Arts & Museums
The Fire Museum is located in the first firehouse in Memphis. Kids will love the video games and interactive videos that simulate firefighting, while parents will appreciate the exhibit of unusual firefighting equipment from the last two centuries. If you take the restored trolley from Union or Beale, you can disembark at the museum, then walk up the street to the National Civil Rights Museum, in the Lorraine Motel where Martin Luther King,Jr. was assassinated.
A piece of World War II history is tucked neatly away under a pavilion on Mud Island. The famous bomber, dubbed the "Memphis Belle" in honor of the pilot's girlfriend, successfully completed 25 missions and was the subject of a Hollywood movie. It is a favorite attraction for former Army Air corpsmen, history buffs and airplane enthusiasts. The exhibit is included with admission to Mud Island, which includes the River Museum and River Walk, a scale replica of the Mississippi River you can dip your toes into.
Peabody Place is part of an ambitious downtown renewal effort that includes complexes of restaurants, shops and apartments. Developer Jack Belz and his wife Marilyn have put their private collection of Chinese art on display for the public in a 7,500 square-foot gallery. Some of the ivory and jade pieces date back to the Manchu Dynasty of the 17th century. Stroll around Peabody Place and see what is attracting new residents to the downtown area.
Much has been done to revitalize downtown Memphis. Belz Enterprises, owner and restorers of the Peabody Hotel, have been responsible for much of the development and improvement. Belz' newest endeavor, Peabody Place is intended to be a mixed-use area, with entertainment, housing and office spaces. Stay in the Gayoso Hotel, a museum housing the Belz' collection of oriental jade, Jillian's, and several restaurants. You can even see a movie at the Muvico Theater complex with 21 screens and an IMAX theater.
This building was the Memphis home of William Christopher Handy, who is often referred to as the "Father of the Blues." He wrote the song "Memphis Blues" in 1912 at the request of E.H. Crump, then running for mayor, and it became something of an anthem for the city. A major award for blues musicians, the W.C. Handy Award, is given every year at the Orpheum Theater in Memphis. The W.C. Handy Home features exhibits on Handy's career that trace the history of the blues in Memphis.
This gallery features the work of African-American artists both from the local region and from across the United States. You can view and purchase various forms of art, including photographs, prints and more, but the paintings are particularly good. Smaller gift items are also for sale. Gestine's is free to the public, and it stays open late (depending on the traffic) on Friday and Saturday nights to accommodate the crowds strolling down Beale Street.
Beale Street is known for being safe. One of the reasons is this active police station/museum. The archives are fascinating. Newspaper clippings and photos relating to such famous criminals as Machine Gun Kelly and events such as the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr are on display. Even the arrest records of "ordinary" criminals in the late 1800s and early 1900s tell a great deal about pre-integration Memphis. There is an extensive exhibit of weapons and other items confiscated from criminals. You can also see a real jail cell and have your picture taken inside it. There is no admission charge.
This 1870s house is part of Victorian Village, where the few homes in Memphis dating from the 1800s have been preserved and restored. In addition to the furniture and decorative arts displayed inside, the house also has an exhibit of clothing from the Victorian era. Look at the cinched waists and layers of velvet and wonder how the Victorian ladies survived the hot Memphis summers. Tours are held every half hour.
Stroll down the shady streets and imagine that you are a wealthy nineteenth century Memphian. Seventeen marvelous Victorian homes in this charming neighborhood were restored and preserved in the 1970s. Some of the most significant buildings in this area are the Mallory-Neely House, the Lowenstein-Long House, and the Woodruff-Fontaine House. Victorian-themed events and concerts are held here throughout the year as well as a Christmas exhibit. There is metered parking on the street, an easy walk to the homes.
Elvis, the King of Rock 'n' Roll, Stax Records, Isaac Hayes, the Staple Singers, all called Memphis home. So, the river city is a natural choice for this museum. Highlights of the museum's permanent collection include several Elvis costumes, B.B. King's guitar (affectionately called "Lucille" by the legendary bluesman) and Dick Clark's American Bandstand podium. The museum also offers special displays, such as the current "Rock 'n' Soul: Social Crossroads" exhibit on loan from the Smithsonian Institute.
Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, B.B. King—they all recorded here at Sun Studio. Founded by Sam Phillips in 1950, this studio became the heart of the Memphis sound. It is still a functioning studio, and modern musicians still record here to try to acquire a little of the magic. Take a tour and see exhibits relating to the artists who recorded here, including Carl Perkins, Howlin' Wolf, Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison and, of course, Elvis. Many visitors to Memphis cite this tour as the highlight of their stay.
This tiny house stands as a reminder of both a dark period in American history and the efforts of many to remedy the wrongs of slavery. A merchant named Jacob Burkle, who ran a stockyard before the American Civil War, provided a haven for many runaway slaves on their journey through the "Underground Railroad". Here you can see where they waited for the instructions that helped them find their way across the Mississippi River to freedom.