There's a Lot More Than Graceland in Memphis TN

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April 21st 2015
Published: May 7th 2015
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According to my trusty MapQuest, the trip from Burns Park in North Little Rock AR to Mississippi River RV Park in Memphis TN would be about 135 miles and would take just over 2 hours on THURSDAY, April 16, 2015. Mississippi River RV Park looks to be in a great location for the tourist – on the river, close to downtown – but there was no answer on the phone. Several attempts gave me zero results. Since the drive would be short, I decided I would have plenty of time to go to the address and find out, “What’s up, Doc?” I generally don’t set out for a destination without a reservation (or at least a phone conversation to confirm availability). So, cautious Uncle Larry developed a backup plan before departure. I arrived to find a vacant lot. The addresses across the street verified that I was in the correct location so Plan B unfolded. I headed for the T. O. Fuller State Park. The trip from North Little Rock to Memphis and the Pilgrim set-up went smoothly, except for the hiccup noted above.

For this one, I’m holding the refrigerator repair technician (see, I can be politically correct) in North Little Rock totally responsible – well, at least a little bit. I knew his days off at the dealership where he worked full-time were Sundays and Mondays. We discussed how nice it is to have days off during the week for doctors, dentists, et. al. After he spent “Sunday” at the Pilgrim installing the new cooling coil, I spent “Monday” and “Tuesday” editing pictures, writing the blog and making a trip to replace the condiments, etc. I had given to a neighbor when the refrigerator had failed.

I found it strange that the RV park manager called me about 10 AM on WEDNESDAY and asked if I was extending my stay. All that remained before my departure was to stow the power cord and check my lights – even the door had been locked. I replied negatively, and thought the call to be unusual for 10 AM on check-out day. After I arrived in Memphis and set up the rig, I got on to get a 10-day forecast to help me plan. The web site gave the low for “tonight” and the forecast for Friday. What happened to Thursday? I checked my phone and the computer only
It Sorta Looks Like A Village – Yeah, Right!It Sorta Looks Like A Village – Yeah, Right!It Sorta Looks Like A Village – Yeah, Right!

Casey Jones Village - Jackson TN
to connect the dots and realize the errors of my senility.

I immediately called the North Little Rock park and related the grim details. I offered to send a check, but he said as long as it was an honest mistake to forget it and that my next time through he’ll get back at me. We finished our conversation with a nice laugh. What was lost in North Little Rock would be gained in Memphis as I already had paid for a week and had to travel on Wednesday following because I had plans for Thursday at my next destination.

Ready, set, let’s go touring! I had one destination in Jackson TN in my crosshairs. That’s almost 90 miles and about 1-½ hours so I decided to make a day of it. I developed an itinerary that would take me northeast on US 51 to Dyersburg TN, southeast on US 412 to Jackson TN, southwest on TN 18 to Grand Junction TN and west on TN 57 to Memphis metro.

Those who follow my blog know I am a sucker for old buildings, particularly courthouses. I had learned that Ripley TN is home not only to the historic Lauderdale County Courthouse but also to an historic U.S. Post Office. Both might have been historic but neither was photogenic enough to stop for a picture so I continued on to the historic Dyer County Courthouse in Dyersburg. That gal got me parked and outta the Ram.

I arrived at Casey Jones Village in Jackson TN too late for the buffet breakfast at The Old Country Store and Restaurant, so I had lunch. I’m generally not a fan of buffets, but the food was fresh, hot and tasty and the service was outstanding for a buffet - my drink never got to less than half full and my used plate was gone every time I returned to my table. That’s about all I expect from a buffet.

Johnny Cash probably was the first person to tell me about Casey Jones. At first, I though he was fictitious. Long ago, I learned that was not the case. I first learned about the attraction (and researched Casey Jones) when I was preparing for Chapter 2010 of The Great Adventure. I made a note of the attraction, and here am I! Or, am I? Only my mental health professional knows for sure. The story of Casey Jones’ life is remarkable despite the tendency for facts to, understandably, become at least somewhat embellished by the myth of a hero.

In short, Jones had advanced through the ranks on the Illinois Central railroad to become an engineer on freight runs out of Jackson where he lived with his wife and three children. In February 1900, he was promoted to passenger service and was transferred from Jackson to Memphis for the passenger run between Memphis and Canton MS. This was one link of a four-train run between Chicago IL and New Orleans LA for the so-called "Cannonball Express."

