Walking in Memphis

Walking in Memphis
Memphis TN, TN

Memphis TN, TN

November 30 – December 1, 2009

Our drive from Chickasaw State Park to Memphis took us along a beautiful secondary road through green rolling hills, farmlands and very small communities. It was a gentle introduction to western Tennessee and a very pleasant drive.

We entered the city not really knowing what to expect; we have not heard any friends talk about Memphis pro or con so we kept an open mind. I would have to say that Memphis is not a spectacularly beautiful city even though it sits on the Mississippi River, in fact, the riverfront is not particularly attractive, to be expected I guess as the Mississippi is a busy working river. There is a nice riverfront walk that runs from town 1-½ miles along the shore ending in an upscale neighborhood of stylish homes. We watched as tugs moved long barges up and down the river, skillfully navigating the bends and curves in the river.

From our hotel it was a quick walk into the heart of old Memphis where we find block after block of buildings either undergoing renovation or empty and up for lease. It is a low-rise city with most buildings between 5 to 10 floors. Many of the old buildings, dating from the turn of the century to the 1940’s, have been cleaned up and exhibit beautiful stonework and detailing of the time, some are commercial and others converted to lofts and condominiums. The city is maintaining its ties to the past through architectural preservation and appears to be in the midst of a massive urban renewal. Trolley cars run along Main Street and the riverfront connecting many of the tourist attractions.

One of our first experiences on the street was with the con; they came up to us and seemed very friendly, asking if we needed help or offering us interesting bits of information about the area; we were the conspicuous tourists, wandering around gawking at the sites, cameras hanging around our necks. It did not take long before we received the pitch; “brother can you spare a dime”. These “gentlemen” of the street were obvious along Main Street and along Beale Street, home to most of the music clubs and blues bars. I will say that the ones we encountered were all good-natured and not in the least bit threatening; they were just looking for a handout.

One delight was our visit to the Peabody Hotel to watch the legendary duck walk. This was a much larger event than we anticipated with a crowd already forming 20 minutes before the 11:00 a.m. appearance of the ducks who walk from the elevator along a red carpet through the lobby to a fountain in the lobby where they spend the day. The red carpet was lined on both sides with children anxiously awaiting the appearance of the little quackers and at the stroke of 11 a.m. the ducks did not disappoint.

After the “duck walk”, the lobby was filled with the voices of the Central High School Choir and we were treated to a lovely Christmas concert. These young men and women showed incredible talent, poise and professionalism and both George and I marveled at the purity of their voices and sat mesmerized.

Legend of The Peabody Ducks

How did the tradition of the ducks in The Peabody fountain begin?

Back in 1933 Frank Schutt, General Manager of The Peabody, and a friend, Chip Barwick, returned from a weekend hunting trip to Arkansas. The men had a little too much Jack Daniel’s Tennessee sippin’ whiskey, and thought it would be funny to place some of their live duck decoys (it was legal then for hunters to use live decoys) in the beautiful Peabody fountain.

Three small English call ducks were selected as “guinea pigs,” and the reaction was nothing short of enthusiastic. Soon, five North American Mallard ducks would replace the original ducks.

In 1940, Bellman Edward Pembroke, a former circus animal trainer, offered to help with delivering the ducks to the fountain each day and taught them the now-famous Peabody Duck March. Mr. Pembroke became the Peabody Duckmaster, serving in that capacity for 50 years until his retirement in 1991. Today, The Peabody Ducks are led by Duckmaster Jason Sensat.

The original ducks have long since gone, but after 75 years, the marble fountain in the hotel lobby is still graced by the ducks. The Peabody ducks march at 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. daily when not on duty in the lobby they live in their duck palace on the roof of the Peabody Hotel.

After the concert we walked along the riverfront and then back into town for lunch and a quick tour of the Center for Southern Folklore that is dedicated to documenting and presenting the people, music and traditions of the region. The current exhibit is a fabulous collection of black and white photographs that showcase everyday life in the pre Civil Rights African American community of Memphis entitled Taylor Made: The Life and Work of Rev. L. O. Taylor.

One note, while we did not get to try Corky’s BBQ yet we did have really good meals in town and perhaps will find Corky’s tomorrow, there is one in Little Rock that we will try to find on our way across Arkansas. It came highly recommended by more than one person so we feel compelled to seek it out.


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