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Curator's Choice

A Blue Moon Halloween

What better way to celebrate the weird and spooky than a blue moon on Halloween? The term “blue moon” refers to a second full moon in a month, which happens every two to three years. A full moon on Halloween only occurs about every 19 years, and the last one occurred in 2001.

Originally, “blue moon” meant a third full moon in a season with four, which is now called a seasonal blue moon. Recently, it has come to mean a second full moon appearing in a calendar month, which only occurs once every two to three years. Though this doesn’t make the Moon look blue, we can’t say that the Moon has NEVER appeared blue, as happened after the 1883 eruption of Krakatoa, when observers worldwide saw the moon as green and blue due to the leftover smoke and dust. Similar events could also change the apparent color of the skies, but most blue moons appear normal and full. We hope everyone has a safe, spooky night, and don’t forget to look up!

Image courtesy of NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University

Wooden Spandrel in The Drawing Room - Mallory-Neely House

In the late 19th century, Americans became fascinated with Asian culture and art. This included the cultures of Egypt, the Arab world, China, India, and Japan. Items from the Orient were more readily available during this time period than before. The Neelys collected exotic pieces, many from World’s Fairs, and displayed them prominently. The finials on the curtain rods in the Library and in the Drawing Room feature a star and crescent moon.

The spandrel was installed by the Neelys into the arched doorway of the pocket doors between the Drawing Room and the Library. It is made of hundreds of small pieces of turned wood that have been gilded to give the appearance of metal. A similar spandrel at one time hung between the Dining Room and Sitting Room. The grillwork added an element of Oriental exoticism to the room and permitted ventilation between spaces when the curtains were closed. You can see these examples on display at the Mallory-Neely House.

Wet Collection

One of our rarely displayed group of objects is our collection of organic specimens in jars. The wet collection is stored in fluid, usually a pure alcohol solution or a mixture of alcohol, formaldehyde and acetic acid. The specific type of liquid depends on the developmental stage of the animal and the intended use of the specimen. Specimens will last for several decades as long as they are stored in well-sealed containers in a cool room. The preserved animals can be used for research, teaching, and exhibits. The museum’s collection consists of worms, jellyfish, reptiles, amphibians, and a few mammals. You can find two specimens, a bat and a tapeworm, on the fireplace mantle in the Cossitt Gallery in the Pink Palace Mansion.

Birchbark Box

Native American tribes commonly used birchbark to create boxes. The box shown here also has porcupine quills sewn into the birchbark to create a floral and geometric design. To create boxes like this, Native American women followed a few important steps. First, they would heat the bark to make it more pliable and easier to shape. Next, they would soak the quills in water until they were soft. Once softened, they would use an awl to make tiny holes in the bark and then begin to insert the quills into the bark to form the design and stitching. Often, the porcupine needles were dyed using natural ingredients like vegetables until the Europeans arrived, bringing commercial dyes. This box was made in the 19th century by a Plains Indian tribe, but it is unknown which tribe specifically created this box. You can see it in the Cossitt Gallery in the Pink Palace mansion.

Bat Week

Bat Week is an international, annual celebration to raise awareness about the need for bat conservation. Bats are critical to the health of our natural world and economy.

Widely misunderstood, bats are amazing creatures that are vital to the health of our world’s ecosystems. As if being the only true flying mammal wasn’t cool enough, bats eat millions of insects each year, including mosquitos that can carry diseases to humans and livestock, as well as pest insects that damage crops. They also are important pollinators, contributing to the production of plants like mangos, bananas, and agave (used to make tequila).

Unfortunately, bats are currently under threat of deforestation, leading to habitat loss and population decline as a result of pesticide use. Worldwide, approximately 24% of all bat species are now considered endangered. One thing you can do to help is build and install a bat house to provide a home for bats in your yard.

Memphis Showboats - United States Football League

Memphis has had a series of short-lived professional football teams. In the mid-1980s, it was the Memphis Showboats, a member of the United States Football League. Initially, the USFL played its season during the NFL’s off season. The Showboats were an expansion team that came to town in 1984 and generated a fan following. The Showboats’ best player was Reggie White, aAll-American during his senior season at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. The National Football League’s Philadelphia Eagles drafted him in 1985, and he went on to a 15-year NFL career and was posthumously inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2016. Despite the fans support and the team’s winning record, the Showboats franchise folded in 1986 along with the USFL because the league could not survive its attempt to compete directly with the NFL’s fall season. 

Paul Rainey - Explorer, Hunter, Playboy

In 1930, when the Pink Palace Museum first opened to the public, it was known by a different name: the Memphis Museum of Natural History and Industrial Arts. A main attraction at the time was a collection of animal specimens and Inuit artifacts acquired from the estate of a Mississippi-based explorer, hunter, and playboy named Paul Rainey.

Rainey was a larger-than-life figure in his day. The son of a Cleveland coal-industry tycoon, he inherited a fortune estimated at more than $20 million. Around 1900, he moved South and began acquiring enormous tracts of land that served as bases for his hunting excursions. His property near New Albany, Mississippi, hosted everything from cockfighting to polo matches to internationally famous fox hunts. At one point, Rainey owned as many as 230 hunting dogs. Beyond the United States, Rainey’s self-funded expeditions to the Artic and Africa would be considered controversial by modern standards. In the Artic, he once lassoed a polar bear that he brought back to the Bronx Zoo. In Africa, he innovated a method of hunting lions on horseback while using hounds. Rainey documented these hunts in films that are recognized today as some of the earliest footage of African animals in the wild. Rainey’s adventures came to an end in 1923, when he died mysteriously on board a ship headed to Africa. According to one account, the brash hunter had insulted an Asian passenger who was dancing with a white woman in the ship’s lounge. The passenger then told Rainey, “You will not live to see the sun go down on your next birthday.” The next day, which was indeed Rainey’s 46th birthday, he collapsed and died. You can see some of the Rainey Collection in the Cossitt Gallery in the Pink Palace Mansion.

John James Audubon - American Naturalist

In the early decades of the 1800s, American naturalist John James Audubon traveled extensively throughout the Mississippi Valley. In 1820, Audubon traveled by flatboat down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. He made a brief visit to Memphis in December 1820, an occasion remembered with a historical marker and a park named in his honor. To learn more about Audubon, listen to the latest episode of Tributaries, the Museum’s podcast.

Servant's Quarters

The Mallory-Neely servants’ quarters is a 2,000 square feet, three-story structure with two rooms on each floor. Like the mansion, it is built of brick that was stuccoed and scored in a large block pattern. A kitchen, pantry, and laundry were located on the first floor with living quarters on the second and third floors. Enslaved peoples originally occupied this building during the Kirtland era, and it was later occupied by servants.

In the beginning, the servant’s quarters was a separate building detached from the main house since kitchens needed to be separated from the house due to the threat of fire. Beginning around the turn on the 20th century, the northernmost room on the first floor was used as a laundry room. The building was connected by a simple covered walkway to the main house. Around 1900, the breezeway was fully enclosed. Census records indicate that slightly more than half of the residents of this property were enslaved people or servants. The number of enslaved people or servants depended largely on the number of residents in the house.

15th Century Native American Pottery Collection

The Pink Palace is home to an amazing array of 15th century Native American pottery from the collection of Memphian M.V. Highsmith, through the Community Foundation of Greater Memphis. Highsmith, an avid hunter and gifted gunsmith who lived in East Memphis, discovered all of the artifacts at the Belle Meade archaeological site near Hughes, Arkansas. Highsmith had an early interest in archaeology and noticed the numerous mounds and village sites on his hunting trips. He collected hundreds of artifacts over a period of several years.

The pottery vessels are exquisite examples of the potters’ craftsmanship during the late prehistoric period in the Central Mississippi Valley. The Belle Meade site, one of the best-preserved remaining Mississippian villages in the area, was occupied for a short period, between 1400 and 1600 A.D. 

Low-fired pottery, made of back-swamp clays and ground mussel shells, was vitally important to these prehistoric people. They used clay jars and bowls to prepare and store food. Such utilitarian vessels were often embellished with simple decorative designs. They often had strap handles. Other vessels seem to have had a more ceremonial function. Many of the bottles and jars were used to prepare sacred medicines used in rituals. These vessels were often painted, engraved, and appliqued with esoteric symbols. Some ritual vessels were effigies, miniature portraits of human-like supernatural beings, painted fish that represent the underworld, underwater beings who possess great power and danger, and heroic warrior heroes. 

Constellation Aquarius as Ganymede

The constellation Aquarius, also known as the “cup-carrier,” represents Ganymede, a figure in Greek mythology. Ganymede was the son of a king of Troy, and the most beautiful person who ever lived. Zeus, the king of the gods who greatly admired beautiful things and people, saw Ganymede one day while he was tending sheep on Mount Ida. Wanting the youth for himself, Zeus either sent his eagle to bring Ganymede to Mount Olympus. Once there, Zeus turned him immortal, and Ganymede became the cup-bearer to the gods. Both Ganymede and the eagle that captured him were turned into constellations, Ganymede as Aquarius and the eagle as the neighboring constellation, Aquila. 

Mallory-Neely House Staircase

The Mallory-Neely House is designed around a central hall plan with doors at either end that could be opened for air circulation. During the Kirtland period, the walls of the Mallory-Neely House’s entrance hall were probably papered or painted a light color. The millwork throughout the house was painted white. The original staircase in this hall was curved, similar to the curving 1870s staircase at the Woodruff-Fontaine House down the street. It was likely illuminated by a smaller window. The top of the stairs was originally crowned with an octagonal stained-glass skylight, which was later removed.

The Neelys made significant architectural and decorative changes to their home in the early 1890s. They removed the original staircase and replaced it with a new one when the third floor was expanded. High quality lumber, easily obtained in Memphis, the nation’s hardwood capital, was used for the staircases support structure.

Marine Life in Tennessee?

This crab lived about 70 million years ago, during the end of the Cretaceous Period when dinosaurs roamed the earth and giant lizards roamed the seas. During this time, our region was submerged under a shallow sea teeming with marine life. This crab enjoyed a life in the pleasant, semi-tropical waters, feeding on the plentiful snails and avoiding being eaten by the mosasaurs and squids that also populated these waters. Crabs have hard shells, making them ideal organisms to be fossilized. The soft tissues of an organism can quickly decay after death, but hard parts like bones and shells have staying power. Additionally, the Late Cretaceous sea provided an ideal environment for marine fossil specimens to be beautifully preserved. The rivers that fed into the sea, as well as frequent hurricanes, brought in a great deal of sediment that allowed this specimen to be quickly buried after death, avoiding being destroyed by scavengers or bad weather. Additionally, the sediment is rich in clay, which prevented groundwater from dissolving or altering the fossil after it was buried.

Believe in Memphis Banner

Larry Finch and Ronnie Robinson joined the Memphis State varsity basketball team in 1970, just as Gene Bartow started as coach. Guided by the warm-hearted, energetic Bartow, Finch and Robinson revitalized the program and in 1973 they led the team to the NCAA tournament and finished in the Final Four. Basketball provided common ground and a sense of unity among black and white Memphians at a time when the community was divided across racial lines. John Hudson, a trombone player in the Memphis State University pep band, held this “Believe in Memphis” banner at the men's basketball 1973 Final Four appearance. The Memphis Chamber of Commerce gave Hudson the banner when he arrived in St. Louis for the tournament. They asked him to hold it up at during the games to promote both the city and the university. As a member of the trombone section, he was on the front row of the pep band, so the banner was prominent. The theme “Memphis Believer” was part of a chamber of commerce program to counteract negative attitudes about the city. To learn more about the exiting ups and downs of over a century of Tiger Basketball, come to the Pink Palace Museum to see Tiger Hoops, showing through April 2021. You can also learn more about the exhibit in this video.

Fall Changing of The Leaves - A Colorful Phenomena

One of the most spectacular natural phenomena is the color change of North American trees. The process of how leaves change color and eventually fall is complicated. The change is color in influenced by shorter day lengths, weather (primarily cooler temperatures and less rain), and changing levels of leaf pigments. Weather and pigment levels vary each year, making color change predictions difficult.

The pigments chlorophyll, carotene, xanthophyll, and anthocyanins in leaves are responsible for color. Chlorophyll is the pigment responsible for the green color, and, during the spring and summer, it is the most abundant pigment in the leaf. As the days shorten and get cooler, the production of chlorophyll slows, allowing the carotene (orange) and xanthophyll (yellow) color of the leaf to show. Not all trees contain anthoctanins (reds and purples), but in those that do, their production is triggered during cooler temperatures, causing them to become the dominate colors when little chlorophyll remains. 

Cooler temperatures also trigger the leaves “falling.” Leaves don’t actually fall off, it’s more like they are pushed. A thin layer of abscission cells forms where the petiole (leaf stem) meets the branch.  As these cells form, they push the petiole away from the branch, causing the leaf to separate from it. 

Fall color at Lichterman Nature Center usually peaks around the end of October and the beginning of November.

Mary Frances Blocker Neely

Mary Frances Blocker Neely was born in DeSoto County, Mississippi, in 1839 to Milton Blocker and Frances Wilson Blocker. Her father, Milton, died tragically in 1847 of injuries received in the explosion of the steamboat Medora. Her mother, Frances, was responsible for changing the name of Olive Branch, Mississippi, from Watson’s Crossroads. Mary Frances married James Columbus Neely at the Germantown Presbyterian Church in February 1860. Before moving to the Mallory-Neely House, the family lived at 362 Jefferson Avenue where their five children, 2 girls and three boys, were born. You can learn more about her life at the Mallory-Neely House.

Cygnus as Zeus

The constellation Cygnus depicts a swan and is often identified with a mythological story about Zeus, the king of the gods. Zeus was infatuated with a woman named Leda, the wife of Spartan king Tyndareus. Zeus came to Leda in the form of a swan and seduced her. Leda continued to live with her husband and gave birth to four children, two of whom claimed Zeus as their father while the other two were the children of Tyndareus. Zeus was the father of Helen of Troy and Pollux, and Tyndareus was the father of Castor and Clytemnestra.

Although they had different fathers, Castor and Pollux were twins who became known as the Dioscuri. While the twins were part of several myths, they are most remembered for being Argonauts who searched for the Golden Fleece. They eventually were placed in the sky as the constellation Gemini. Helen of Troy is most famous for being abducted by the Trojan prince Paris, causing the Trojan War. Clytemnestra was the wife of Agamemnon, the king of Mycenae and leader of the Greek forces at Troy. Before departing for Troy, Agamemnon sacrificed their daughter Iphigenia to ensure safe passage. When he returned after the war, Clytemnestra took her revenge by killing Agamemnon. This murder, as well as the consequences of Clytemnestra’s actions, were famously be told in the Oresteia, a trilogy of tragedies written by the Greek tragedian Aeschylus.