There is substantial disagreement surrounding the details of Jones’ last fateful run; however, the train departed Memphis at 12:50 A.M. – 95 minutes behind schedule. Jones was almost back on schedule as they approached Vaughan MS running at about 75 miles per hour and traveling through a 1-½ mile left-hand curve. The view for Jones’ fireman, Simeon T. (Sims) Webb, was better on the left-hander. (The fireman sits on the left side of the locomotive and the engineer on the right.) Unknown to either, an air hose had broken on a freighter that was to locate on
Home Of A True American Hero And LegendHome Of A True American Hero And LegendHome Of A True American Hero And Legend

Casey Jones Village - Jackson TN
a siding so the “Cannonball Express” could speed through. That malfunction caused the train’s brakes to lock with the last four cars still sitting on the main line.

Webb was first to see the red lights of the caboose on the main line. Jones reversed the throttle and slammed the airbrakes into emergency stop. About 300 feet before impact, Jones yelled for Webb to jump. The steam locomotive quickly plowed through a wooden caboose, a car load of hay, another of corn, and half way through a car of timber before leaving the track. Jones had reduced his speed from about 75 miles per hour to about 35 miles per hour when the impact ocurred. Because Jones stayed on board to slow the train, he was believed to have saved the passengers on his train from serious injury and, possibly, death. Jones was the only fatality from the collision. His watch stopped at the time of impact: 3:52 A.M. on April 30, 1900. Popular legend holds that when his body was pulled from the wreckage, his hands had to be wrenched from the whistle cord and the brake.

His dramatic death while trying to stop his train and save lives made him a hero; however, were it not for Jones being immortalized in a ballad written and sung by his friend Wallace Saunders, an engine wiper for the Illinois Central, Jones might have become another Rudy – his final act of unselfish heroism known to only a few. There are thirty or so songs that either are about or reference Casey Jones. The event was the subject of a 1927 movie (Jason Robarts, Sr. was Casey Jones, Jr.), of a 1950 Walt Disney animated cartoon entitled The Brave Engineer, of a television series that starred Alan Hale, Jr. (yup, "The Skipper" on Gilligan's Island) and many, many more mentions of Casey Jones.

There is no doubt – the Casey Jones museum is primarily about Casey Jones; however, if one reads between the lines, one can learn a lot about railroading in the lower Mississippi Valley in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Jones’ first job for the railroad was as an apprentice telegrapher – a very important job in the day. About the only exhibit that doesn’t have the Jones label attached is about, you guessed it, the Civil War. Since Casey was born in 1863,
Modest But ComfortableModest But ComfortableModest But Comfortable

Casey Jones Village - Jackson TN
I doubt he had a lot of impact on the outcome.

The Casey Jones house is original but has been moved from its original location at 211 West Chester Street in Jackson. Since Jones’ widow, Janie, cut the ribbon at the dedication of the Casey Jones Home and Museum in 1956, many of the furniture artifacts are original. She died on November 21, 1958 in Jackson at the age of 92. Sims Webb was also present for the dedication ceremony. In fact, a bedspread on display was made by Janie Jones and donated to the museum by family members.

I didn’t shop in any of the stores in Casey Jones Village, but I think most visitors will enjoy learning a little about a true American legend. I wouldn’t suggest a lengthy diversion for most, but it will make a nice stop when travelling I-40 between Nashville and Memphis.

My next stop was the Historic N.C. & St. L. (Nashville, Chattanooga and St. Louis) Passenger Depot & Railroad Museum in downtown Jackson. This probably would be a nice museum for the serious train buff. First, none of the artifacts are documented. Second, the Parks and Recreation Director (who was my docent) is a wealth of information about the area railroads – who
Historic, Yup – Need I Say MoreHistoric, Yup – Need I Say MoreHistoric, Yup – Need I Say More

Historic Grand Junction - Grand Junction TN
was the president of whatever railroad, which bought (or merged with) which, when service to such and such city was discontinued, etc. Fortunately, the museum is free so the only commodity in jeopardy is your time.

