Come the week of August 16th, tens of thousands of Elvis fans will be heading for Memphis, Tennessee, much like the heroine of my novel Graceland Express. The fans’ main object, of course, will be to visit Elvis’s former home, Graceland Mansion, but Memphis, a city of some 647,000 residents, has lots of other attractions to offer.
The heartbeat of the city is music and its aorta is Beale Street where street performers and the numerous clubs and bars offer Memphis-style music day and night. B.B. King sometimes stops by to perform at the club that he owns. On Beale Street, check out the Memphis Walk of Fame that honors the musicians from Memphis who have contributed so much to the world’s music.
The Peabody Hotel is a must stop, famous for the “Peabody Ducks” who march into the hotel lobby every day.
A unique area for visitors is the South Main Arts District where, on “Trolley Nights,” one can stroll down the street and see fire spinners and street performers. This is the place to pick up art and artifacts to take home a souvenir of the Memphis visit. Broad Street is also a developing arts area with student art shows and, of course, lots of music.
For visiting children, there’s the Memphis Zoo. Don’t miss the zoo’s giant panda exhibit. This is also one of the few zoos where rhinoceroses have been successfully bred in captivity. The Children’s Museum of Memphis has fascinating interactive activities the kids can take part in, including an airplane cockpit donated by Fed Ex, a fire engine and a mechanic’s garage. For those interested in science and history, The Pink Palace Museum has a fascinating array of exhibits, including an IMAX theater and a planetarium, the third largest in the United States. Also of interest is the Cotton Museum, located at 65 Union Avenue in the old trading floor of the Cotton Exchange building.
History buffs shouldn’t miss the Chucalissa Indian Village, a site occupied by native Americans for over 500 years beginning approximately in year 1000 CE. The site is operated by the University of Memphis, and each October it is the venue for the Southeast Indian Heritage Festival.
Should medical attention be needed while in Memphis, the city is well covered by both Methodist and Baptist health systems, two of the largest private hospitals in the country. The city is also home to the famous St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, built by Danny Thomas.
For theater lovers, The Orpheum Theater offers Broadway shows as well as ballet and opera. The New Daisy Theater on Beale Street and the Mud Island Amphitheater are popular spots for big acts that come to perform in Memphis.
Memphis abounds in parks including the Old Forest Arboretum in Overton Park, the Lichterman Nature Center and the Memphis Botanic Garden.
In all, fans visiting Memphis have a veritable feast of attractions to choose from, but, as always, the most important will be Elvis’s home, Graceland Mansion.