Radiation Survey Meters

Radiation survey meters are used to measure the amount of specific types of radiation.  Gamma radiation is produced when radioactive atomic nuclei disintegrate, which can happen during four different nuclear reactions: fusion, fission, alpha decay, and gamma decay. Gamma rays are used in medical positron emission tomography (PET scans) and in radiation therapies to treat cancerous tumors. Gamma rays are also released when a nuclear bomb is detonated. This radiation can be harmful to living organisms. This CD V-710 survey meter is a medium-range gamma survey meter that was manufactured from 1954-1960 for civil defense workers to monitor radiation following a nuclear attack. Gamma particles cannot be detected by human senses, so a survey meter would be necessary to determine the extent of radioactive contamination after a nuclear explosion.  In 1985, the Federal Emergency Management Agency notified facilities that this model was obsolete.

Hot Springs Quartz

Quartz is a common, durable mineral that is prized by collectors for its quality as a gemstone. The Hot Springs area of Arkansas, located just under three hours outside of Memphis, is home to some of the finest quartz crystals in the United States! The story of how Arkansas became home to these impressive quartz samples, like this one on display in the Museum’s geology exhibit, began about 280 million years ago during the final stages of the formation of the supercontinent Pangea. As the tectonic plates that formed Pangea collided, the rocks became folded, and faulted into the Ouachita mountains. This mountain building event left deep fractures in the rock of the Hot Springs area, where quartz crystals would grow over millions of years from the warm, mineral rich waters that filled the voids. Given millions of years to grow, some crystals achieve sizes of several feet. 

Elaine Lee Turner

Elaine Lee Turner’s parents expected each of their twelve children to spend their summer months contributing time and energy to better the community. In 1959, Elaine honored their wishes by becoming a candy striper and volunteering at E.H. Crump Hospital, the local hospital for black patients. E.H. Crump was constructed in 1956 to serve African American patients as a part of the John Gaston Hospital (now Regional One), and was the site of a nursing school for African Americans, also begun in 1956. Turner was particularly interested in the nursing school, but was too young to enroll, so she decided to serve as a candy striper in the maternity ward. 

Elaine found her community calling in the summer of 1960 when she became a passionate civil rights activist, and her contributions to the black community and the city as a whole continue. She and her sister, Joan Lee-Nelson, founded an African American tour company, and they manage two museums that interpret black history and culture in Memphis and the Mid-South.

Sitting Room - The Center of Victorian Home life

The sitting room of a Victorian house was used as an informal living room. It was the space where family gathered daily to read, play board games or card games, and entertain close friends. The lady of the house might entertain friends here with afternoon tea. Family members spent time together here most evenings after dinner. Daisy Mallory and her friends gathered in this room regularly to play bridge.

With an emphasis on family, children, friends, and hobbies, comfort was more important in sitting rooms than style. Subdued colors were seen as tasteful and harmonious and, therefore, suitable for the decoration of floors, curtains, and upholstery fabrics. Furniture was of a serviceable nature. Low chairs and lounges of a well-worn cushiony nature were used because these could endure the inevitable scratches and kicks of everyday use. Turkish style furnishings with their comfortable and exotic appearance were popular. The mantel and shelves were often covered with photographs and flowers. The chandelier in this room is a “transitional” fixture dating to the 1890s that utilized both gas and electricity.

Model T - A Car People Could Afford

Henry Ford founded a car company in the early 1900s, and changed our lives forever. Although Karl Benz produced the first modern automobiles in Germany in 1885, and American cars were introduced in the 1890s, most people could not afford them. Henry Ford set out to build a car that most families could afford, and he succeeded.

The first Model T was sold on October 1, 1908. To lower costs, Ford used standardized parts, mass production, and an assembly line. In 1914, it took 93 minutes to assemble a car. By 1925, new Fords rolled out every 10 seconds. The Model T became so popular that, at one point, most American families owned one. They helped connect rural Americans to the rest of the country and lead to the development of the highway system.

By the 1920s, Ford faced serious competition from other carmakers, and Model T lost favor with the public. After making more than 15 million Model T’s, Ford ended production of the beloved “tin Lizzies” in 1927. Even he admitted it was time for a change in style and another color besides black. The Model T was succeeded by the new, improved Model A.

Bald Cypress

Although the bald cypress (Taxodium distichum) resembles an evergreen conifer tree with its needle-like leaves, it is actually a deciduous conifer, which means it drops its leaves every year. The bald cypress is identified by its buttressed trunk with large, wide roots on all sides of a shallowly rooted tree. The bald cypress is found in swamps, stream banks, and along major rivers. Because the heartwood of old bald cypress trees is resistant to decay, even when submerged in water, it is used in the construction of docks, boats, and exterior siding. The lumber is used for interior trim, paneling, and cabinets. In autumn, bald cypress foliage turns a bronze-red color, before falling off in the winter. Its gumball-sized, silver-grey fruit balls develop over the summer. The seed cones take one year to develop, maturing in September and October before opening and then disintegrating in the winter. You can find bald cypress trees can be found in Mertie’s Lake at Lichterman Nature Center.

Telescope Light Receivers - Zoom with a View

In the middle of the twentieth century, scientists improved optical telescopes by replacing the eye and photographic plate with electronic devices. The first devices had photoelectric light receivers. As solid state research evolved, innovators replaced these crude receivers with diode devices that could concentrate light photons to produce images that could be further processed and analyzed. We no longer see astronomers looking through a telescope eyepiece; instead, they look at computer printouts and images.

In 1890, Heinrich Hertz observed a phenomenon that soon provided scientists in all fields an accurate method of measuring the intensity of a light beam or source. By shining light on an electrically charged metal surface, some of the light’s energy could be measured with electric current meters. Soon, scientists produced more sensitive photocells that showed that the frequency of light would produce different electrical readings. The higher the frequency, the greater the energy produced. This allowed scientists to measure stellar brightness from planets, stars, and galaxies and to determine the spectrum of these objects.

Most telescopes now utilize CCD (Charged Coupled Devices) that captures light and converts it to digital data that is further processed by computers. The wonderful images produced by the Hubble Space Telescope, moon and planet explorers, and other space probes are products of CCD. All new telescopes use CCD, and, by tweaking the electronic signals with computers, their performance mimics results that would otherwise be required by larger ground-based or orbital telescopes. Further advances in computer enhancement will make existing telescopes even more sensitive.

Image courtesy of ESA/Hubble & NASA, A. Filippenko

WWI Memorial Broadsides

Robinson C. Walker lived in Piggot, Arkansas, when the U.S. entered WWI. He joined the 140th infantry, 35th division, which departed for France on June 24, 1918, aboard the transport "Adriatic” with other soldiers from Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Missouri. Robinson’s comrades were sent to take part in the Meuse-Argonne offensive, one of the largest battles of WWI, which began on September 26, 1918. The 35th division became disorganized in battle, and Robinson was killed in a direct attack on German lines on September 28, 1918. These memorial broadsides were designed by the artist Edwin Blashfield in 1919. They included a facsimile signature of Woodrow Wilson under an image of Columbia knighting the fallen soldier. Each was hand-calligraphed with the fallen soldier’s name, rank, and unit. A similar broadside was given to wounded soldiers. In 1930, Walker’s mother took part in a Gold Star Mother’s Pilgramage to the cemeteries where their sons were laid to rest. Gold Star memorial trips were paid for by the U.S. government in honor of the family’s sacrifice. To this day, the image in the original Edwin Blashfield broadside is the logo of the Disabled American Veterans.

Pride Celebration

Thirty-five Memphians attended Memphis’ first organized Pride Celebration, “Gay Day in the Park,” in Audubon Park on June 27, 1976. In 1980, the Memphis Gay Coalition organized the first Pride marches in Peabody Park, but these marches were discontinued in 1983. Memphis Pride, Inc., an organization spun off from the Mid-South Gay and Lesbian Community Center, planned the first Pride parade in 1994 in Midtown Memphis. Vincent Astor served as the committee chair for the first parade. When Memphis Pride disbanded in 2004, Mid-South Pride formed to continue the work. In 2017, the organizers renamed the annual festival Memphis Pride Fest. By 2019, Pride Fest had an estimated attendance of 35,000 with over 2,000 parade participants, making it the largest Pride celebration in Memphis history. This year Memphis Pride Fest Live & in Color is occurring online September 23-27, 2020.

Did You Know That Tennessee Has a State Fossil?

Approximately 70 million years ago, an inland sea bisected North America. Today’s Mid-South was underneath a finger of this sea, which reached from southern Louisiana to southern Illinois. The waters teemed with life, including giant mosasaurs, sharks, turtles, crabs, and frogs. Along the shallow margins of the sea, hundreds of species of humble filter-feeding bivalves lived. Though small, bivalves, (oyster and clam-like animals) existed in astounding varieties. One very successful genus was Pteratrigonia, which existed from the Jurassic Period to the Cretaceous extinction event. Pteratrigonia is easily recognizable with its distinctive shape, high-ridged shell, and complicated structure for opening and closing. They are so common at West Tennessee fossil site Coon Creek, that geologists at the University of Tennessee at Martin lobbied to nominate it as the State Fossil of Tennessee. In 1998, the Tennessee Legislature named Pteratrigonia thoracica (terra-tri-go-nee-ah thor-as-seek-ah), their choice, as the official state fossil.

Memphis Grizzlies Football?

Did you know that the Memphis Grizzlies basketball team is not the first professional sports team in Memphis to have that name? This cap is from the Memphis Southmen, a football team that was part of the World Football League, which held its first season in 1974. Many fans did not like the name “Southmen” and so the team came to be known as the Memphis Grizzlies. The team’s colors were burnt orange and brown, the dominant colors on this cap. The team played their home games at the Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium. The team proved to be popular in Memphis and counted amongst its fans Elvis Presley, who attended the first season home opener. While the team itself was popular and was well-managed by its owner, John F. Bassett, the mismanagement of the WFL led to the dissolution of both the Grizzlies and the league itself in the middle of its second season in 1975. Basset made an attempt to have the Grizzles join the National Football League after the WFL folded, but the NFL refused. Memphis eventually became home to another team of professional Grizzlies when the Vancouver Grizzlies relocated to Memphis in 2001.

Northern Mockingbird

The state bird of Tennessee is not shy or secretive. In fact northern mockingbirds (Mimus polyglottos) often perch on top of a shrub, tree, or house and sing loudly throughout the year. Their song is a series of copied sounds from other birds, with each phrase repeated 2-6 times. They are known to mimic the sounds of jays, killdeer, hawks, wrens, and many other familiar birds. Mockingbirds will continue to learn songs throughout their lives and can amass a repertoire up to 200 songs. They are some of the first birds to start singing in the morning, and unpaired males will sometimes sing into the evening hours, too. 

A common and widespread bird today, their populations declined in the 19th century because people coveted them as pets. They would often capture them as nestlings and keep them caged indoors to hear their varied songs. It is now illegal to collect or harass mockingbirds in the wild. 

Northern mockingbirds can be seen throughout the Mid-South in backyards, parks, and suburban open spaces. At Lichterman Nature Center they are often seen atop the hollies outside the Backyard Wildlife Center.  

Image courtesy of Jon Graham

James Columbus Neely

James Columbus Neely was born in Mecklenberg County, North Carolina. His family moved to Madison County, Tennessee, in 1833 and to the Germantown area in 1839. Although there were no public schools, he was well educated in the country “old field schools” supported by well-to-do farmers in each community. In 1854, he came to Memphis to seek his fortune. He formed a partnership with William Goyer and embarked in the wholesale grocery business. He later partnered with S.H. Brooks, under the name of Brook, Neely & Company, wholesale grocers, cotton factors, and commission merchants. His brother, Hugh M. Neely, also became a partner in the firm. In 1860, James Neely married Frances Blocker of Olive Branch, Mississippi. The Neely’s five children were born while they were living on Jefferson Street. He then moved his family to 652 Adams Avenue in 1883. James died on January 22, 1901. You can learn more about his life at the Mallory-Neely House.

Kosher Fish Grinder

In 1966, 46-year-old Billy James moved his Buffalo Fish Market from 273 North Main Street (where the Convention Center stands today) to 2887 Broad Avenue and provided the Jewish community with gefilte fish for over forty years. (Gefilte is Yiddish for “stuffed fish.”) In the 1950s, he had acquired a large meat grinder from a fix-it store on South Main, and at the request of Pearl Katz, a frequent customer, decided to help carry on a very old tradition of using fish to celebrate Jewish holidays and the Shabbat. Mr. James would only grind kosher fish, that is fish that has both removable scales and fins as defined in the Book of Leviticus.

Gefilte originated in Eastern Europe where many Jews were poor so they created this dish to make the fish go farther. The dish is traditionally served for the celebration of Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, and Passover. For many years, Jewish cooks in Memphis went to the Buffalo Fish Market to pick up their orders of freshly ground buffalo fish ready to ‘season, mix and cook” into southern-style gefilte fish. Mr. James estimated that he ground over 1,000 pounds of strictly kosher buffalo fish a year! Although the Buffalo Fish Market closed in the 1990s, the fish grinder now has a home at the Museum of Science & History - Pink Palace as part of the history of the Jewish community in Memphis.

Constellation Capricornus - Half Goat. Half Fish.

The constellation Capricornus depicts a sea goat, a mythical creature that is half goat and half fish. Capricornus has been identified as this creature since the Bronze Age, when the Babylonians believed it was a symbol of their god Ea, the Sumerian god of creation. In Greek mythology, Capricornus is identified with Amalthea, Zeus’ foster-mother, who is sometimes depicted as a goat. Zeus was the son of the Titan Cronus, the king of the Titans and the god of the harvest, and his wife Rhea. Uranus and Gaia, the king’s parents, prophesied that Cronus would be overthrown by one of his sons. Cronus and Rhea had 5 children before Zeus, the gods Hestia, Demeter, Hera, Hades, and Poseidon. Cronus swallowed all of them as soon as they were born. Rhea wanted to punish Cronus for overthrowing his father and eating all of their children, so she tricked Cronus into swallowing a stone he believed was Zeus. Rhea had actually hidden Zeus with Amalthea. When Zeus was older, he overthrew Cronus and forced him to disgorge his siblings. The 6 siblings went on to become the 6 main gods of the Greek pantheon from whom the rest of the gods descended, with Zeus as their king.

Great Horned Serpent - Mythical Creature of the Underworld

Across cultures and thousands of years, the indigenous people of the Americas created representations of a mythical being with the head of a cougar and the winged body of a snake. Most had horns or antlers as well. According to the myths recorded in historic times, the creatures were known as Great Horned Serpents or underwater panthers, and were great denizens of the Underworld who were constantly at war with the Thunderbirds, important deities of the Upper World. From their homes in rivers and lakes, the underwater panthers could unleash evil and chaos on the world. When people drowned, it was because they were taken by these creatures. The Thunderbirds, who lived in the mountains and high places, worked to keep order in the world. People of the Mississippian culture created this effigy pot  about five hundred years ago, near the end of the pre-contact period. The horned serpents were important in what archaeologists call the Southeastern Ceremonial Complex of iconography and mythology shared by Mississippian people across the southeastern United States. You can find this pot in the Highsmith Collection exhibit in the cultural history gallery. You can also learn more about indigenous pottery on the latest episode of Tributaries, the museum’s podcast.

