Located on the Mississippi River in Southwest Tennessee, Memphis is an old city where the blues, soul and rock ‘n’ roll came to life, where the legendary B.B. King, Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash and others recorded songs at Sun Records, where the life of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., civil rights champion, came to a tragic end in 1968.
For all these reasons and more, visitors come to Memphis each year to experience Graceland, Beale Street, the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel, and other attractions such as the historic Peabody Memphis Hotel, which opened in 1869 and has served as the venue for Peabody duck performances since 1932. Memphis welcomes 11 million visitors annually — a number that swells on the anniversary of Elvis Presley’s death (Aug. 10, 1977).
My visit in the spring was not my first to Memphis but it was the first time I ever set eyes on Graceland, where the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll lived at various times with his parents Vernon and Gladys, his grandmother Minnie Mae, his wife Priscilla and their daughter Lisa Marie. After passing through the front door of the mansion, visitors may see all the rooms on the first floor, including Elvis’ Jungle Room (man-cave). The second floor is off-limits and reserved for family visits. The tour also includes Vernon Presley’s office, the Trophy Building, where family memorabilia is displayed (including photos, Elvis’s school records, and wedding attire), the newly restored Racquetball Building and the Meditation Garden, where Elvis and his family members are buried. His mother’s tombstone features a Star of David, a reminder of her Jewish heritage. A small memorial plaque pays tribute to Jessie Garon Presley, Elvis’s twin brother who died at birth.
The Elvis Presley’s Memphis Tour features several exhibits on the entertainer, his automobiles and cycles, his association with Sam Phillips, early childhood in Tupelo, life in the Army and new exhibits on Lisa Marie, the Hollywood Backlot and Hillbilly Rock (Marty Stuart). Visitors may also access the archives and see Elvis on the big screen at Soundstage A. According to a tour guide, no one knows how many cars Elvis purchased during his lifetime because he gave away so many. Regardless, displayed here are his pink Cadillac, Dino Ferrari and Stutz Blackhawk, as well as his jeep, a golf cart and various tractors he used around the farm. According to an Elvis quote, “Ambition is a dream with a V8 engine” and “Life’s too short to drive boring cars.” He also connected cars to the American dream in these choice words: “There’s nowhere else in the world where you can go from driving a truck to a Cadillac.”
The souvenir shop on site offers a wide array of items, ranging from magnets to key rings to T-shirts. Desserts are available at Minnie Mae’s Sweets, named for Elvis’s grandmother, of course. In the past, Graceland visitors and fans may have stayed at the long-gone Heartbreak Hotel nearby. Now they check into The Guest House at Graceland, a luxurious Four Diamond hotel by Dreamcatcher, billed as “A Resort Fit for a King.” Its amenities include several swimming pools and restaurants such as EP’s Bar & Grill and Shake Rattle & Go. The busiest spot in the hotel at 10 p.m. is the peanut butter and jelly station, where guests queue up for free PB & J sandwiches, an Elvis favorite.
While in Memphis, don’t miss B.B. King’s place and Blues City Cafe on Beale Street — blues music and Memphis barbecue at its best. Music fans may also want to check out Sun Studio, Royal Studios and Stax Museum of American Soul Music.
Over the years B.B. King and other African Americans stayed at the Lorraine Motel when they came to Memphis. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a guest at the motel during the city garbage strike when he stepped out of Room 306 and was assassinated by James Earl Ray on April 4, 1968. In 1982, a group of community leaders saved the motel from foreclosure for use as a civil rights museum. The boarding house across the street, where Ray staged the murder, is also a part of the museum. The story of the civil rights movement is told through powerful words and vivid pictures and videos, none more compelling than the mountaintop speech that Dr. King delivered in Memphis on April 3, 1968: “I may not get there with you, but I want you to know that we as a people will get to the promised land.” (Memphistravel.com).
Around the Mid-Atlantic
The Mid-Atlantic offers a plethora of travel opportunities this summer. Follow uncharted territory off the Blue Ridge Parkway or the Crooked Road, attend a concert or a festival, go to an outdoor drama, visit a winery or a vineyard, hike through the woods, soak up the sun and surf at a beach or enjoy camping or fishing.
Here are a couple of crowd-pleasers:
The 82nd season of “The Lost Colony” outdoor drama on Roanoke Island, N.C., continues through Aug. 23, under the direction of Ira David Wood III (his seventh season), along with William Ivey Long, Tony award-winning production designer; Robert Midgette, fight director; Joshua Allen, lighting designer; McCrae Hardy, music director; and Pam Atha, choreographer. Tickets for performances, as well as VIP packages, Backstage Tours, Royal Tea, Wanda’s Monster (children’s play) and the Roanoke Island Historical Association’s Wine & Culinary Festival (Sept. 28) are available at the website thelostcolony.org.
Summer season at the Barter Theatre in Abingdon, Va., is in full swing, with Exit Laughing, Church Basement Ladies, La Cage aux Folles, The Little Mermaid, Shrek The Musical, Tarzan and Maytag Virgin on the schedule (bartertheatre.com).
A special exhibit exploring presidential retreats over the past two centuries — from Mount Vernon to Mar-a-Lago — continues through Oct. 6 at the George W. Bush Presidential Center in Dallas, Texas. An in-depth look at Camp David in Frederick County, Md.; Prairie Chapel Ranch in Crawford, Texas; LBJ Ranch in Stonewall, Texas; and Walker’s Point in Kennebunkport, Maine, reveals how U.S. Presidents have used these special places for work, rejuvenation and rest.
Nashville’s Music Row has been added to America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The annual list spotlights important examples of our nation’s architectural and cultural heritage that are at risk of destruction or irreparable damage. According to a recent press release, “Despite its critical role in the identity, economy, and culture of the city and Nashville’s international reputation as Music City for more than 60 years, vital pieces of Music Row’s historic fabric are being lost to Nashville’s rapid pace of development most famously — but certainly not only — evidenced by the narrowly avoided demolition of RCA Studio A.”
Other places on the list include Tenth Street Historic District, Dallas; James R. Thompson Center, Chicago; Bismarck-Mandan Rail Bridge, Bismark, N.D.; Industrial National Bank Building, Providence, RI; Ancestral Places of Southeast Utah; The Excelsior Club, Charlotte, N.C.; National Mall Tidal Basin, Washington, D.C.; Hacienda Los Torres, Lares, Puerto Rico; Willert Park Cours, Buffalo, N.Y.; Mount Vernon Arsenal and Searcy Hospital, Mt. Vernon, Ala. (SavingPlaces.org).
Carol Timblin welcomes travel news at email@example.com.