I had two historic villages sighted in for my return trip to Memphis. My first stop was Historic Grand Junction TN while the second was the Town of La Grange Historic District in La Grange TN. The word historic is a loaded (or empty, as the case might be) adjective. In the context of old, historic might be a literally correct term; however, there is no rule that requires historic to also include attributes such as picturesque, unique, quaint, vibrant, well-preserved or any of a thousand other terms. Sometimes, I am pleasantly surprised with an unadvertised, historic diamond in the rough, but that is the exception. Most “diamonds” have been discovered and are well-advertised. Both towns were on the way, so all I risked was a little time.

Saturday, April 18, 2015 (when school was not in session) I set out for the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis. Dr. Martin Luther King came to Memphis in the spring of 1968 to help striking sanitation
The Wreath Commemorates Where King Was StandingThe Wreath Commemorates Where King Was StandingThe Wreath Commemorates Where King Was Standing

National Civil Rights Museum - Memphis TN
workers gain better wages and fairer treatment. Since most hotels in the south were segregated in the day, he and his group stayed at the Lorraine Hotel which was owned by a black couple – Walter and Loree Bailey. Among its guests through the 1960s were musicians going to Stax Records – including Ray Charles, Lionel Hampton, Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding and Wilson Pickett.

On April 4, 1968, King was assassinated while standing on the balcony of the Lorraine Hotel. Loree Bailey suffered a stroke hours after the assassination and died five days later. Bailey withdrew Rooms 306 (where King died) and 307 from use, maintaining them as a memorial to the slain leader. After King’s death, the Lorraine suffered hardship and eventually went into foreclosure in December 1982. Bailey and a group of black community leaders later saved the Lorraine from demolition. The National Civil Rights Museum was founded in 1991 and was officially opened to the public later that year.

I was in Vietnam from late 1967 until late 1968. The “news” I got via the Stars and Stripes (Armed Forces Newspaper) should have been called “olds.” We usually got the paper whenever we got mail and that was generally a weekly event. I don’t remember, but Dr. King might have been buried by the time I learned of his death. Ditto for Bobby Kennedy. Many people I know list the King assassination on their list of, “I know where I was and what I was doing when *** happened.” I can’t say that for King or Kennedy.

Our founding fathers owned slaves and protected the institution for 20 years in the Constitution: Article I Section 9 “The Migration or Importation of such Persons as any of the States now existing shall think proper to admit, shall not be prohibited by the Congress prior to the Year one thousand eight hundred and eight....” The slave trade lasted 366 years and moved 12.5 million Africans across the Atlantic Ocean; however, more slaves were imported into the U.S. during that 20 year “grace period” than any other 20 year period in American history.

The content of the museum is too voluminous to try to summarize here, so I’ll provide a laundry list of names, terms and events that should jog the memories of my geriatric comrades and should get the younger folks digging out their history
This Exhibit Outlines The Lunch Counter Sit-InsThis Exhibit Outlines The Lunch Counter Sit-InsThis Exhibit Outlines The Lunch Counter Sit-Ins

National Civil Rights Museum - Memphis TN
books – Plessy v. Ferguson (separate but equal) , Black Panthers, Jim Crow, convict leasing, Brown v. Board of Education, Montgomery Bus Boycott, 1964 Civil Rights Act, Rosa Parks, lunch counter sit-ins, Little Rock Nine, Birmingham’s Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, 1965 Voting Rights Act and Black Power.

We all harbor differing views on civil rights, but the National Civil Rights Museum should evoke feelings in everyone. I tip my hat to those who developed such an objective presentation of this emotionally-charged facet of America’s history. No individual or group is exalted and no individual or group is demonized. Whether it’s before the White House or after the Statue of Liberty, I believe every American should see this state of the art museum, because it undeniably IS America.

My other “schoolless” Saturday stop was the Cotton Museum at the Memphis Cotton Exchange – more correctly called the Former Memphis Cotton Exchange. The Cotton Exchange, I am told, now (with changes in shipping and the emergence of electronic technologies) resides in a much smaller office in the Memphis hinterland – away from the docks that were the marketing hub of the area’s cotton production. The attraction is MUCH less about cotton per se than it is
The “Big Board” Where Up-To-The-Minute Cotton Prices Were PostedThe “Big Board” Where Up-To-The-Minute Cotton Prices Were PostedThe “Big Board” Where Up-To-The-Minute Cotton Prices Were Posted

Cotton Museum at the Memphis Cotton Exchange - Memphis TN
about the culture that emerged within that cotton-based society and economy.