Millington Base - Celebrating a Mid-South Military Legacy

The modern Naval Support Activity Mid-South in Millington, Tennessee, began as an Army Signal Flight School at Park Field in 1917. There, soldiers trained to be pilots and ground crewmen during World War I. As soon as the war ended, training operations ceased, and the base closed in 1922. During the Great Depression, the Farm Security Administration used Park Field as a site for model farms. When America entered into World War II, Park Field and neighboring sites became a Naval Reserve Air Base. The Navy renamed the site Naval Air Station Memphis in 1942, and designated the training school the Naval Air Technical Training Center (NATTC) in 1943. During the war, the base was a primary flight training center that taught air and ground crews how to operate and maintain the Navy’s aircrafts. After the war, the Navy established a new Naval Air Station (NAS) at the base. NAS Memphis assumed logistical and support roles for the navy for the next fifty years. The 1993 Base Realignment and Closure Commission (BRAC) resulted in closing NATTC Memphis and the relocation of some Navy human resource functions to Millington. NAS Memphis was redesignated Naval Support Activity Mid-South in October 1998. NSA Mid-South currently houses 64 tenant commands employing more than 6,000 people and is a vital member of the local economy.

What Type of Tree is That?

Lichterman Nature Center’s grounds are a certified arboretum, a collection of identified trees intended for education. Trees are labeled in the Nature Center’s lake, meadow, and forest habitats to help guide the visitor through the property. Experiencing trees in their native Mid-South habitats tangibly links visitors to the natural world. 

The Nature Center has over 60 native trees labeled with both the common and botanic names. Each labeled tree is within six feet of a trail or walkway for direct observation and study and to increase the visitor’s understanding and appreciation of native trees, to provide urban learning opportunities, and to support our education programs. 

The Tennessee Urban Forestry Council and the Tennessee Federation of Garden Clubs, Inc. certified Lichterman Nature Center arboretum in 2003. Lichterman has been continuously certified ever since.

Happy 104th Birthday Piggly Wiggly

Piggly Wiggly, the country’s first self-service grocery store, opened in Memphis 104 years ago on September 11, 1916. For the first time, shoppers could pick out their own food instead of being waited on by a clerk. Founder Clarence Saunders patented his store’s layout, as well as innovations including turnstiles and hanging price tags. In the first stores, patrons had to enter through a turnstile, and then pass all of the products as they filled their baskets, before paying at the cash register. Saunders quickly made a fortune by allowing people to open franchises. By 1922, there were 1,200 Piggly Wiggly stores across the country, and the store’s aspirational slogan was “All Over The World.”

One Amazing Commode

This French marble top commode dates to approximately 1900. This piece is a copy of an original made by Jean Henri Riesener, a famous French cabinet maker. The commode is made of fruitwood, gilt bronze, and a marble top. The gilt bronze figures depict Prudence, Mars, Hercules, and Temperance. The center bronze figure is a likeness of King Louis XVI. This piece also features marquetry, which is wood inlaid to create a pattern or image. Riesener’s original was part of the collection of Versailles Palace.

 J.T. and Mary Mallory Harahan (Barton Mallory’s sister) purchased this commode in Paris as a wedding gift to the newly married Mallorys in 1900. Harahan was president of the Illinois and Central Railroad. The Harahan Bridge, the second bridge constructed over the Mississippi River in Memphis, is named in his memory.

You can see this commode in the drawing room at the Mallory-Neely House.

Fool's Gold

Pyrite is a common mineral, composed of iron and sulfur, known for its brassy-yellow color and distinct, cube-shaped crystals. Other crystal habits, or shapes, of pyrite include pyritohedrons and octahedrons. Pyrite is often mistaken for gold due to its brassy color and metallic lustre, earning it the nickname “fool’s gold.” A simple test used by prospectors to distinguish between gold or pyrite is to gently bite it! Pyrite is a brittle mineral, and gold is malleable. Your teeth will leave small indentions in gold but not pyrite. If a specimen turns out to be pyrite, do not despair! Pyrite and gold often occur together, and pyrite can contain small amounts of gold. In fact, pyrite is regularly mined as an ore of gold. 

A Classic Wedding Portrait

This 1890 wedding portrait is an original oil painting of Jessica “Pearl” Neely Grant, the oldest of the Neely’s five children. She went to school at the Clara Conway Preparatory Institute in Memphis and then attended Mrs. Sylvanus Reed’s Finishing School in New York City. She married Daniel Grant in the Mallory-Neely House’s drawing room on May 27, 1890. A newspaper account described the bride as “one of the most beautiful Southern women” and stated, “the whole city was interested in the event.” The newlyweds took an extended honeymoon in Europe after which they came home to live in the Mallory-Neely House. The couple had two sons, James Neely Grant and Daniel Brooks Grant. She died of pneumonia at age 66 in Monteagle, Tennessee. After her death, her two sons sold their interest in the house to the Mallory family. You can learn more about her life at the Mallory-Neely House.

International Vulture Awareness Day

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) recognizes the first Saturday in September as International Vulture Awareness Day (IVAD). The goal is for participating organizations is to carry out activities that highlight vulture conservation and awareness.

Vultures are widely misrepresented and misunderstood, but they are incredibly vital to the biodiversity of Earth’s ecosystems. They provide critically important services by cleaning up carcasses and other organic waste in the environment, acting as nature’s garbage disposals. Without vultures, carcasses can take much longer to decompose, which can lead to the spread of diseases to other wild animals, domestic animals, and humans.

Currently, vultures are listed on the IUCN’s red list of threatened species, indicating a very high risk of extinction in the wild. Scientists believe that a common painkiller used in domestic animals that is present in improperly discarded carcasses is the main cause of unnatural vulture deaths.

While some people fear for the safety of their pets or farm animals, it is extremely rare for a vulture to eat live animals because they are mostly interested in roadkill.

The two species of vultures found in Tennessee, the black vulture and turkey vulture, are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, making it illegal to kill them without a permit.

Pink Palace Crafts Fair - A Memphis Thing for Nearly 50 years

The Pink Palace Crafts Fair has been highpoint of the fall season in Memphis for 47 years. The Friends of the Pink Palace Museum staged the first fair in 1973, with 30 crafts booths set upon the lawn in front of the mansion. Over the next 16 years, the fair grew into a major event with music, demonstrations of traditional crafts and cooking, and food. The museum grounds couldn’t contain the thousands of people who came each year, so the Friends moved the fair to Audubon Park. It is now the largest juried arts and crafts fair in the Mid-South and the 2016 winner of the Outstanding Legacy of Craft Education & Demonstrations Star Award. Our fair is entertainment with a purpose: historic crafts demonstrations, family-friendly performances on stage, hands-on learning, kids activities, and of course, lots of shopping. 

This year the Museum and Memphis Modern Market are bringing crafts fair to you this fall and holiday season! The Crafts Fair Pop Up Shop will feature 30 plus artists and brands from Memphis and the surrounding areas. From paintings and home decor to jewelry and candles, we are bringing the best of Memphis makers to you in a socially distanced pop up experience!

Memphis Aquifer - A Happy Accident

Prior to 1887, Memphians pumped their water from shallow wells and polluted streams. That year, a local ice company accidently discovered the Memphis Sands Aquifer, an underground layer of water-bearing rock. Memphians began collecting clear groundwater from these artesian wells. Although the water supply is plentiful, it is limited. Throughout the 20th century, the water levels dropped due to use. Although rules are in place for drilling and maintaining wells, there are no regulations in place to prevent agricultural and industrial over-pumping. Water enters the aquifer through a recharge area where the aquifer rock is exposed. The aquifer is in danger of groundwater pollutants from agricultural and storm water runoff that enter at these points. Do your part to protect our groundwater by conserving water usage and properly disposing of chemicals.

Lyra - Greek Mythology in The Sky

The constellation Lyra is depicted as a lyre, a small U-shaped harp, which the Greek god Hermes invented to give to Apollo. One day, Apollo came upon Orpheus and decided to give him the lyre and teach him to play it. Orpheus became a renowned musician and could charm all living things, and even stones, with his music. His lyre played a part in Orpheus’s quest to save his wife, Eurydice, from the Underworld. Eurydice died after being bitten by a snake, so Orpheus decided he would travel to the Underworld to rescue her. The music from his lyre pleased Hades, the king of the Underworld, who allowed Orpheus to lead Eurydice out of the Underworld. However, Hades told Orpheus that he must not look back at Eurydice until they were outside. Orpheus led Eurydice out of the Underworld, but right at its entrance Orpheus looked back at her, leaving her trapped in the Underworld forever. Orpheus, grieved at the loss of Eurydice, aimlessly wandered the earth playing his lyre until his violent death at the hands of either followers of Dionysus or a group of women who were upset that he would not remarry. After his death, Zeus placed his lyre in the night sky, becoming the constellation Lyra.

Lunchbox Mania

Before the 1950s, most children brought their lunches to school in metal pails or brown paper bags. That changed in the 1950s as television shows and character licensing became popular. In the 1960s, Aladdin Industries introduced the metal, domed lunchbox. Al Konetzni, a Disney illustrator and an idea man for the company’s merchandizing division, developed the idea for a lunchbox featuring a cast of Disney characters, including Minnie Mouse, Mickey Mouse, Goofy and Pinocchio, in an iconic yellow school bus. Aladdin Industries manufactured the design, which proved to be wildly popular. In 1976, the 9 millionth of these lunchboxes sold, making it the most popular lunchbox ever.

Gazelle Camels in North America

Imagine a flock of sheep-sized camels with no humps and long legs for running and jumping. They were present for at least 20 million years in what is today Nebraska, Colorado, and the Dakotas. One of the earliest camel family genera in North American, was Poebrotherium (POE-BROE-ther-ee-um), first published in 1847. Paleontologists collected our Probrotherium wilsoni, specimen in North Dakota. Camel ancestors first appeared in India, then crossed the Asia-North America land bridge. They populated North and South America and evolved into many genera and species. There were at least four species of Poebrotherium, P. wilsoni, P. chadronense, P. eximium, and P. franki. P. wilsoni is not a direct ancestor of modern humped camels, but it is related to the only remaining camelids in the Americas, guanaco and vicuña ; and their domesticated sisters, llama, and alpaca.

A Real Night Owl

Barn owls (Tyto alba) are strictly nocturnal birds that hunt at night, feeding mainly on rodents. They have excellent vision and can find prey by sight in the dark. In addition, their exceptional hearing allows them to locate prey by sound alone, which enables them to find food they cannot see in vegetation or under snow. They swallow their prey whole. Every day, they regurgitate pellets composed of the fur and bone that they cannot digest. Barn owls are found in open habitats, like meadows, desert, forests, and agricultural fields, throughout the United States. During the day, they roost in quiet, hidden places, including abandoned buildings and tree cavities. Instead of hooting, male barn owls make long, harsh screams from the air. You can see a barn owl in the Backyard Wildlife Center at Lichterman Nature Center. A wildlife rehabilitator placed her with us in 2014, after she was presumed to have been hit by a car and became blind because her retinas detached, making her non-releasable.

Stone Soul Picnic - Historic Sounds From WLOK

WLOK was the second Memphis radio station that offered programming specifically for a black audience. Entertaining DJs such as “Hunky Dory” and Dick “Cane” Cole increased WLOK’s popularity, and it soon became the preferred station of young black Memphians. Racial tensions in Memphis reached a peak in 1968, and WLOK realized that their “voice” could not fully be heard under white management. In 1970, the station hired its first African American station manager, Harvey Lynch, and in 1977, Art Gilliam, a young, Yale-educated, black businessman, bought the station, making it the first black-owned  radio station in Memphis. Under Gilliam’s leadership, WLOK’s largest annual event, the Stone Soul Picnic, grew into one of longest running outdoor concerts in Memphis, drawing thousands of people each year. In the mid-1980s, the station changed to an all-gospel format and won several major awards from gospel associations across the country. In February 1997, the Tennessee Historic Commission recognized WLOK as a Tennessee Historical landmark. You can hear WLOK on AM1340 and FM105.

Ornamental Plasterwork at The Mallory-Neely House

Ornamental plasterwork was an expensive decoration and was part of the Kirtland family’s construction of the Mallory-Neely house. The crown molding in the Drawing Room is “run in place” plaster onto which cast fruit garlands and women’s masks (sometimes referred to as Columbia heads) were attached. The plaster for these decorative elements was mixed with horsehair to temper, or strengthen it, poured into molds to set, and then screwed or wired into place in sections. The Drawing Room ceiling was decoratively painted during the Kirtland’s time, but the present stenciling dates back to the Neely’s redecoration of the house in the 1890s. While most of the plaster dates to the Kirtland era, the Columbia heads around the cornice are likely additions made by the Neelys.

Is Pluto a Planet?

The Lowell Observatory discovered Pluto in 1930 and named it after the Roman god of the underworld on the suggestion of 11-year-old schoolgirl Venetia Burney, who loved astronomy and mythology. She reasoned that the planet was cold and dark, much like the depiction of Pluto’s underworld, and should be named accordingly. The world celebrated the discovery and embraced the new addition to the solar system for a few decades. In 2006, however, the International Astronomical Union (IAU) declared Pluto a dwarf planet, demoting it from its full planetary status, by introducing their official definition of a planet. This decision was extremely controversial in the astronomy world, and remains so today. According to the IAU, three criteria must be met for a body to be considered a full-sized planet. First, it must be in orbit around our Sun (planetary bodies that orbit other stars are called exoplanets to avoid confusion). Second, it must have enough mass to reach hydrostatic equilibrium, which means gravity will force it to have a roundish shape. Lastly, it must have cleared the space debris in its path. The IAU argued that Pluto met the first two requirements, but not the last.

The IAU had hoped that their definition would settle the Pluto controversy once and for all, but it seemed to divide opinions more. This debate began in the 1990s, when astronomers discovered the Kuiper Belt, through which Pluto orbits. Since Pluto orbits with the icy objects found there without clearing them, the IAU argued that Pluto was not a planet. The other side argued that by that logic, Jupiter, Mars, and Earth, which are all located near the Asteroid Belt and experience quite a bit of debris, were not planets either. Just last August, NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine said he still regards Pluto as a planet, and other officials have argued that planetary status should be based on geological features, like having a core or atmosphere, oceans and mountains, etc. Those supporting the dwarf planet status, however, argue that Pluto isn’t even the largest dwarf planet. That title belongs to Eris, so they argue it should retain its dwarf status. Today, the IAU definition remains as is, and the ever-fascinating Pluto remains officially a dwarf planet, despite the continued debate.

Image courtesy of NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI

The Memphis State Eight

In the fall of 1959, eight African American students shattered racial barriers at the all-white Memphis State University. Luther McClellan, Eleanor Gandy, Marvis Kneeland Jones, Sammie Johnson, Rose Blakney Love, Bertha Rogers Looney Ralph Prater and John Simpson, became the Memphis State Eight, the first group of black students to attend Memphis State. 

Jesse Turner, Sr., a leader of the local NAACP, recruited these students to enroll because their high test scores and academic records would make it impossible for the school to turn them away. Even after it was desegregated, the school wasn’t really integrated. The first African American students lived with Jim Crow restrictions. They had to use separate bathrooms, they could not enroll in the ROTC, they were not allowed in the cafeteria or student center, they could not join sororities, fraternities or the school band, and they could not join the Tigers sports teams. They were taunted by white classmates and even their professors, yet black students continued to seek a genuine integration of academics, student life, and sports.

