 miles from downtown. We are on the budget plan, so PB sandwiches and veggie hoagies at Subway have been our staple meals. You can find veggie restaurants at Happy Cow.

Like too many cities, the outskirts of Memphis heading downtown appear riddled with neglect. Remnants of the past loom like broken shadows against weary sidewalks. Downtown, however, is charming and alive.

Thrown back to the 60's

Thrown back to the 60’s

We decided the Ass Food Mart was probably not the place to get dinner.

Beale Street in Memphis is like Bourbon Street in New Orleans. It’s a happenin’ place.

National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel

Located at 420 Mulberry Street and $15.00 admission for adults, the National Civil Rights Museum is one of the best we’ve ever experienced. And we’ve seen a lot of museums btw. This museum recently went through a major renovation and reopened April of this year. Truly incredibly place.

My husband put it quite succinctly: At the site of the Lorraine Motel where Martin Luther King was assassinated on April 4, 1968, the red wreath marks the spot on the balcony where he was standing. They have turned the entire motel and two surrounding buildings into an outstanding museum, and the rooms (along with the cars parked out front) are the same…right down to butts in the ashtrays. 

Incredibly moving, we were both in tears at the end: listening to gospel music and walking through the hotel looking into the rooms and reading accounts of MLK’s last days.

Lorraine Motel

Lorraine Motel

National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel

National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel

Three buildings make up the museum: The Lorraine Motel, the modern building attached to it (you can see part of it in the back of the motel) and the boarding house across the street.

National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel

This is the view that James Earl Ray had when he Martin Luther King. Now called the Legacy Building, this former boarding house where Ray stayed tells the story of Ray and his capture in England.

Did you know?

Martin Luther King’s last speech almost didn’t transpire? A fierce storm powered through Memphis on Apr 3rd. MLK and his cohorts didn’t expect people to show up to the Mason Memphis Church where he was to deliver the speech. MLK planned, instead, to tuck away and work that night. When the minister called and told him the place was packed despite the weather, MLK went in without question. And this is what the world received: I’ve Been to the Mountaintop. Just twelve hours later, a brilliant light was prematurely and violently extinguished. On April 4, 1968, in a split yet horrifying second the world became a lesser place without the powerful and socially equitable presence of Martin Luther King.

Graceland

Absolutely, go to Graceland, but make sure you go to the National Civil Rights Museum first. Graceland was fascinating and expensive.

Tickets: The budget plan is $34.00. With that ticket one can see the mansion. For an extra $3.00 you can see the mansion and a few other exhibits including the cars and airplanes. For $72.00 you get the VIP plan – no waiting in lines and the opportunity to see special exhibits. That ticket is reserved for true Elvis enthusiasts. I, like many others, am fascinated with the legend of Elvis, but not $72.00 worth. The nice lady at the ticket counter gave me a discount which allowed me to get the medium level ticket for the mansion-level price. Sweet. I continue to learn that one doesn’t receive unless one asks.

I spent some time talking to a few of the employees who were managing the different sections of the Graceland tour. I learned some interesting details.

  • The original Graceland Estate was 500 acres. Rumor has it that Elvis wanted to purchase the entire estate keeping the name, Graceland, because he liked that name. His father, Vernon, was in charge of purchasing the land while Elvis was away being a mega-hottie-superstar. Vernon managed to purchase about 13.8 acres along with the house, but failed to get the rest of the estate before other folks grabbed it up. I suppose if you love Elvis and if you love Memphis and if you have some cash, you, too, would purchase a lot that is on the edge of his property. I’ve also read that this rumor may be unfounded. You decide for yourself.
  • Elvis paid $102,500 for Graceland in 1957.
  • Elvis wanted to paint the walls purple, but his mother put the ix-nay on that.
  • Vernon and Gladys (parents of Elvis) lived with him at Graceland. Priscilla moved in a few years before they got married in 1967. She was only 21.
  • Priscilla still visits the property regularly. She rescued 3 horses who were on their way to slaughter. There are stables and large swaths of land for her rescue babies. Priscilla has been revolutionary in helping to protect abused horses of Tennessee.
  • Elvis was so concerned or attached to his image that he would not even walk downstairs unless he was fully dressed. Rumor has it that if he wanted to visit his horses at the stables, he would first get all decked out, walk to the stables and then change into riding clothes there.
  • Turns out Elvis was quite the philanthropist. When he heard of families in need, for instance, families losing their homes (to fire or debt or whatever) he made (what were at the time) anonymous donations to get them back on their feet.
  • 2000 people a day visit Graceland. On Christmas, Lisa Marie and her family have dinner in the grand dining room of Graceland after all the tourists leave.
  • Check out this cool time line of Graceland.

Just before entering Graceland you’ll see the famous Heartbreak Hotel.

Graceland

The mansion: I was pleasantly surprised that it wasn’t nearly as ostentatious as I expected.

Uber cool 70’s living room

Elvis was playing this piano surrounded by friends on his last day of life, August 16, 1977. He was supposed to fly out that evening for a concert tour.

The King of Rock n’ Roll rests here

He named one of his two airplanes after his daughter, Lisa Marie.

Did you know?
More people watched the TV program Aloha from Hawaii than the Apollo 11 astronauts taking their first steps on the moon?

Did you know?
Elvis didn’t like alcohol?  He drank Gatorade, Diet Dr. Pepper and spring water from a glass bottle.

To learn more about the history and music of Memphis, check this out. You can also see the extensive list of famous people from Memphis here.

Memphis…interesting and educational place. A true piece of American history exists in this one cool town.

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Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.
~Martin Luther King, Jr.

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.
~Martin Luther King, Jr.

I look to a day when people will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.
~Martin Luther King, Jr.

I think I have something tonight that’s not quite correct for evening wear.
Blue suede shoes.
~Elvis Presley

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Photos, videos and stuff*** Please contact me for permission to use images and text for commercial or private use. And please do follow this blog and/or write comments. Three million and two thanks.

Our Journey West Across the US

Post #1: Macon Music in Georgia
Post #2: Boy from Tupelo, Mississippi
This is Post #3: Two Must-Sees in Memphis Tennessee
Post #4: Mosey Through the Arkansas Ozarks
Post #5: Gettin’ Our Kicks on Route 66 from Missouri to Sapulpa, Oklahoma
Post #6: More Route 66 Kicks from Sapulpa to Oklahoma City
Post #7: Don’t Mess with Texas on Route 66
Post #8: Route 66 Texas Panhandle
Post #9: Bound for Tucumcari, New Mexico
Post #10: Santa Fe’ed Your Soul
Post #11: The Winds of Taos
Post #12: The Good, the Bad, and the Heinous of New Mexico
Post #13: Dusky, Durable Durango
Post #14: Cliff Dwellings of Mesa Verde Colorado
Post #15: Moab Rocks
Post #16: No Clever Title for Richfield, Utah
Post #17: Leavening Las Vegas

 

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