There are some interesting artifacts and the telephone booths and the “big board” where minute by minute prices were logged are unique and interesting, but most of the content is contained on placards that emphasize the development of the blues genre of American music. Following my self-guided trip through the museum, I was offered the opportunity to take an audio-guided tour of the Exchange neighborhood.

There are 8-10 stopping points on the tour. A map showing the stopping points is included with the audio player. The Mississippi River is easily seen from the museum entrance, so orientation is not a problem. The recording steps back in time to a point when the neighborhood was defined by cotton. Actors depict a typical workday morning in different venues to put the listener in the middle of the action. Personally, I got as much flavor from the audio tour as I did from the museum itself. I recommended the attraction to those wanting to understand what made cotton as important to the culture of the south as it was to the economy of the south.

Well folks, there was
Not Nearly As Large As I Had ExpectedNot Nearly As Large As I Had ExpectedNot Nearly As Large As I Had Expected

Elvis Presley's Graceland - Memphis TN
only one attraction on my list that opened in mid-morning on Sunday, April 19, 2015. That’s right, Elvis Presley's Graceland will take your money (and plenty of it) when most Tennesseans are in church. I already had been forewarned via the Internet that the attraction is a high dollar deal but almost turned around when I saw the charge for parking is $10.00. The operative word is almost. Why do they charge so much? Because they can – and suckers like me will gripe and complain but will continue to pay!

Keep in mind, I was here in mid-April on a heavily overcast, threatening day. The crowd probably was relatively small if compared to peak vacation season. The tour and the parking actually are across the street from the Graceland mansion. The walkways to the ticket purchasing booths are covered and placards along the way explain the various tour packages. There are essentially three levels of participation at Graceland: the Mansion Only Tour at $32.40 for Seniors, the Graceland Platinum Tour at $40.50 for Seniors and the Graceland Elvis Entourage VIP Tour at $76.50 for Seniors.

The Platinum adds five attractions to the Graceland only tour while the VIP tour adds one more attraction, allows front of the line privileges and adds an all day feature which allows those who so desire to revisit any of the attractions multiple times. The Airplane Tour can be added to the Platinum or the Elvis Entourage VIP tours for an additional $4.50 for Seniors. All the Senior prices reflect an approximate 10% discount from the adult admission price. I opted for the Platinum Tour with the Airplane Tour add-on.

The queue dictates the first order of business is a visit to the mansion. An iPad and headset is provided each visitor before boarding the bus for the journey across Elvis Presley Boulevard to the mansion. The iPad provides a well-done, interesting multimedia tour of the mansion, outbuildings and grounds. Interior non-flash photography is allowed, and there is no pressure applied by the staff to rush the visitor; however, the mansion tour is limited to the first floor – out of respect for Elvis’ privacy. Yeah, right! In the White House, yup, they’re still living there. But showing respect for the PRIVACY of a dead man, come on! It sounds to me like there might have been a logistical problem! Or, is Elvis
The Vanity HallThe Vanity HallThe Vanity Hall

Elvis Presley's Graceland - Memphis TN
still alive and hiding upstairs?

Don’t misunderstand me, Graceland is plenty big for a family of three; however, particularly after visiting the mansions in Newport RI in 2012, I expected it to be much larger. I would bet that most of the lawyers advertising on TV have more square footage. The appointments are interesting and colorful, and mirrors deceitfully enlarge the rooms. Outside, Vernon’s Office, the Trophy Building, the Racquetball Building and the Memorial Garden conclude the tour.

Elvis was initially buried in Forest Hill Cemetery next to his mother, Gladys, but an attempted break-in by grave robbers caused his father, Vernon, to have his remains (as well as the remains of his mother) disinterred and moved to Graceland on October 3, 1977. Interestingly, the crypt that Elvis was interred in at Forest Hill is empty now and preserved for tourists, but it is available for sale – for a reported price tag exceeding one million dollars. Vernon died in 1979, and Elvis’ grandmother Minnie Mae Presley died in 1980. Both are also buried in the Memorial Garden.