Within a few years, as more black students were admitted restrictions were removed, but it was not until 1966, when Herb Hilliard joined the men’s basketball team that the Memphis State Tigers had a black student athlete. By 1968, the team had eight black players. In time, the student body, the administration, and the faculty fully integrated. The Memphis State Eight paved the way.

Image courtesy of Memphis and Shelby County Room, Memphis Public Library & Information Center

Serpents in The Sky

The constellation Ophiuchus is nicknamed the Serpent Bearer because it holds the constellation Serpens. Many stories associate this constellation with mythological figures who are linked with snakes. The ancient Greeks first thought Ophiuchus was the god Apollo, who was struggling with the huge snake that guarded the Oracle of Delphi. Later, it was said to represent was Laocoön, a priest of Poseidon, who tried to warn the Trojans not to trust the large wooden horse that had been left by the supposedly retreating Greek army. However, to ensure that Troy was destroyed, the gods sent a pair of large sea serpents, represented by Serpens, to kill him.

By the time of the ancient Romans, Ophiuchus became associated with Asclepius. Asclepius was the mortal son of Apollo, the god of healing and diseases, and the centaur Chiron taught him the art of medicine. One of Asclepius’ symbols was his staff, which had a snake wrapped around it because snakes were associated with wisdom, healing, and resurrection. The serpent and staff are used today as symbols of the American Medical Association and the World Health Organization. Asclepius’ skills became so great that he was able to save people from the brink of death and bring people back from the dead. Hades, the god of the dead, became angry with Asclepius for preventing people from becoming subjects in his kingdom. Hades warned Zeus that Asclepius could teach other people how to resurrect the dead and make all humans immortal like the gods. Zeus killed Asclepius with his thunderbolts, saddening Apollo. To appease him, Zeus placed Asclepius in the night sky as the constellation Ophiuchus.

Dining in Style & Comfort

Victorians believed that the dining room was not just for eating but also for socializing. It was the second best room in the home, filled with elegant décor and fine furniture that gave the impression of solid comfort and masculine importance. Furnishings were purposely large and included masculine styles such as Empire, Gothic Revival, and Renaissance Revival.

Victorians also believed that digestion was improved by a restful atmosphere and low-level lighting. Newer lighting technologies, including gas and electricity, gradually replaced, or were used in addition to, candles and oil lamps. The gas-electric light fixture above the dining room table (pictured) at the Mallory-Neely House was installed as part of the Neely’s renovation. These “transitional” fixtures were manufactured for a brief period approximately between 1880 and 1900 when gas lighting was considered the standard, and electricity, which was a new technology, was not always reliable.

Historic Tiebreaker in Women's Right to Vote

For over half a century, American women fought for their right to vote. In the summer of 1920, American women’s right to vote depended on the Tennessee legislature. For the 19th amendment to pass, 36 states had to approve, and 35 already had. The governor called a special session to vote on the measure. It looked as if the legislature was tied until Congressman Harry Burns got a note from his mother urging him to vote yes. The following day he explained why he changed his mind: “I know that a mother’s advice is always safest for her boy to follow and my mother wanted me to vote for ratification.” With his “yes” vote on August 18, 1920, Tennessee became the “perfect 36,” and women throughout the country gained the right to vote. This victory was possible because of the work of suffragettes who rallied, fundraised and lobbied for decades. However, the victory was only partial. Black women were still unable to exercise their franchise in many parts of the country because of restrictive voting laws.

Fans of the Atlantic Ocean

Purple sea fans (Gorgonia ventalina) are found in coral reefs in the Atlantic Ocean from Bermuda to Curacao. However, they are not found in the Gulf of Mexico. These sea fans mostly live in band- or patch-type reefs and can live near the shore or in deeper reefs. Sea fans vary in color based on their environment and the chemicals in the waters around them. Usually they are purple, but some sea fans are yellow, yellow-orange, or brown. They can be distinguished from other sea fans by the shape of their spicules. Spicules are the needle-like parts of the sea fan. On gorgonia ventalina, the spicules are small and fusiform (long and spindle-shaped). Polyps that look like tiny white flowers emerge from the spicules. These sea fans can grow to almost 6 feet tall and 5 feet wide. Coral reefs are home to an amazing variety of sea life, but they are very fragile. The reefs and all of the creatures that live around them are threatened by climate change and pollution. You can see this specimen on display in the Cossitt Gallery in the Pink Palace Museum mansion.

World Honeybee Day

August 15 is World Honeybee Day, a day to show our appreciation not just for honeybees, but also for beekeepers, whose labors ensure there are well-managed, healthy bees to pollinate crops. A small group of beekeeper started the event in 2009 by petitioning for and obtaining a formal proclamation by the USDA honoring honeybees and beekeeping.

Honeybees are responsible for pollinating more than a third of the food we eat in the United States. It is so important for us to recognize their contribution to humans' everyday lives and establish means to protect this critical species. Honeybee populations are on decline due to habitat loss and colony collapse disorder, which is thought to be a result of widespread pesticide use.

If you want to pay your respects to the bees, consider planting bee-friendly plants in your gardens, not using pesticides in your gardens and flower beds, and buying local, organic produce.

Check out HoneyLove.org for ideas on participating in World Honeybee Day or consider hosting your own honeybee celebration with your friends and neighbors.

Barton Lee Mallory

Daisy Neely married Barton Lee Mallory in 1900. Mallory grew up in Memphis and attended Christian Brothers College, which was then located down the street on Adams Avenue. After college, he joined is father’s wholesale grocery business, W.B. Mallory & Sons. He later formed the South Memphis Land Company, which developed residential and commercial properties in South Memphis. He established several cotton, land, lumber, brick, and transportation companies, including the Memphis Terminal Corporation. This was the largest cotton compress company in the world in 1912. In 1925, he founded the Memphis Compress and Storage Company. He was active in local civic organizations, including the Cossitt Library, the Chamber of Commerce, and the James Lee Memorial Art Academy.

A City on The Move

From flatboats to steamboats, trains to trolleys, and carriages to cars, Memphis has always been a town defined by its modes of transportation. You can hear more about the history of Memphians’ transit options on the latest episode of Tributaries, the Museum’s podcast.


Perseid Meteor Shower - Look for Shooting Stars This Week

If good weather holds, this week (August 11-16) offers the best chance to see “shooting stars” from the annual Perseid Meteor Shower. The source of these meteors is the Swift-Tuttle comet. It last passed this way in 1992. It was first noticed in 1348, long before scientists developed the mathematics to predict its return. In 1866, astronomers thought they had solved the problem and predicted it would come back in the 1980s. When it didn't show as expected, Dr. Brian Marsden of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics refined the calculations and the comet returned within three weeks of his prediction.

The Perseids get their name from Perseus, the constellation the Earth is traveling toward when it encounters the comet particles. In August, Perseus can be seen rising in the northeast in the late evening. Most of the streaks of light can be traced back toward this part of the sky, and the greatest numbers are seen late at night though just before dawn. Meteors that show a different path are called “sporadic meteors.”

Lucky for us, the moon is past Last Quarter so moonlight will not interfere much with sky watching. The Perseids have been one of the most consistent of the yearly meteor showers for several decades. Under ideal viewing conditions you can expect to see a few dozen meteors every hour. To see more, you need to be at least 30 miles away from city lights. This year, the Perseids are expected to peak at about 8:00 PM on August 12, so the best time for viewing will be late Tuesday or Wednesday night. If weather is bad, try the night before or the night after. Just don’t forget the bug repellant!

Image courtesy of NASA/JPL

Raleigh Springs - Home of the Luxurious Raleigh Inn

Raleigh, then a separate town, became a popular resort in the 1800s after mineral springs were discovered there. There were a couple of hotels at the springs in the mid-nineteenth century, but they paled in comparison to the luxury of the Raleigh Inn. The Raleigh Inn opened in 1892 with 100 rooms and stone paths leading to the springs. The dining room served whiskey distilled from spring water. The Inn and springs were popular and drew thousands of people daily, many of them arriving by streetcar from Memphis. The Raleigh Inn closed in 1903 and was converted into the Maddox Seminary for Young Ladies, and a few years later it became the James Sanitorium. A patient smoking in bed set the building on fire, and it burned to the ground in 1914.

Amazing Ancient Sea Creature

Some of the most common animals in ancient seas were members of the echinoderm family,  which includes starfish, sand dollars, and sea urchins. Echinoderms have pentameral symmetry, meaning their bodies have structures of five parts or groups of five parts. In the Mid-South fossil record, some of the most beautiful echinoderms were crinoids. Often referred to as “sea lilies” because of their plant-like appearance, they were actually complex animals. Ancient crinoids were astonishingly diverse. Some could crawl or swim to various locations. The pictured crinoids came from Mississippi and had a stalk-like body that included muscles, gut, and reproductive systems. The wavy fronds caught plankton for them to eat. They lived during the Devonian Period, 419 to 359 million years ago, and they survived one of the Earth’s mass extinctions.  Crinoids, although rare, still exist in today’s oceans. Although our fossil lived in shallow seas, modern stemmed crinoids are only found in the deepest part of today’s oceans.

Gasoliers - Artful Lighting at the Mallory-Neely House

Gas was the first public utility in Memphis and produced gas for lighting beginning in the 1850s. These two identical Drawing Room gasoliers date to the Neely’s renovation and are made of crystal, with twelve branches arranged in two tiers. One hundred crystal prisms are suspended from each gasolier; their purpose is to brighten the room by reflecting the light of the gas flames. Frosted glass globes surround each gas light, and their bowls are decorated with whimsical setting sun and rising moon. These gasoliers were never converted to electricity. According to Daisy Mallory, the gasoliers could not be wired for electricity when the house was electrified. Rather than parting with these gasoliers, Daisy and her mother chose to have the ceiling wired instead.

The Bruch Electric and Power Co. was established in Memphis in 1882, and the first electric generating power plant began operation in 1883. Wiring for electric lighting was added to the house as part of the Neely’s renovation project. Edison bulbs, which were used during this era, only had a brightness of about 15 watts.

Tintype Photography

This tintype of an African American soldier was most likely produced sometime during the U.S. Civil War. A tintype is a photograph made by creating a direct positive image on a thin sheet of metal coated with dark lacquer or enamel. This coating is used as the support for the photographic emulsion that actually created the image. Tintypes were created after the invention of the daguerreotype, the first publicly available photographic process. Tintypes proved to be more popular than daguerreotypes because they were inexpensive and relatively easy and quick to make. While daguerreotypes often had to be produced in photographic studios, tintypes could be created by photographers in booths or at fairs and carnivals. A tintype could be developed and handed to the subject within a few minutes, while daguerreotypes took longer to be developed. Most tintypes were mounted on simple paper mats, unlike this tintype which was placed into a case. Since tintypes were inexpensive and did not need to be produced in a studio, they became popular for producing Civil War battlefield images and for portraits of soldiers from both the Union and the Confederate armies.

Box Turtle - Meet Tennessee's State Reptile

Box turtles (Terrapene) are a common sight in the Mid-South, and eastern box turtles (Terrapene carolina carolina) are recognized as the Tennessee state reptile. Box turtles get their name from their unique ability to pull in their extremities and tightly close their dome-shaped shell, utilizing a hinge on their plastron (the flat portion of their shell that covers their abdomen). Because of their shell’s coloration, which acts as an effective camouflage, and their ability to close their shell, box turtles have a long life-span, with some living over 100 years!

Box turtles are omnivorous and enjoy eating a wide range of vegetation and insects. If you find a box turtle crossing the road, it’s likely looking for its favorite foods. If you want to help it along, make sure you place it in the direction it was going. Box turtles have an excellent “homing” instinct and will return to their favorite feeding grounds every year. 

It is illegal to own box turtles as a pet in Tennessee, and they are often confiscated in illegal wildlife trading sieges. Because of their homing instincts, it is dangerous to catch and release box turtles, as they will attempt to travel long distances to return home.

Geodes - What's Inside is Amazing

Geodes are rounded, outwardly unremarkable rocks with mineral crystal growth on the inside. Geodes form in cavities in rock, left behind by gas bubbles trapped in volcanic rocks or by the breakdown of organic matter in sedimentary rocks. When water containing dissolved mineral enters these voids, minerals precipitate out of that water and line the cavity. The most common type of geodes are quartz geodes, such as this specimen, but other mineral such as calcite are also common in geodes. You can often see multiple varieties of quartz inside the same geode. Look for concentric bands of cryptocrystalline varieties of quartz around the outer edges, with larger quartz crystals over them. You can find this geode in the Cossitt Gallery in the Pink Palace mansion.

Rhino Ancestor Roamed North America

During the early Oligocene Epoch (35-29 million years ago) an ancestor of today’s rhinoceros (Rhinocerotidae) roamed North America. Thriving in the plains from the Dakotas to western Mississippi, Subhyracodon occidentalis fossils are abundant in the West. Subhyracodon occidentalis was a hornless cousin of modern rhinoceroses that grazed on shrubs and trees. The rhino evolutionary line is complex as there were many genus and species of them throughout the millennia. Only one has been found east of the Mississippi, in marine fossil beds halfway between Vicksburg and Jackson, Mississippi. Large mammals found in marine deposits usually occurred because the animal was too close to a river and was washed away or because the animal died and was carried away during floods. Subhyracodon, discovered in 1850, was the first rhinoceros fossil discovered in North America. Rhinoceroses are thought to have originated in Eurasia, their descendants crossing an early Siberian land bridge and becoming isolated in North America when sea levels rose. No wild rhinoceros  live in the Western Hemisphere today. Our specimen is from Wyoming because local samples are rare. You can see it in the Walk Through Time exhibit in our natural history gallery.

Celebrating our "Friends" on International Friendship Day

In 1959, a group of Junior League of Memphis volunteers started the Youth Museum project at the Pink Palace museum. They created touchable exhibits and led tours for school children. After several years, on June 13, 1968, League volunteers Sara Misner and Merri Briggs founded the Friends of the Pink Palace Museum as an official, independent support group for the Pink Palace Family of Museums. Over the years, the Friends have served the museum in many capacities. They published Tales of a River Town, a children’s history of Memphis, and owned and operated the museum gift shop throughout the 1970s.

In 1972, the Pink Palace Museum began a campaign to expand the size and scope of the museum. The Friends pledged a large donation for the project. They held the first Mid-South Crafts Fair in October 1973 to raise the funds. The first fair on the mansion’s front lawn included roughly thirty craftspeople, three tents, and two food vendors. The annual fair eventually outgrew the museum’s neighborhood so the Friends relocated to Audubon Park in 1989. Worried that people would not find them in their new space, they tied pink ribbons on the telephone poles leading from the museum to their new location. The Crafts Fair now hosts over 300 craftspeople over three days each fall and remains the single largest fundraiser for the Pink Palace Museum.

The Friends also serve as docents for exhibits and as volunteers at Lichterman Nature Center and the Mallory-Neely house and hold other fundraising events, such as the annual Whisky in the Wild at Lichterman Nature Center, to raise money for the continued support of the museum. You can learn more and join the Friends here.

Mallory-Neely Carriage House

The first floor of the Mallory-Neely carriage house sheltered the horses and opened onto Washington Avenue. The main floor housed the carriages, and the level above was used to store feed and equipment. Horses were walked up the hill, from the lower level, to be hitched to the carriages. The carriages would have been driven south down the driveway to collect passengers at the main house and enter Adams Avenue at the end of the driveway. Passengers used carriage stones to step up and down.

During the late 1920s, the upper level of the carriage house was renovated to serve as a studio for Frances Mallory, Daisy and Barton Lee Mallory’s daughter. Frances Mallory was an accomplished sculptress and over her lifetime produced serval works in marble, wood, and bronze. The carriage house was last renovated in 1989 for use as a visitor center.

World Nature Conservation Day

World Nature Conservation Day is celebrated all over the world each year on July 28 to raise awareness about protecting Earth’s natural resources and nature conservation as well as ensuring a healthy, productive environment, which is crucial for the well-being of present and future generations.

The natural world is facing an increasing threat from unsustainable practices, including deforestation, illegal wildlife trade, and pollution. The challenge is how to preserve and conserve nature while achieving sustainable development.

The state of nature has an impact on human survival, local and global economics, community life, and human health and wellbeing. Nature has provided us with everything we need to survive: food, water, building materials, fuel, and medicine. It is up to us to keep nature safe for future generations.

You can participate in World Nature Conservation Day every day of the year. Things like recycling, reducing energy use, planting native trees and gardens, buying sustainably sourced, local, and/or organic produce, and minimizing meat consumption are all ways to reduce negative environmental impacts.

Libertyland - Home of The Zippin Pippin

Liberyland Amusement Park opened at the Mid-South Fairgrounds on July 4, 1976. In keeping with its opening during America’s Bicentennial, the park had a patriotic theme with areas like Colonial Land, Frontier Land, and Turn-of-the-Century Land. Prior to Libertyland, the Fairgrounds Amusement Park operated on the 168-acre site from 1920-1974. The wooden Zippin Pippin roller coaster and the Dentzel Grand Carousel, which both became iconic features of Libertyland, were part of the original amusement park. Libertyland closed in 2005 for financial reasons. Despite Memphians’ attempts to save the park, it never reopened. The Mid-South Fairgrounds auctioned off rides and placed other of the park’s components into storage. Today, the City of Green Bay, WI, owns the Zippin Pippin and operates it at their Bay Beach Amusement Park. The restored Grand Carousel has a permanent home at the Children’s Museum of Memphis.


Oreodonts are a family of extinct artiodactyls (even-toed mammals) that lived from the middle Eocene until the end of the Miocene (40 million and 5 million years ago) in North America. They were herbivores that ate leaves and young shoots. The shape of their teeth indicate that they primarily cut and chopped the leaves with their teeth rather than mashing them. Oreodonts were known to have two large canine teeth that helped in this process. They also used their front teeth to burrow in the ground. It is believed that oreodonts travelled in social groups, dug den-like burrows, and protected their burrows from predators. Oreodonts are related to modern camels, pigs, and sheep, but they have no direct descendants alive today. This skull with its exposed dental arch is on view in the Cossitt Gallery in the Pink Palace Museum mansion.


Image credit: Memphis Pink Palace Museum Collection, 1983.28.21

"Log in" to Some Low-Tech Fun

The touch log is a low-tech, interactive exhibit that has been with the museum since 1960. Carved from a single log, four holes allow visitors to reach inside to touch natural objects and guess their identities without seeing them. Visitors lift a lid to peer in and check if they were touching a white-tail deer antler, box turtle shell, cow leg bone, or beaver tail. 

The original touch log was a popular exhibit at the Pink Palace Museum. The exhibit was worn out by seventeen years of heavy use and removed in 1977. The descriptive label for its replacement, which resided in the museum until 2017 read, “Visitors were challenged by friends and family to overcome their sense of caution and feel inside the log. Squeals of fear and delight often resulted from a well-timed “boo!” and poke in the side.” Museum staff  refurbished and moved replacement log to Lichterman’s Backyard Wildlife Center in 2017.

Of course, you should never reach inside a log outdoors without looking first. 


American Lotus Blooming Now on Mertie's Lake

American lotus (Nelumbo lutea) is blooming on Mertie’s Lake at Lichterman Nature Center. The fragrant flowers are yellow and can reach the diameter of a small dinner plate. At the center of the flower, the fruits develop in a receptacle that dries and drops nut-like seeds into the water.  The dried receptacle is frequently seen in flower arrangements and displays. The seeds are sometimes eaten by ducks and geese, and the underwater parts provide cover for fish, turtles, and invertebrates. Native Americans would eat the roots, leaves, and seeds. American lotus is also known as yellow nelumbo, pond-nuts, and wonkanin. American lotus is often mistaken for water lilies, so here’s an easy way to tell the difference. The leaves and flowers of lotus are emergent, meaning that they rise above the water level whereas the leaves and flowers of water lilies are found floating or sitting on the water surface.  

Constellation Corona Borealis - Legends in The Night Sky

The constellation Corona Borealis has been recognized in many world cultures. In Welsh mythology, it was called Caer Arianrhod, “the Castle of the Silver Circle,” and was the home of Lady Arianrhod. The Skidi band of the Pawnee believed that the constellation represented a council of stars and resembled a smoke hole over a fireplace which they used to convey messages to the gods. The Shawnee, who ancestrally lived throughout the Ohio Valley, called the constellation the Celestial Sisters and believed the women descended from the sky every night to dance on Earth. In Australian Aboriginal astronomy, the constellation resembled the boomerang they used to hunt, and they called it womera. The Wailwan people of northwestern New South Wales saw it as mullion wollai, which means “eagle’s nest.” You can look for the C-shape of Corona Borealis between the bright stars Arcturus and Vega.

Image courtesy of Stellarium

Cherub Stained Glass

James Neely’s brother, Hugh, built an extravagant mansion located four houses down from the Mallory-Neely House at 616 Adams Avenue in 1891. This stained-glass window, which is installed above the stair landing between the second and third floors, originally hung in the stair landing of the Hugh Neely House. The Hugh Neely House was later adapted for use as the city’s first Juvenile Hall in 1921. It soon outgrew its space and was demolished in 1934. This window, however, was salvaged and installed for many years in one of the courtrooms of the present Juvenile Court building before being moved to the Mallory-Neely House in 1981. It depicts a single cherub sitting on a branch playing his horn in the spring.

Mississippi River Steamboats

Early settlers traveled the river with the current on keelboats and rafts, but it was Mississippi River steamboats that first made Memphis a transportation hub. In late 1811, Robert Fulton's steamboat, the New Orleans, traveled successfully downstream to New Orleans, Louisiana, but it lacked the power to return up river. It was Henry Shreve's 1817 flat-bottom steamboat that finally allowed trade to occur in both directions. As more shipwrights built boats from Shreve’s design, Memphis evolved from a rough flatboat town to a steamboat port. Some of the best-known ships on the water commonly visited Memphis. The Robert E. Lee and the Natchez ran a famous race past the city, while the ships Stacker Lee, J. M. White, Sprague, and Kate Adams were regularly seen, and romanticized, by onlookers. By the 1930s, river transport was losing steam to other forms of transportation like the locomotive and automobile, but the importance of the steamboat in creating Memphis as a vital trade center should never be forgotten. You can find this model of the Robert E. Lee in the cultural history gallery at the Pink Palace Museum.

Happy World Snake Day

There are over 3,000 different species of snakes in the world. Here in Tennessee there are about 34 species, and only 4 of them are venomous. Just talking about snakes can make some people afraid, but learning more about them can help ease some of those fears. Snakes are beneficial in controlling rodent populations not only in residential areas but also in agricultural settings where rodents can eat and contaminate grain stores. Snakes also eat eggs, birds, insects, and even other snakes. Mid-South snakes aren’t interested (or able) to eat people, instead they see us as potential predators and typically only bite when threatened or startled. 

If you are ever unfortunate enough to receive a snake bite, you can tell from your wound if it came from a venomous or nonvenomous snake. Non-venomous snakes have two rows of backward facing teeth, so you would see two scratch marks. Venomous snakes have fangs for injecting venom, so you would have two puncture wounds. We don’t recommend this method of identification; instead learn to identify venomous snakes from a distance! At Lichterman Nature Center we teach the thumbs up rule. If you spot a snake in TN and its head is shaped like your thumb, you can give it thumbs up. That still doesn’t mean you should pick it up because all snakes can bite. There are other ways to tell a venomous from nonvenomous snake, but you have to be too close to a potentially venomous snake to see these details, like venomous snakes’ vertical pupil (like a cat’s eye), triangular shaped heads, and heat sensing pits on their heads. 

The Backyard Wildlife Center at Lichterman Nature Center houses a number of different native snakes including the rough green snake (Opheodrys aestivus) pictured here. 

Why is Memphis called the "Bluff City"?

Memphis has long been known as the Bluff City, inspiring the title of a TV show, a Grizzlies’ team slogan and many local business names. What are the bluffs, when did they form, and why have they mattered to the people who have lived here? Listen to the newest episode of Tributaries, the Museum’s podcast, to learn the answers.

“Wheel about and turn about and jump just so, every time we wheel about we jump Jim Crow.”

Archaeologists discovered the broken pieces of this child’s alphabet plate near the corner of Beale Street and Third Street. Made in the 1880s by the Brownhill Pottery Company of Staffordshire, England, the central image is a character called Jim Crow. White entertainer T. D. “Daddy” Rice introduced the song “Jump Jim Crow” in his minstrel show in 1828. He performed in blackface and danced with a hopping gait as he sang. Rice toured America and Europe throughout the 1830s and 1840s, writing new lyrics to satirize current affairs. Soon “Jim Crow” became an insulting term for African Americans. Eventually, it came to stand for the laws that forced racial segregation in schools, parks, restaurants, and public transportation throughout the southern United States in the first half of the 20th century. All through the Jim Crow era, the pieces lay buried beneath the streets of a vibrant African American community, coming to light years after the Jim Crow laws were finally struck down.

Annie Cartwright Bess

Annie Cartwright Bess was the Mallory-Neely House’s second longest resident, employed as a domestic worker at the house for 55 years. She was born in 1881 in Macon, Tennessee, and began working at the house in 1907. Bess began her career as a nurse for the Mallory’s three children. When they were older, she became the housekeeper responsible for many tasks required to maintain the house in its longstanding grand style. Younger servants who worked in the house in subsequent years spoke of her with great respect as they described her “in charge” personality. By the late 1920s, she and her second husband, Jeff Bess, occupied the second-floor servants’ quarters. Following his death in 1934 and Barton Mallory’s death in 1938, she was invited to relocate from the servants’ quarters to the room next to Daisy Mallory. As both women grew older, Bess served as her personal attendant.

She was also very active in the community As a faithful member of Collins Chapel C.M.E. Church, she sang in the choir and helped host many church functions. Church members remember her as one of the matriarchs of the congregation, available to take on any task and lending money in times of need. She was also a member of the NAACP. Bess passed away at the age of 80 in 1962.


International Space Station

At this very moment, the International Space Station is 248 miles above our heads. Fifteen nations completed this man-made space object in 1998. A rotation of six astronauts have occupied it from the very beginning. It remains one of the world’s greatest scientific achievements, worked on by thousands of scientists. Every 90 minutes, the ISS orbits the Earth, and, during certain times of the year, it can easily be spotted in the sky. What makes it easy to see is the large array of solar panels that reflect the Sun’s light toward Earth. You can check NASA’s Spot the Station to discover when you can see the ISS. It will be the brightest object in the sky except for the Moon and Venus.

Image courtesy of NASA

A Blueprint of Memphis History

In December 1928, the City hired architects George Mahan and Everett Woods to complete the interior of the Pink Palace mansion and to turn it into the museum. The blueprints show that the galleries on the first floor of the mansion included exhibits on china and jewelry, antique furniture, statuary, mollusks, natural history, birds and fish, and insects. The plans also show the Little Theatre occupying room 11. The Little Theatre later became Theatre Memphis, which is celebrating its 100th season in 2020.

"Trash Panda" Tennessee State Mammal

It’s easy to see why raccoons (Procyon lotor), the state mammal of Tennessee, have the nickname “trash panda.” Their proclivity for rummaging around our refuse bins, the dark markings around their eyes, and the fact that they are related to (but not part of) the bear family make it a fitting moniker.

Raccoons have a bad reputation because they sometimes end up in close contact with humans – whether knocking over trash cans or hiding out in attics. While this can be upsetting, or even frightening to some, raccoons aren’t inherently dangerous animals. They typically don’t seek close contact with humans and are only looking for food and shelter. Ways to avoid contact include not deliberately feeding them, bringing pet foods in at night, and securing trash cans. Raccoons are omnivores, which mean they eat both plants and animals. Their diet consists of invertebrates, nuts, berries, or that pizza you threw out last night.

While raccoons can carry rabies, it is very uncommon for an infected raccoon to come into contact with humans. Most raccoons that are sick with the rabies virus will seek isolation in their dens, but it’s never a good idea to approach a wild animal. Raccoons can be very cute and comical animals, especially when they’re young, but remember that is illegal to own one as a pet in Tennessee without proper permits.

Raccoons can sometimes be seen at dusk scurrying along the shores of Mertie’s Lake at Lichterman Nature Center. There is also a taxidermied example on display in the Backyard Wildlife Center. 

Image courtesy of Jon Graham

Canyon Diablo Meteorite

50,000 years ago, in what is now central Arizona, a 63,000 ton piece of the early solar system, traveling 45,000 miles per hour, smashed into the earth. The meteoroid was well over 100 feet long when it entered our atmosphere in a brilliant trail of light. The friction of the air vaporized much of the object before it hit the ground. The remaining piece hit the earth, and the ground exploded as the underlying rock melted and was flung into the upper atmosphere. Pieces of melted terrestrial rock and remains of the meteorite rained down in a scatter pattern for miles around the crater. The climate in the region became very dry not long after the meteorite hit and remains so today. These conditions allowed it to remain the best preserved impact crater on Earth. The crater is 4,000 feet wide and over 500 feet deep. The site was known for thousands of years by the Native Americans of the region. Hundreds of years before European contact, Woodland cultures used pieces of the meteorite as trade items. Americans first named it Canyon Diablo Crater after a nearby canyon of the same name. It is known to the public as Meteor Crater. However, scientists call it Berringer Crater after Daniel Berringer, who first suggested it was an impact crater. Over 6,000 pounds of fragments are in private and public collections around the world. The meteorite is primarily composed of iron and nickel and is same the age of the solar system, 4.5 billion years. Some Canyon Diablo meteorite fragments contain rare micro diamonds caused by the pressure and heat of impact. The Berringer family still owns the land and  maintains a museum on site.  The museum displays the largest known piece of the meteorite, the Holsinger fragment, weighing 1,409 pounds. You can see a fragment in the meteorite case in the natural history gallery.