After returning to the Graceland complex, I visited the Graceland Archives Experience; the Elvis' Automobile Museum; the I Shot
Elvis’ Favorite Car – A 1973 Stutz BlackhawkElvis’ Favorite Car – A 1973 Stutz BlackhawkElvis’ Favorite Car – A 1973 Stutz Blackhawk

Elvis Presley's Graceland - Memphis TN
Elvis: The Exhibit; and the Elvis' Hawaii: Concerts, Movies and More! Exhibit. Since I already had been to Elvis Birthplace in Tupelo MS and since the skies were becoming more threatening, I skipped the Elvis' Tupelo exhibit and headed for Elvis' two custom airplanes. Is Graceland worth the cost? That’s totally subjective, but, even though everything is extremely well done, photography is allowed and there was no pressure to hurry through any of the exhibits, I think it’s somewhat overprice. I am going to recommend Graceland; however, after seeing the diversity of folks on the tour during my visit, I’m not even going to try to recommend it to a specific audience!

My second Sunday stop was the Mississippi River Museum in downtown Memphis. Irene, my GPS, brought me to the address of 125 North Front Street without any problem, but the only identifier on the building was for Mud Island River Park. I went to the Tennessee Visitor Center for help and was directed to the aforementioned building across the street (I was invited to leave my truck in the free parking lot – a nice overture). After paying the admission fee, I found a monorail that transported me to Mud Island.

After pointlessly verbalizing my frustration, on several occasions, regarding a lack of functional directions to the museum, I decided nobody in the trenches cared if visitors discovered the museum location or not. Perhaps they are tired of hearing the same song day after day! For you out-of-towners, the parking lot on the island is at 35 09 06.88 N, 90 03 28.41 W. There is a car bridge, and hopefully your GPS can find it! Also, there is a pedestrian walkway above the monorail. That should provide an interesting vista.

The museum places yet a different twist on the culture of the lower Mississippi River Valley than I have been provided on other stops like Natchez MS or Vicksburg MS. The control of “Louisiana” by the Natives, the Spanish and the French are given their moment, but the focus then turns to the growth and development of the cities along the Mississippi River.

In 1718, New Orleans was founded by a group of Frenchmen on a strip of land between the Mississippi River and Lake Ponchartrain about 100 miles from the Gulf of Mexico. Four years later, New Orleans, population 470, replace Biloxi as the capital of Louisiana. In an effort to populate the new colony, France exiled criminals, prostitutes and vagabonds to New Orleans. Where would that have put me in the day? By 1730, the population of New Orleans had increased to 7500. In an effort to bring stability to the population, more women were imported – “Casket Girls” or poor French farm girls so labeled from the small dowry they had to offer and “Correction Girls” who had come from French prisons.

In 1763, a New Orleans merchant was granted trading rights to the Upper Mississippi River Valley and established his trading post at the confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers. The next year the town of Saint Louis was planned and laid out by 14 year old Auguste Chouteau. That same year, the British established control of the eastern bank of the Mississippi River, and France ceded Louisiana to Spain. Spain made Saint Louis the capital of Upper Louisiana. Thousands of settlers poured into Saint Louis, and sixty percent of the population was Anglo by 1804.

After the invention of the cotton gin in 1793, the need for cotton land increased dramatically and provided an impetus for settlement of the Central Valley. Treaties with the Native tribes opened settlement of western Kentucky and Tennessee and eastern Arkansas in 1818. The following year, Memphis was laid out on a 5000-acre tract of land owned by General Andrew Jackson and others. Population growth was stymied by bouts with cholera, small pox, malaria and yellow fever. By 1840, the population of Memphis was only 1799 but, in spite of its reputation as an unhealthy place to live, Memphis’ population increased ten-fold in the next twenty years.

The museum exhibits continue with interesting less familiar topics augmenting more routine subjects. The common subject of steamboats (sternwheelers and sidewheelers) adds highlights about gamblers, calliopes and showboat performers. Agencies that tried to tame Old Man River, like the Mississippi River Commission and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, include information about local levee districts and the levee camps created by the men that built the levees. The Civil War, as it was conducted on the Mississippi River, highlights the shallow-water, fresh-water navies of the Union and the Confederacy, mortar scows, rams and iron-clads and timber-clads. The evolution of Mississippi Delta field songs, hollers and spirituals into blues, jazz, soul and rock ‘n roll is given interesting coverage.

Outside, Mud Island River Park is home to a ½ mile long concrete sculpture of Old Man River. The horizontal scale is approximately 1 step for each mile. Each topographic contour represents a five foot change in elevation. The sculpture is a giant jigsaw puzzle composed of 1746 precast pieces – each weighing 8-½ tons. Informational panels along the “river” tell of interesting people, events and places along the Lower Mississippi. There is an entire history lesson held within the placards and the sculpture. I was unaware of the sculpture and didn’t allocate enough time to explore it as much as I would have liked. Select a sunny, pleasant day, bring a picnic lunch and spend the day on Mud Island.

My final stop was the National Ornamental Metal Museum also in Memphis. When I was growing up, our porch was old, decrepit and in need of major repairs or replacement. My father opted to replace the porch with poured concrete and to support the porch roof with what we called wrought iron. That’s akin to what I thought I would find at the attraction – gates, door hinges, lions, weather vanes, etc. Not so, Uncle Larry. The ornamental metal housed in the museum is jewelry or metal objects that have been repurposed as art! Fortunately, there were demonstrations ongoing in the shop, and those were quite interesting.

Initially, I had one attraction on my list in northeast Arkansas (the Southern Tenant Farmers Museum) but discovered two others that would make a nice day drive through some scenic countryside as so defined by Rand-McNally. My first stop was in Cherry Valley AR – population 721. As I recall, my hometown of Cherry Valley IL had a population of 725 in the day. My Cherry Valley has become a bedroom community for a city of 150,000 or so and has changed a great deal. Cherry Valley AR appears to be untouched by time.

My next stop was the aforementioned Southern Tenant Farmers Museum in Tyronza AR. The Southern Tenant Farmers' Union (STFU) was founded in 1934 to organize the tenant farmers in the southern U.S. and was established in response to the policies of the Agricultural Adjustment Administration (AAA). The AAA was one of dozens of “alphabet soup” agencies established by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to recharge the depressed economy with the AAA designed to help revive the U.S. agricultural industry.

The AAA called for a reduction in food production, which would, through a controlled shortage of food, raise the price for any given food item through supply and demand. The desired effect was that the agricultural industry would once again prosper due to the increased value and produce more income for farmers. In order to decrease food production, the AAA would pay farmers not to farm and the money would go to the landowners. The landowners were expected to share this money with the tenant farmers. While a small percentage of the landowners did share the income, the majority did not.

The policies of the AAA, coupled with the greed of the landowners, caused unemployment and the eviction of tenant farmers to rise dramatically. Indeed, the event that set into motion the creation of the STFU was the eviction of twenty-three plantation families by planter Hiram Norcross in late spring 1934. Harry Leland Mitchell, a dry cleaners owner, and Clay East, a gas station owner, saw that the federal subsidies were mainly going to line the pockets of the plantation owners. Both men were socialists and, when they sought the assistance of Norman Thomas (a socialist Party leader and candidate for President of the United States), he suggested they unionize the workers. So, in little Tyronza AR, East and Mitchell created the STFU in 1934. STFU's main goal was to advocate for the distribution of New Deal subsidies from plantation owners to tenant farmers.

The Southern Tenant Farmers' Union was one of only a few unions in the 1930s that was open to all races. Promoting not only nonviolent protest for their fair share of the AAA money, they also promoted the idea that blacks and whites could work efficiently together. Because these ideas were highly controversial at the time, the Farmers' Union met with formidable resistance from the landowners and from local public officials. STFU leaders were often harassed or ignored.

Later, the leadership of STFU decided to make the union an established collective bargaining organization, similar to the industrial unions in big cities. STFU never reached a formal bargaining position because plantation owners use violence and intimidation towards the STFU leadership and its members. In the 1930s the union was active in Arkansas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Tennessee and Texas. It later spread into the southeastern states and to California, sometimes affiliating with larger national labor federations. Its headquarters was
Personal Stories Give The Museum A SoulPersonal Stories Give The Museum A SoulPersonal Stories Give The Museum A Soul

Southern Tenant Farmers Museum - Tyronza AR
mainly at Memphis TN and at Washington DC. After World War II, it changed its name to the National Farm Labor Union and was charted by the American Federation of Labor.

The Southern Tenant Farmers Museum is not a museum filled with artifacts – rather, it is an archive documenting one aspect of a way of life that survived in the U.S. until the mid-twentieth century. The museum is replete with both posed and action photographs of the workers and their families. The museum is about developing or enhancing an understanding of the people of the Arkansas Delta. Our tour guide, a college graduate student, did an excellent job of keeping the presentation light and of keeping the audience involved. I highly recommend this attraction for those interested in learning about one of the factors that made the people of eastern Arkansas who they are today. For others, not so much!