In the Victorian era, walls were painted, stenciled, or papered to give the room a feeling of warmth and opulence. The dado, or decorative border covering the lower portion of the wall, was part of the Neely’s redecoration of their home in the 1890s. The dado in this room is a wallcovering called Lincrusta-Walton and represented both a new technology and simplified maintenance for its time. Lincrusta-Walton was invented by Frederick Walton of England in 1877. It is made of semi-liquid linseed oil backed with heavy canvas or water-proofed paper. Since it came in only a few colors and was plain, it could be further painted or highlighted to resemble wood, tooled leather, or metal. It could also be wiped clean with a damp cloth. By 1882, Frederick Beck & Company made Lincrusta-Walton in the U.S. Beck also invented linoleum made from linseed oil and flax. 

Princess Model Telephones

Western Electric began manufacturing Princess model telephones in 1959. Prior telephone models were bulky and came with standard casings. Henry Dreyfuss’s new model was the first telephone created specifically with women and teenaged girls in mind. AT&T marketed the phone to the “homemaker with an eye to the niceties of interior décor.” With its smaller size, rotary dial that lit up when the handset was lifted, and choice of colors (pink, white, blue, turquoise, or beige), the Princess phone was designed to be placed in the bedroom. The phone’s motto summed up the model nicely: “It’s little. It’s lovely. It lights.”

Lichens... a Most Unusual Organism

Lichens grow almost everywhere, but these unusual organisms often go unnoticed. There are more than 15,000 different types of lichens, and they are found on every continent and in extreme environments like the Arctic, mountaintops, and deserts. They can be found growing on trees, bark, stones, gravestones, and bare soil. 

Lichens are complex organisms that are comprised of two distinct types of organisms, a fungus and an alga, working in a symbiotic relationship. The fungi comprise the bulk of the lichen, but they are unable to undergo photosynthesis to produce their own food. The alga can be a green alga or blue-green alga (cyanobacterium) or both. The alga can undergo photosynthesis and provide food for fungi, and in return the fungi provide water and protection from an otherwise inhospitable environment for the algae.

The lichens have no roots or stems and so must absorb additional nutrients and water from the air and rain. They cannot selectively absorb the air, so whatever passes through the air is absorbed. This adaptation makes them an ideal indicator for air pollution, and the U.S. Forest Service has been using lichens to detect, map and evaluate air quality and pollutants since 1970.

Lichens can be seen growing on the stone wall near the entrance of the visitor center and throughout the property at Lichterman Nature Center


Rainbow Obsidian

Obsidian is a volcanic glass, formed when silica-rich magma or lava comes into sudden contact with water or air and cools nearly instantly. When a magma or lava cool, the atoms inside usually have time to arrange themselves into crystals. However, obsidian cools so quickly that the atoms are unable to arrange themselves into a crystal structure and are instead suspended in a natural glass. Obsidian is mostly made up of silicon and oxygen, like the mineral quartz, and can range in color from black to nearly golden. Its color is largely determined by the refraction of light by microscopic bubbles of gas that get trapped inside when it cools or by microscopic mineral inclusions. Rainbow obsidian gets its iridescent sheen from microscopic metallic particles suspended in it, such as the minerals magnetite and rutile.

The Constellation Virgo

While the constellation Virgo has been associated with many different mythological figures, the most prominent is the Greek goddess of spring, Persephone. Persephone was the daughter of Zeus, the king of the gods, and Demeter, the goddess of wheat and agriculture. Hades, the god of the dead and king of the Underworld, was entranced by Persephone’s beauty and stole her away to the Underworld to be his wife while she was picking flowers with friends. Demeter searched all over the earth for Persephone and, in her desperation to find her daughter, neglected her duties as goddess of agriculture, leading to a widespread famine. To prevent more people from dying, Zeus forced Hades to return Persephone. However, Hades tricked Persephone into eating some pomegranate seeds. Since she had eaten food of the Underworld, Persephone was forced to spend a third of the year there. The remaining part of the year, however, Persephone could spend on earth. This is why the rising of Virgo above the horizon signifies the return of spring, and its descent from the horizon signals the beginning of winter.

Image courtesy of Stellarium

Drawing Room Frozen in Time

The drawing room and the adjoining library at the Mallory-Neely House are in exceptional states of conservation. This provides visitors the unique opportunity to experience spaces almost unchanged from the 1890s in both décor and furnishings.

The drawing room was the most lavishly appointed room in an upper-class Victorian home. It was here that prosperous families displayed their wealth and status for others to view. This space was set aside for entertaining social callers, hosting dinner parties, and holding important ceremonial functions of family life

It was also the setting for formally entertaining friends and business acquaintances. Dinner parties began in the drawing room with men and women visiting together before the meal. A guest or hired musician might perform during the event. After dinner, the women would excuse themselves to the drawing room while the men continued their conversation in the dining room over brandy and cigars.

Pearl Neel and Daniel Grant were married in this room on May 27, 1890. The family also hosted a debut party for Daisy Neely in early December of the same year. Ten years later she married Barton Lee Mallory on November 7, 1900. They used this room for their wedding reception. Family funerals also took place here. James Neely’s funeral took place here in January 1901, Barton Lee Mallory’s in April 1938, and Daisy Mallory’s in July 1969.

Dog-Sized Horses of the Great Plains

Our Mesohippus  (“Middle Horse”) lived on the Great Plains of North America between 37 and 24 million years ago during the Oligocene Epoch. Earlier horse-like animals, Eohippus, first appeared 50 million years ago during the Eocene Epoch. The fossil record from the first horses to Mesohippus and on to modern horses (eqquus)  is so clear that it is often one of the first things taught in an evolution class. Mesohippus grazed on twigs, leaves, and berries which paleontologist can tell by the  shape of their teeth.  They had three toes, longer legs, and a larger brain than their ancestors. Mesohippus was the size of a large dog, four-feet long and weighing 90 pounds. As horses evolved, they became faster and more intelligent. Today’s horses still have multiple toes, although they appear only as sections of horse leg bones. During the Ice Age, nearly-modern horses migrated to the Eurasian steppes, Europe, and as far as Africa. They became extinct in North America along with Mastodons and Saber Tooth Cats during the Pleistocene extinction event 10,000 years ago.


Rhino Ancestors Roamed North America

During the early Oligocene Epoch (35-29 million years ago) an ancestor of today’s rhinoceros (Rhinocerotidae) roamed North America. Thriving in the plains from the Dakotas to western Mississippi, Subhyracodon occidentalis fossils are abundant in the West. Subhyracodon occidentalis was a hornless cousin of modern rhinoceroses that grazed on shrubs and trees. The rhino evolutionary line is complex as there were many genus and species of them throughout the millennia. Only one has been found east of the Mississippi, in marine fossil beds halfway between Vicksburg and Jackson, Mississippi. Large mammals found in marine deposits usually occurred because the animal was too close to a river and was washed away or because the animal died and was carried away during floods. Subhyracodon, discovered in 1850, was the first rhinoceros fossil discovered in North America. Rhinoceroses are thought to have originated in Eurasia, their descendants crossing an early Siberian land bridge and becoming isolated in North America when sea levels rose. No wild rhinoceros  live in the Western Hemisphere today. Our specimen is from Wyoming because local samples are rare. You can see it in the Walk Through Time exhibit in our natural history gallery.

Clarence Saunders and Lichterman Nature Center

In 1928, four years after Clarence Saunders lost the Pink Palace estate, he bought land further east of the city limits to build a second millionaire’s playground. In 1929, Saunders hired Hubert T. McGee, who was the architect for the Pink Palace mansion, to design a 7,000-square foot log home for his country estate and summer home.  In addition to the log home insured for $76,500 in 1930, the estate boasted an 18-hole golf course, two lighted tennis courts, a lake, a boat house with observation deck, a 220 x 125-foot swimming pool, several servant quarters, an entertainment lodge, farm buildings, and barns. Saunders lost the property in the Great Depression, but the southern portion of this estate survives today as the Lichterman Nature Center.

First African American Firefighters in Memphis

This placard commemorates the first 12 black firefighters in Memphis. They graduated one year after the Supreme Court ended segregation in public buildings. On July 11, 1955, Floyd Newsum, John Cooper, William Carter, Richard Burns, Robert Crawford, Leroy Johnson, Lawrence Yates, Elza Parsons, George Dumas, Norvell Wallace, Carl Stotts, and Murray Pegues became the first African American firefighters in the City of Memphis. These men served at Fire Station No. 8, an all-black station at Mississippi and Crump Boulevards. The men faced discrimination and humiliation at every turn. When they answered calls at white homes, they had to wait outside until white firefighters made sure the women were properly dressed. When they fought fires at black homes, they were often all alone. Robert J. Crawford  said, “I felt more at home [fighting] in Korea than I did in the Memphis Fire Department.” Another, Carl Stotts, successfully sued Firefighters Local Union No. 1784 and the City of Memphis over discrimination in promotions. The court found that discrimination existed in Memphis and ordered a consent decree establishing fair rules of promotion. In 1973, the Pioneers Black Firefighters of Memphis  formed to support black firemen and provide positive reinforcement to young men and the families of firefighters. The last surviving member of the first class, retired Division Chief Floyd Elbert Newsum, died January 19, 2019.


The Grant Family

Pearl Neely married Daniel Grant in 1890. Their two sons were born in the Mallory-Neely House, James Neely Grant in 1891 and Daniel Brooks Grant in 1893. As a young man, Grant worked as a cotton buyer in Memphis and later became president of Columbia Mortgage & Trust in New York City. The family spent several years living in Austria before returning to Memphis in 1900, where Grant and his brother founded Grant Brothers Cotton Seed Products Company.

James Neely Grant served in the US Navy during World War I. He returned to Memphis to raise a family and built businesses in insurance and real estate. He died in 1958.

Daniel Brooks Grant had a prominent banking and military career. He served as lieutenant in the Navy during World War I. After the war, he worked in London for a New York City bank, served as the head of the American Red Cross in London, and in 1942, he joined the US Army. He advanced to the rank of colonel, and participated in the invasions of North Africa and D-Day as a member of General Eisenhower’s staff. He died in 1948.

Boshart Bird Collection

When the Pink Palace Museum opened its doors in 1930 as the Memphis Museum of Natural History and Industrial Arts, there were not a lot of objects in the collection. In an effort to add to the museum’s specimens, the Advisory Board added the Boshart bird collection in 1931 after a considerable amount of handwringing.

Charles Fred Boshart was born in Lowville, New York, in 1860. He collected his first bird, a robin, in 1875 when he was fourteen and continued collecting throughout his life. After Boshart’s death, the executors of his will decided to sell the extensive collection for $2,100 (an estimated $30,000 today). Clark & Deck Studios, the firm hired by the City of Memphis to lay out the museum, approached Park Commissioner Frank Fisher about purchasing the birds. Not trusting the firm’s opinion, Fischer asked Nash Buckingham of the American Wild Fowlers to have Washington, D.C., ornithologist Dr. Harry Oberholser inspect the collection before the purchase. Oberholser, who worked with the United States Bureau of Biological Survey, was instructed to not tell Raymond Deck that he was connected to the city’s purchase of the birds. Oberholser reported to Buckingham that the birds were a good collection for the museum. In a separate letter to Fischer, Oberholser made it clear that, for several undisclosed reasons, it would be best if Deck never found out about his connection to the City of Memphis. Ultimately, the City purchased the birds, and the museum put them on display in 1938. Most of the specimens, including this Chestnut-backed Chickadee (Poecile rufescens) are still in the museum’s collection.


Juneteenth, or Freedom Day, celebrates the ending of slavery. Even though the Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, the news did not reach Texas, the most remote of the slave-holding states. It was not until June 19, 1865, that Union forces landed in Galveston, Texas, with news that slavery was finally over.

This broadside was made for public display to explain and win support for the Emancipation Proclamation. It illustrates how people in the North viewed the mandate, though close reading shows the limitations of the order in releasing enslaved people. It only freed the slaves in rebelling states. As enslaved people learned that they were legally freed, they began to leave the plantations to find refuge in Union encampments. The proclamation also allowed African Americans to serve as Union soldiers. Some 186,000 black soldiers served in the Union Army during the course of the war, and 38,000 lost their lives.

Summer Solstice

You might think the first day of summer is the beginning of long summer nights when it is actually the beginning of the end of them. Earth’s axis is always tilted 23.5˚ with respect to the Sun. On the summer solstice, the north pole is tipped towards the sun, and the south pole is tipped away from it. As a result, the sun reaches its highest point, and daylight maxes out at about 14.5 hours, leaving only 9.5 hours for night time. After the solstice, the sun begins its slow sinking in the sky at each successive noontime. This tilt is the reason that we have seasons.

Earth's tilt is one of the most misunderstood and difficult concepts to grasp outside of a planetarium. The word “tilt” is often incorrectly used or interpreted as a verb, misleading some people to think that the earth somehow flops over. Instead, like a child’s top or a gyroscope, the earth retains a constant 23.5 degree angle to the plane of its orbit. Only by moving around the sun do we see the changes it causes. At the summer solstice, the noontime sun is as high overhead as it will get and our shadows are short. Sunlight strikes the earth most directly and with concentrated force, warming the earth which re-radiates it at night for only 9 hours. Hardly enough time to cool down completely before it starts heating us up again. 

Image courtesy of NASA/SDO/AIA/LMSAL

Snapping Turtles - Freshwater Jaws!

The Mid-South is home to two different snapping turtles, alligator snapping turtles (Macrochelys temminckii) and common snapping turtles (Chelydra serpentina). Alligator snapping turtles are among the largest freshwater turtles in the world and can weigh up to 200 lbs, whereas common snapping turtles can reach weights of 35 lbs. Common snapping turtles, as their name implies, are much more common throughout their range. Alligator snapping turtle populations are in decline due to habitat destruction and over harvesting for their meat. It also takes alligator snapping turtles 10-15 years to reach breeding age. 

One of the most unique things about alligator snapping turtles is that they do not aggressively chase prey. Instead they lie motionless on the bottom of a lake, pond, or river with their mouths wide open.  Inside their mouth, they have a pink, worm-like tongue that they move occasionally to attract fish directly into their mouths. Common snapping turtles are omnivores and will eat plants, fish, frogs, snakes, and other turtles. 

These turtles spend most of their time in the water, with the exception of females venturing on land to lay eggs.  A 14-year-old alligator snapping turtle can be seen in the Lake Replica in the Backyard Wildlife Center at Lichterman Nature Center.

Cryptic Caterpillars

In late spring and summer, butterfly and moth caterpillars start to appear on their host plants, feverishly eating. Their plump bodies are a sought-after prey, especially for birds with young in the nest. Additional predators include spiders, wasps, dragonflies, and other insects. Unlike their adult stage, caterpillars don’t have wings to escape predators, but they have evolved a variety of techniques to deter potential predators. Puss moth (Megalopyge opercularis) and saddleback (Acharia stimulea) caterpillars release venom from spines on their back, while others rely on looking intimidating with spines or spikes. One of the most unique strategies is used by the caterpillars considered mimics. Spicebush swallowtails (Papilio troilus) and giant swallowtails (Papilio cresphontes) use mimicry to appear to be something other than a caterpillar. During early stages, caterpillars are brown with white irregular splotches resembling bird droppings. As they age, they turn green and develop large false eye spots resembling a snake head.   

Look for Spicebush Swallowtail caterpillars on their host plant, Spicebush (Lindera benzoin).  Spicebush can be found in the Wildlife Attractant Bed and the Backyard Wildlife Center meadow at Lichterman Nature Center.


Agates are the banded form of the mineral chalcedony. Chalcedony is a crytocrystalline variety of quartz, which means that the crystals are too small to be distinguished individually under an ordinary microscope. Quartz is a type of silica, which is the most common mineral in the Earth’s crust. Agates start as a cavity, or void, in basalt (volcanic rock). Water containing silica moves through the holes in the rock, and minerals like quartz crystalize out. About 90% of an agate is made of fine-grained quartz crystals that are built up in thin bands. The layers form in stages, and since the cavities they fill are irregularly shaped, each agate pattern is based on the original cavity shape. When a cavity only partially fills, it leaves a hollow portion in the center that can fill with crystalline quartz growths as the inside layer.

Look up! The view is amazing!

During the late 19th century, ceilings were almost always decoratively painted. It is likely that the painting of this ceiling predates the Neely’s acquisition of the house in 1883. The design contains cherubs sitting on a fruit branch. The foliated cornice and the center medallion are cast in plaster and were originally gold leafed before the 1890s redecoration. The significance of the spider web (which may have been a later addition to the painting) is unknown. An interesting detail is a vine, painted sometime in the 19th century, to disguise a crack running diagonally across the plaster ceiling.

When Polynesian-Themed Restaurants Were The Rage

Tiki bars and Polynesian-themed restaurants became popular across the United States in the 1950s and 1960s. They generally served a combination of Asian dishes, especially Chinese-inspired food, without striving for authenticity. Dobbs House Luau (1959-1982) was Memphis’ answer to the national trend. Despite this postcard’s claim that Dobbs House Luau served “authentic Polynesian dishes imported from the Islands. The end product of years of research—The world’s finest Polynesian food," menus from the 1960s and 1980s show that the Memphis establishment had a similar culinary mashup that was common in the rest of the country. A 12-foot tall concrete head stood outside of Poplar Avenue restaurant, and the interior featured the tropical décor you can see on this postcard.

Image credit: Memphis Pink Palace Museum Collection, 2012.014.0002

Why did the turtle cross the road?

To lay its eggs of course. When we see a water turtle away from water (like crossing a road), most of the time it’s a female going to or returning from laying her eggs. If you see a turtle crossing the road, it’s okay to help it across in the direction it was headed, but do not remove it from the area. Pond turtle emerge from the lake to dig a hole and lay eggs and can travel over a mile to find the right spot. They must travel away from the lake to find a place where they can dig a hole that will be above the water table so their eggs aren’t submerged. Mid-South pond turtles can lay between 2-30 eggs, although 7-12 is more common. Once the eggs are laid, the female turtle returns to the water, and the eggs hatch about 2 months later. Not all of the eggs make it to hatching. Crows, raccoons, and foxes dig up nests and eat the eggs or take them back to their own young. Egg laying can be seen at Lichterman Nature Center in May and June as turtles emerge from Mertie’s Lake and lay their eggs in the surrounding area. 

What's behind the Pink Palace name?

What makes the Pink Palace mansion pink? The mansion’s exterior is made of Etowah marble, also known as Georgia pink marble, quarried from Tate County, Georgia. You can hear the story of this stone and how it eventually made its way to Memphis in the latest episode of Tributaries, the museum’s podcast.

The Bride's Book of Plans

Before there was Pinterest, people relied on a lot of sources for inspiration and help when planning their weddings. One source was “The Bride’s Book of Plans,” which was available to brides throughout the United States. Lowenstein’s Department Store in downtown Memphis gave this copy to a woman named Lelia Camille Lockard in 1949. Brides used these books to record information about their wedding plans, such as who was responsible for flowers, photography, and catering. This book also included several pages to record gifts the couple received. In the late 1940s, popular wedding trends included the introduction of wedding rings for grooms, diamond weddings rings for brides, and brides repurposing everything from fabrics, lace, and paper to create their dresses and decorations, making them the first DIY brides.

Frances "Daisy" Neely Mallory

This photograph of an original oil painting of Frances Neely Mallory is referred to by family as Daisy’s debut portrait. The original is owned by a family member. Daisy was introduced to Memphis society as a young woman of marriageable age on December 14, 1890, at the age of 19. The gown she is wearing was designed by the famous Victorian designer of women’s apparel, Charles Frederick Worth. Daisy purchased the gown in Paris when she accompanied her sister, Pearl, on her wedding trip earlier that year.

The painting is dated 1894, indicating that Kate Carl painted it several years after the debut. Carl studied at the L’Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris; her mother taught at the State Female College here in Memphis. Her brother worked for the Chinese Maritime Customs Service, and while visiting him, she was allowed to paint a portrait of the Empress Dowager of China. That painting was placed on exhibition at the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904 and is now owned by the Smithsonian Institute.

Full Moon - A Fascinating Sight

The full moon is a fascinating sight. Its light-colored areas are mostly mountainous highlands. The large grey cratered areas are where lava flowed and cooled after huge asteroid and meteorite impacts billions of years ago. Together, they give the moon the familiar smiling face we see best when it is full. People around the world claim to see different shapes in the moon, including a lady, a frog, or even a rabbit.

It takes longer for the moon to rise each night.  That’s because the moon orbits the earth from west to east. We see it rise in the east because the earth rotates faster than the moon revolves around it. It takes time for the earth to catch up with it each day.  It takes the moon nearly a month to go around the earth one time. In that time we see it go through all of its phases, from Full to Last Quarter to New to First Quarter and back again to Full.

Image courtesy of NASA/JPL/USGS

The History of the Calling Card

A visiting card, also known as a calling card, was a small card used for social purposes. Before the 18th century, visitors making social calls left handwritten notes at the home of friends who were not at home. By the 1760s, the upper classes in France and Italy were leaving printed visiting cards decorated with images on one side and a blank space for hand-writing a note on the other. The style quickly spread across Europe and to the United States. As printing technology improved, elaborate color designs became increasingly popular. However, by the late 1800s, simpler styles became more common.

By the 19th century, men and women needed personalized calling or visiting cards to maintain their social status or to move up in society. These small cards, about the size of a modern-day business card, usually featured the name of the owner, and sometimes an address. Calling cards were left at homes, sent to individuals, or exchanged in person for various social purposes. Knowing and following calling card “rules” signaled one’s status and intentions.

World Bicycle Day

The museum houses a collection of 277 World War I toy soldiers. The soldiers are made of antimonial lead with hand-painted faces. They strike a variety of poses, depicting different aspects of life in a battlefield. There are machine gunners, snipers, bomb-throwers, soldiers with bayonets, rifles, gas masks, periscopes, binoculars, and field phones.  Dressed in jodhpurs, brown jackets and boots, some men are kneeling or crouching, a few are writing letters home or reading a newspaper. There are wounded soldiers, medics, buglers, cooks, and nurses. One soldier has a carrier pigeonanother has a military dog, and this soldier rides his bicycle.    

Image credit: Memphis Pink Palace Museum Collection, 1956.024.140 

International Dinosaur Day

Today is International Dinosaur Day and a great time to talk about Triceratops, the three-horned dinosaur that roamed North America about 67-65 million years ago, alongside the fearsome Tyrannosaurus rex. At about 30 feet long and 11,000 pounds, Triceratops was about the size of an African elephant, and was equipped with a massive bony frill around its head as well as horns. Triceratops was an herbivore, a plant-eater, so the horns were likely used in combat between rival males, and perhaps for defense from the predatory T. rex. In fact, some healed bite marks found on Triceratops’ frills might indicate a successful encounter with the large predator. Both dinosaurs lived during the late Cretaceous, right up until the K-Pg extinction event, when a massive meteor struck Earth in the Yucatan Peninsula and precipitated massive climate change and a mass extinction that ended the age of the dinosaurs.

If you are an adult, you may remember when Rollo, the animatronic Triceratops who makes his home at the Museum, roared and stomped. Although he is no longer working, he is still on display in the Geology exhibit, lying wounded near the still roaring and moving Tyra, the T. rex. Don’t worry, though, there’s a river right behind him where he may still make his escape! Nearby is a real, fossilized Triceratops skull.

Fossils Reveal Ferns Two Stories Tall

Almost all of the world’s coal comes from plants that lived and died between 200 to 300 million years ago, during a time that geologists call the Pennsylvanian Period. These fossils leave us evidence of lush forests of fern, scattered throughout today’s northeastern North America and Europe. At that time, both were on the same ancient continent. Our beautiful shale fossil slab shows the intricate details of fronds and their stems, or trunks. Most of these are the genus Psaronius. Some of these ferns grew up to 30 feet in height. They are different from today’s ferns because they reproduced by seeds rather than spores as they do today. These forests were periodically flooded as sea levels rose and fell. When covered quickly with silt and mud, the plants were preserved before they could decay. The white coloring of the fossils is a coating of the mineral pyrphyllite, which entered the fossils through ground water.

The Constellation Corvus

Many constellations in the sky are related to the constellations around them, such as the constellation Corvus. Corvus means “raven” or “crow” in Latin. In Greek mythology, a crow is sent with a crater (a cup used to hold water to dilute wine), in order to fetch water for the god Apollo, but it stops on its journey to wait on some figs to ripen. The crow, knowing Apollo would be angry about the delay, filled the cup with water and also took back a water snake, intending to blame it for drinking the water and delaying his journey. Apollo, however, saw through the ruse and angrily threw the crow, the cup, and the snake into the sky. They became the constellations Corvus, Crater, and Hydra. Hydra was placed in between Corvus and Crater so that the crow would never be able to drink from the cup, symbolizing how the gods would punish those who did not follow their orders.

Image courtesy of Stellarium.

Paint & Plaster Masterpieces of Art - Mallory-Neely House

Patience is one word that comes to mind when looking at the walls of the Mallory-Neely mansion. During the Neely’s redecoration project in the early 1890s, the original papered or painted walls were spruced up. Take a close look and you will notice that the walls have a very distinct pattern. The painter drew a metal comb through the plaster mixture, which created the raised design you see today in the paint-plaster mix. Once the circles and squares were completed, the golden fleur-di-lis was carefully stenciled on the walls. Similar designs were done on the second and third floors.

In the late 1940s, Daisy Mallory updated her parents’ décor by whitewashing the entire entry hall. This modernized and brightened the interior; however, in the 1990s, workers removed this paint and restored the original stencil work.


Dracula and Sivad

May 26 is World Dracula Day, the date when Dracula, Bram Stoker’s masterpiece of gothic horror, was published in 1897. Although there had been other novels about vampires, it laid the groundwork for an entire genre. Count Dracula became the archetype of the vampire in formal evening wear, long black cape, and fangs. Scores of movies depicted Dracula, or characters modeled after him, both as serious villains and, eventually, as comedic characters.

By the 1960s, television stations around the country aired horror and science fiction movies hosted by campy vampire characters. Here in Memphis, we had Sivad. As the caped and fanged host of Fantastic Features, Sivad opened each episode with the words “Goood Eeeveneing, I am Sivad, Your Monster of Ceremonies.” The program aired on WHBQ-TV from 1962 to 1972, and served as a showcase for horror and science fiction movies. They ranged from the classic to the silly – Frankenstein, Dracula, Cat People, The Tingler, I Was a Teenage Werewolf and Attack of the Mushroom People were a few of the features.

Sivad was the alter ego of Watson Davis (Sivad spelled backwards), the advertising director for local Malco Theaters. Davis appeared as Sivad at local film openings, state fairs, and parades. Whether on the air or in person, he entertained the crowds with his corny jokes, silly skits, and musical performances on the “ghoulaphone” and “coffinola,” instruments he created.

Beverly Ideker, Watson Davis’s stepdaughter, donated the Sivad costume, makeup case and other memorabilia to the Pink Palace Museum.

The History of Memorial Day

Memorial Day was originally called Decoration Day. It began with a number of independent gatherings to pay tribute to soldiers who died in the Civil War by decorating their graves with flowers, wreaths, and flags. According to historian David Blight, former slaves in Charleston, South Carolina staged one of the earliest gatherings. There, in the last days of the war, thousands of Union prisoners of war had been forced into inadequate, makeshift camps. At one of these, a former racetrack near the city’s Citadel, men were crowded into the center of the track with no protection from the elements. More than 250 prisoners died from exposure and disease and buried in a mass grave behind the track’s grandstand.

Soon after Charleston fell to Union troops in February of 1865, the emancipated men and women of Charleston gave the Union soldiers a proper burial. They exhumed the mass grave and reburied the bodies in a new cemetery dedicated to the “Martyrs of the Race Course.” Then, on May 1, 1865, a crowd of over 1,000 people—freed slaves, some black Union troops and a few white missionaries—held a parade on the race track and black ministers read from the bible. Although it was not officially recognized, it was the first recorded celebration of Memorial Day.

International Day for Biological Diversity (IDB)

The Convention of Biological Diversity within the United Nations designated May 22 the International Day for Biological Diversity (IDB). What do we mean when we say biological diversity? Biological diversity, or biodiversity, is a broad term that encompasses one of the most vital features of our planet: the variety of life on Earth. Biodiversity represents all the knowledge learned by evolving species over millions of years. Every location, every habitat, every ecosystem on Earth functions due its biodiversity.

Almost 30 years ago, in May of 1992, delegates at the United Nations (UN) saw a need to raise awareness for global biodiversity. The Convention on Biological Diversity has been ratified by 196 nations, and its goals include conservation of biodiversity, sustainable use of biodiversity, fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising from the use of genetic resources, and overall, encouraging actions which will lead to a sustainable future.

If you’re wondering how you can participate, consider reevaluating your purchases. Livestock agriculture, oil sourcing, and construction are the leading causes of deforestation, which in turn is the leading cause of biodiversity loss. Plastic pollution from single use plastics is responsible for the death of millions of animals each year. By recycling or seeking out reusable items like straws, shopping bags, and water bottles, you can help reduce the planet’s plastic plague.

For more information on the International Day for Biological Diversity, visit the United Nations website.

The Unbuilt Addition

By the late 1960s, the Museum Advisory Board had concerns that the museum was outgrowing the Pink Palace Mansion. There were also worries about the structural integrity of the building. The board began to consider alternatives to house the growing collection and the need for new exhibits. Everett Woods, a longtime member of the board as well as the architect who had been a technical advisor on the museum’s original heating and air conditioning systems, drew up the plans for the suggested addition. In this 1967 photograph, Woods and fellow board member John Collier examine the model that Woods built for his proposed solution. The new construction would have connected the two wings of the mansion. Mayor Henry Loeb did not approve funding for the project, so the proposed addition was never built.