My final stop in my one-day foray into Arkansas was the Historic Dyess Colony in, where else, Dyess AR. During the New Madrid earthquakes of late 1811 and early 1812, vast tracts of land dropped as much as 50 feet and gave rise to the "Sunken Lands" of
The Land The Colonists AcquiredThe Land The Colonists AcquiredThe Land The Colonists Acquired

Historic Dyess Colony - Dyess AR
northeast Arkansas. Much of this low land was heavily forested and became swamp land but still with rich farmland beneath the boggy surface. By the late nineteenth century, railroads that had been built in the area enabled loggers to harvest the timber and to get it to the mills and the markets.

At the end of World War I in 1918, the market valuation of foodstuffs plunged and cast economic hardship on the nation’s farmers. Record flooding of the Mississippi River in 1927 (the Mississippi remained at flood stage for 153 days) was followed by a drought from the spring of 1930 until the spring of 1931. By 1933, over 2/3 of Arkansas banks had ceased or suspended operations. Flood and drought followed by an inability to borrow money for seed, fertilizer and other needs broke the financial backs of Arkansas’ farmers.

Dyess Colony, or "Colonization Project No. 1," was established in Mississippi County AR in 1934 and was one of nearly 100 resettlement communities established as another part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal effort to provide relief during the Great Depression. The colonies ranged in size from as few as 10 families to Dyess’ 500
Archive Film, “Moving In!”Archive Film, “Moving In!”Archive Film, “Moving In!”

Historic Dyess Colony - Dyess AR
families. Some settlements were black while others were white. The main purpose of the program was to give poor families a chance to start over with land that they could work toward owning.

Cotton planter and local politician William Reynolds Dyess proposed the formation of such a self-supporting agricultural community on unused Mississippi Delta farmland. Some 15,144 acres of unimproved land were purchased by Dyess for the colonization project at the cost of $9.05 per acre – the amount of the unpaid back taxes. The site consisted primarily of forested swamp land, but, as already noted, the topsoil deposited by the Mississippi River was some of the most productive cotton farming land in the entire United States. The original township included 500 individually owned and operated farms which were 20 or 40 acres each.

The participants were recruited from Arkansas sharecroppers and tenant farmers (farming experience was required) from throughout the state. Case workers interviewed the family, neighbors and references. The application process was rigorous and, by today's standards, illegal as hell! To wit: "Is there any evidence of hereditary weakness, mental or physical?;" "Who is the dominant member of the family?;" Would you consider the family of low, medium or high intelligence?" and "Has any member of the family any bad habits? Drunkenness, loose morals, inconsideration of the sensibilities of others, etc?" Wow! Colonists were then on probation for one year!

A temporary town center was first constructed which included a mess hall and barracks. Then crews cleared land for roads and a building site on each parcel. Seven sawmills processed the fallen timber – a combined 65,000 board feet of lumber per day. A house with from three to five bedrooms, based on family size, was erected along with a barn and a chicken coop. Each family was expected to have one brood sow and at least one milk cow as well as a flock of 40-60 chickens. Their first task was to prepare a garden plot.

One of the couples who applied for, and was accepted for, the colonization project at Dyess was Ray and Carrie Cash. They had seven children. Their third son, J.R., didn’t legally have a first name until the U.S. Air Force told him he had to have a name and not just an initial. He chose John and went by that name until a business associate changed his
Small But ComfySmall But ComfySmall But Comfy

Boyhood Home of Johnny Cash - Dyess AR
name to Johnny. The Dyess Colony Museum has countless photographs and placards with anecdotes from and about Johnny Cash along with other Cash memorabilia. Cash attributed life in Dyess with influencing his body of music. He seldom returned for class reunions or other structured events because he didn’t want to detract from the nature of the event but did return unannounced to visit old friends.

The mayor of Dyess stopped by just as I was ready to visit the restored Cash home. I guess I got a VIP tour! The Cash home and the Dyess museum are new entries on the tourism menu, but there are plans to add staff so both facilities can be open simultaneously along with shuttles to the Cash home site. The Dyess community has put forth a great deal of effort to produce a first-class attraction, and they have succeeded. Actually, the entire Arkansas Delta is undergoing a cultural renaissance that should make it a tourist destination in a few years. Time will tell.

I had three other attractions on my “to see” list in Memphis. Two were the Slave Haven Underground Railroad Museum and the W. C. Handy Memphis Home & Museum both in Memphis. I must congratulate both institutions for being up front – “No Photography Allowed.” I could see from the physical size of both they do not house extensive collections, so I passed on both. The third was the Memphis Railroad and Trolley Museum. Irene, (reminder) my GPS, took me to the address quite confidently. A pair of (trolley???) tracks passed under very large (trolley???) doors, but everything was secured. Back at the Pilgrim, I did some more research and what I didn’t find should have been there! The museum web site, Google Earth and MapQuest confirmed my location was correct. If you want to visit, call first and get, as Paul Harvey would have said, “The rest of the story.”

I had four other attractions which were subjected to cost/benefit analysis and were rejected as overpriced. Memphis Rock 'N Soul Museum ($12.00), Gibson Guitar ($10.00), Sun Studio ($12.00) and Stax Museum of American Soul Music ($11.00) just didn’t have the magnetism to draw my cash into their coffers. Multitudes of companies provide free or nominally priced tours of their facilities, and many provide free souvenirs. So, why do these charge so much? Because they think they can.

I also tried to find the Horn Lake MS Missionary Baptist Church just across the state line in Southaven MS. The church was brought into musical immortality by Confederate Railroad (and other groups) with its rendition of The Big One. I think the church name might have been changed after the song hit the airwaves – oh, and not the airwaves of the religious stations. Lighten up, it’s just some good-hearted fun!

Oh, yes, there is a street in Memphis that is relatively well known. Personally, I’m not sure if Graceland or Beale Street Historic District in downtown Memphis is the more obligatory stopping point in Memphis, but I managed to see both. Beale Street is just plain cool! I had a nice time in Memphis. The weather cooperated for the most part, and (in spite of having a short week) I got to see most of the attractions on my list; however, Memphis is just TOO close to Nashville, and I am TOO much more of a country fan than a blues fan. If The Great Adventure lasts long enough, I might be back for some more great barbeque. For now, Nashville gets my vote in central and west Tennessee.

Additional photos below
Photos: 52, Displayed: 47


The Back Side Of The Face Of the Demolished BuildingThe Back Side Of The Face Of the Demolished Building
The Back Side Of The Face Of the Demolished Building

Beale Street Historic District - Memphis TN
The “Trading Floor” Of The Exchange Holds A Small Collection Of ArtifactsThe “Trading Floor” Of The Exchange Holds A Small Collection Of Artifacts
The “Trading Floor” Of The Exchange Holds A Small Collection Of Artifacts

Cotton Museum at the Memphis Cotton Exchange - Memphis TN
The Culture Of Cotton As Defined By The Women’s GownsThe Culture Of Cotton As Defined By The Women’s Gowns
The Culture Of Cotton As Defined By The Women’s Gowns

Cotton Museum at the Memphis Cotton Exchange - Memphis TN
A Block Away Were The Wharfs Where The Cotton Arrived And DepartedA Block Away Were The Wharfs Where The Cotton Arrived And Departed
A Block Away Were The Wharfs Where The Cotton Arrived And Departed

Cotton Museum at the Memphis Cotton Exchange - Memphis TN
Colorful Or Gaudy – You Decide!Colorful Or Gaudy – You Decide!
Colorful Or Gaudy – You Decide!

Elvis Presley's Graceland - Memphis TN
Colorful Or Gaudy – You Decide!Colorful Or Gaudy – You Decide!
Colorful Or Gaudy – You Decide!

Elvis Presley's Graceland - Memphis TN
Colorful Or Gaudy – You Decide!Colorful Or Gaudy – You Decide!
Colorful Or Gaudy – You Decide!

Elvis Presley's Graceland - Memphis TN
The Memorial Garden Is Adjacent To The PoolThe Memorial Garden Is Adjacent To The Pool
The Memorial Garden Is Adjacent To The Pool

Elvis Presley's Graceland - Memphis TN

4th April 2017
Elvis’ Favorite Car – A 1973 Stutz Blackhawk

Not Bearcat, it's a Stutz Blackhawk
8th April 2017
Elvis’ Favorite Car – A 1973 Stutz Blackhawk


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