The Story of Ursa Major & Ursa Minor Constellations

Did you know that the Big Dipper and the Little Dipper in the sky are really part of the larger constellations Ursa Major and Ursa Minor? “Ursa” means bear in Latin, and Roman mythology tells the story of how these two bears came to be in the night sky. The Roman god Jupiter,  desired the nymph Callisto. However, Jupiter’s wife Juno grew jealous of Callisto, especially when she found out that Callisto had given birth to Arcas, Jupiter’s son. As revenge, Juno turned Callisto into a bear so that she would no longer be beautiful and attract the attention of Jupiter. For years, Callisto lived in the forest as a bear while Arcas was adopted and became a hunter. When Arcas was a young man, he went hunting in the forest where Callisto lived. When Callisto saw Arcas, she ran to him, forgetting that she was a bear. Arcas thought he was being attacked by the bear and unknowingly fired an arrow at his mother. Jupiter, seeing what was about to happen, stopped the arrow from hitting Callisto. To protect them both from Juno, Jupiter changed Arcas into a bear and threw both Callisto and Arcas into the stars by their tails, turning Callisto into Ursa Major and Arcas into Ursa Minor. Jupiter throwing them into the stars explains why the tails in their constellations are so long since terrestrial bears have short tails.

Image courtesy of NASA.

Red Buckeyes - Aesculus Pavia

Red buckeyes (Aesculus pavia) are small understory trees native to much of the southeast. Their range extends as far north as southern Missouri and as far west as eastern Texas. They are prized for their spikes of bright red tubular flowers, which appear in late March and last for an entire month. In early to mid-April, the Lichterman Nature Center has the best display of red buckeye flowers in Memphis. They are an important early nectar source for Ruby-throated hummingbirds and various butterflies. Hummingbirds are the flowers’ main pollinator. Red buckeyes produce large nuts in the fall, which give the plant its common name. The large tan scar on the dark brown nuts resembles the eye of a male deer. You will see them on the ground around the trees in mid-autumn when they fall as they ripen. They are toxic and are not consumed by wildlife. Dutch and German immigrants to America believed that the nut of a similar European tree had special curative powers. They transferred this belief to the buckeyes of the New World, where their descendants traditionally carried buckeye nuts in their pockets for good luck.

Celebrating International Museum Day

Each year, the International Council of Museums (ICOM) celebrates International Museum Day. The event started in 1977 as a way to increase public awareness of the role museums play in our society. This year’s theme is “Museums for Equality: Diversity and Inclusion.” At the Pink Palace Family of Museums, we are committed to our mission to inspire discovery through collecting, preserving, and interpreting the cultural histories and natural sciences that shape our region. We recognize that the communities we serve have their own origins, histories, and perspectives, and we are committed to using our resources to elevate those stories.

Yellow Fever Linked to Aedes aegypti Mosquitos

It was not until 1900 that Dr. Walter Reed proved that Aedes aegypti mosquitos spread the yellow fever virus. You can hear more about the science of the disease and the consequences of the 1878 epidemic on the second part of the yellow fever Tributaries podcast.

TBT Opossum

The Backyard Wildlife Center (BWC) at Lichterman Nature Center is home to several non-releasable wild animals, including two Virginia opossums (Didelphis virginiana). This photograph shows one of the BWC’s current opossums when it was only a few months old.  Since it is illegal in Tennessee to keep wildlife, including opossums, as pets, the nature center has special permits from Tennessee Fish & Wildlife Resources, USDA, and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service that allow us to care for non-releasable wildlife.  Both opossums made their way to the BWC after they mother was killed by a car but they survived in the safety of their mother’s pouch.  After being cared for by a licensed wildlife rehabilitator, they were deemed non-releasable. While the best place for wild animals is in the wild, occasionally they become imprinted on their human caretakers and must remain in captivity because of their lack of fear and reliance on humans for food. The BWC provides care to our opossums as part of our ongoing mission to inspire discovery of our region’s natural environment.

Click here to see a video about our Backyard Wildlife Center opossums.

American Green Treefrog

The American green treefrog (Hyla cinera) is a native of the southeastern United States. As its name suggests, they are typically green, but they can appear grayish during cool weather. They are also at home living in trees but can be found in tall vegetation, stream banks, and shrubs. Treefrogs have special adaptations on their toes called toes pads, or discs, that help them climb and adhere to vertical surfaces. These nocturnal frogs are also common in backyards and can sometimes be found in swimming pools or near porch lights searching for prey. Although they will eat almost any small insect or invertebrate, studies have shown that they seek out the most active prey. 

Sometimes called a rain frog, they have a unique call when they sense rainfall in the spring and summer.  They also have alarm calls and calls to attract mates.  Like all amphibians, they are tied to water for egg laying and development. Green treefrogs lay a few hundred eggs on the surface of water and typically attach them to floating vegetation. The eggs hatch in about a week and froglets emerge from the water after about two months. They often fall prey to fish, birds, snakes, and larger frogs, but have been documented living up to six years in captivity.  The Backyard Wildlife Center at Lichterman Nature Center has a 3-year-old treefrog in the Forest section. 

International Nurses Day

It’s International Nurses Day! Memphis has always relied on our nursing community. During the 1873 and 1878 yellow fever epidemics, the Episcopal nuns at St. Mary’s Cathedral nursed the sick and dying. Today, nurses continue their dedicated service to our city, serving on the front lines daily. You can learn more about the history of nursing in the Mid-South in the museum’s “Saddlebags to Science” exhibit.

The Cassidae - Helmet Snail

The Cassidae, or helmet snail, is one of an estimated 60-80 species in the taxonomic family of sea snails. They live in temperate seas throughout the world. Helmet snails are gastropods.  Most stay buried in the sand during the day, coming out at night to feed on sea urchins, which they locate by smell. A snail will drop its shell over an urchin and release a paralytic enzyme to protect it from the urchin’s poisonous spines. The snail then secretes an acid that bores a hole in the urchin’s shell. It then sucks out the soft inner parts.

This helmet snail shell became part of the museum’s collection in 1947.

Image credit: Memphis Pink Palace Museum Collection, 1947.002.0005

Historic Stained Glass Window Returns Home to Memphis

This stained glass window came from the historic Hayes Funeral Home on South Lauderdale. Founded in 1902 by T. H. Hayes, the funeral home was one of the oldest African American-owned businesses in Memphis. The beautiful window had been covered during a renovation and forgotten until a demolition crew found it in 2011. An antique stained glass dealer from Oregon bought the piece, but it returned to Memphis when curators at the Pink Palace Museum saw it for sale online and bought it for the museum in 2014. It is now on display in the Pink Palace Mansion.

T.H. Hayes was active in the National Negro Business League and was co-founder of the Union Protective Life Insurance Company. His son Thomas Jr. owned the Birmingham Black Barons, part of the Negro Baseball League. His other son Taylor took over the funeral business and also served as president of the National Funeral Directors and Morticians Association. After Taylor died in 1968, his wife Frances continued to run the family business until her death in 2010. 


Adolph Tiensch - Survey Equipment Pioneer

Adolph Tiensch was born in Baden-Baden, Germany, in 1820. The first mention of him in the United States was that he was working at a locksmith’s firm in Louisville, Kentucky. He later worked in a shop that manufactured scientific, philosophical, and mathematical instruments. Tiensch moved to Memphis in 1860 to open his own shop at 236 Main Street, near the old Memphis Gas Works, today the MLGW building. There were no other makers of surveying equipment, viewing scopes, slide rules and other instruments in Memphis. He is not listed in the Memphis directory until 1867, so it’s possible that he did something else or worked for the Army during the Civil War. Tiensch was also an inventor, submitting three patents, one for an automatic fire grate cleaner, one for an automated cotton picker, and one for a stamp affixing device. Tiensch died in Memphis in 1895 at the age of 75 and is buried at Elmwood Cemetery.  

Coma Berenices Constellation

Coma Berenices is the only one of the 88 recognized modern-day constellations that is named after a historical person. Queen Berenice II of Egypt was the ruling queen of Cyrenaica, now part of modern-day Libya, and was co-regent of Egypt with her husband, King Ptolemy III Euergetes, in the 3rd century BCE. When Ptolemy III fought in the Third Syrian War, Berenice vowed to sacrifice her long hair as an offering if Ptolemy returned safely. Upon his safe return, Berenice cut off her hair and placed it in a temple dedicated to the Greek goddess Aphrodite. The next morning, her hair had disappeared from the temple. The court astronomer, Conon of Samos, identified a new constellation as Berenice’s hair, placed there by Aphrodite in honor of her sacrifice. Before the 16th century, the Coma Berenices was often identified as part of the constellation Leo, but astronomers Geradus Mercator, Caspar Vopel, and Tycho Brahe all designated it as its own unique constellation. By the 18th century, it came to be known as the constellation Coma Berenices (Berenices’s hair in Latin).

Image courtesy of Stellarium.

Annual Eta Aquarid Meteor Shower

The early morning hours of May 6th may be a good opportunity to see some meteors streaking across the sky. This is the expected peak of the annual Eta Aquarid meteor shower, the third biggest meteor show of the year. Under ideal conditions, most of us could expect to see as many as 60 meteors. Meteor showers happen when Earth passes through the debris field left behind by a comet or asteroid and are usually named for the nearest star to the center (radiant) point of any particle stream. Stars in a constellation are named according to brightness, using the Greek alphabet. Eta Aquarius is the seventh brightest star in the constellation of the Water Bearer. The best time to watch for them would be a few hours before dawn. The shower maintains a fairly high number for 2-3 days before and after the peak, but a few can be seen for nearly all of May. If you happen to see one, you are seeing pieces from Halley’s Comet, which last passed this way in 1986.

Image courtesy of NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office, Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala.

Ruby-throated Hummingbirds

Weighing in at just 2-5 grams (that’s about the weight of a penny), Ruby-throated hummingbirds (Archilochus colubris) are migrating wonders and the only hummingbird that nests in the Eastern United States. But not all ruby-throated hummingbirds have red throats – the females don’t have any red, and it takes males about a year to get all their red feathers. Most of the birds spend their winters in Central America (although a few will overwinter in southern Florida). Their migration usually takes them to the Yucatan peninsula, where they make the perilous non-stop journey across the Gulf of Mexico (up to 500 miles). They often arrive in the Mid-South by late March or early April and feverishly begin to refuel from their long journey. If you want to attract hummingbirds to your yard, putting up a feeder is a great start, but planting native plants will help keep them around and returning year after year. In addition to nectar and sugar water, hummingbirds also eat small insects, so avoid using pesticides if possible. You can make your own nectar for your hummingbird feeder by following the recipe below.

Hummingbird Water Recipe

4 cups of hot water

1 cup of sugar

Mix until sugar dissolves. Clean feeder and replace sugar water frequently to prevent spoilage. If wasps or bees start to dominate your feeder, switch to 5 cups of water and 1 cup of sugar.  

Image courtesy of Jon Graham

International Space Day

May is an excellent month to look up and contemplate the vast possibilities out there. The month begins with International Space Day (observed on the first Friday in May).  Lockheed Martin Corporation declared the first National Space Day in 1997 to promote STEM Sciences in education and encourage the next generation of young people to pursue careers in science and engineering, especially as it applies to space exploration. In 2001, Senator John Glenn, the second American astronaut and the first from the United States to orbit the earth, expanded the celebration to include the world, dubbing it “International Space Day.” The late Senator Glenn holds the record for being the oldest man in space. He launched aboard the shuttle orbiter Discovery in 1998 at the age of 77.

Image Credit: NASA: S98-04614

Berry B. Brooks African Hall

Pink Palace Museum visitors from 1948 to 1975 were fond of visiting the Berry B. Brooks African Hall. Brooks was a respected Memphian with a reputation as a huntsman, naturalist and conservationist. He was also a civic leader who was generous with his time, finances and big game trophies.

Brooks was born in Senatobia, Mississippi, in 1902 and moved to Memphis when he was 12. He attended Washington and Lee University and then worked as a clerk before starting his own cotton company in 1929. During his 53 years in the cotton business, Brooks served as king of the Cotton Carnival in 1957 and as two-time president of the Memphis Cotton Exchange. Cotton gave him the resources he needed to engage in his favorite activity—big game hunting. In 1947, Brooks took his wife and daughter on his first of four African safaris. In addition to hunting, Brooks  made films while on expeditions and gave a series of lectures for both the Goodwyn Institute and the museum.
Brooks once said, “There is often a feeling of sadness in collecting animals. But it is overcome by the many other things you do in the way of conservation. I have tried to make every animal I ever collected immortal by giving it to the museum.” To this end, Brooks offered 41 animal heads on loan to the museum in 1948, as well as the films he made on his safaris. The Museum Advisory Board threw a premier opening of the African Hall. The museum amended the original loan agreement in 1950 after Brooks’ subsequent safaris added more specimens to the African Hall. In the end, Brooks loaned 51 animals to the museum. The museum hosted a second premier in 1952, after Brooks’ second African safari, adding three rooms of trophies. In 1958, museum director Ruth Bush argued for making the collection more educational by placing miniature dioramas in the large hall to show the habitat of the animals.  In 1973, Brooks gave the collection to the museum as a gift. That same year he was the first American elected to the Hunting Hall of Fame.

In mid-1975, the museum changed from exhibiting an eclectic mix of artifacts to focusing on regional cultural and natural history. The staff crated and stored the collection and tried to find a buyer for the heads. Before Brooks died in January 1976, some of his friends attempted to raise funds to build a place to display the animals. The Barry Brooks Foundation received the collection in 1980, but they were unable to place them anywhere. The trophies were sold in 1985. Some of the animals were sold again in 2005 at an auction held at Worlds Away, a downtown Memphis store.

More information about Barry Brooks can be found in Peter Hathaway Capstick’s Death in a Lonely Land. Quote from “Barry Brooks, Game Hunter, is Dead at 73,” Commercial Appeal, January 22, 1976.

1878 Yellow Fever Quarantine

In 1878, Memphians experienced quarantine measures to prevent the spread of yellow fever, an extremely contagious and lethal viral disease. You can hear more about how citizens coped during this epidemic in the first episode of Tributaries, the museum’s new podcast.

Memphis Park Commission Recreation Department Blazer

This blazer belonged to a Memphis Park Commission’s Recreation Department employee in the 1970s. The City of Memphis created the Memphis Park Commission in 1900 to oversee the City’s parks as well as expand the city’s recreational and natural resources. The Park Commission created a large, expansive park system to promote the city’s health and appearance. During the 20th century, the commission grew to include 166 parks, golf courses, museums, fairgrounds, the Memphis Zoo, and community centers and provided indoor and outdoor recreation to the public. Some of the parks established by the Park Commission include Overton Park, Tom Lee Park, the Mid-South Fairgrounds, and Mud Island River Park. Most of the city's parks, as well as some cultural institutions including the Pink Palace Family of Museums, are now managed by the City’s Division of Parks and Neighborhoods.

Sinking of the Sultana

The sinking of the Sultana was one of the most dramatic and heartbreaking episodes in the Civil War. On April 21, 1865, the steamboat left New Orleans and was already having problems with leaky boilers, which continued to plague the vessel on its way up the river. Union soldiers who had just been released from Confederate prison camps such as Cahaba and Andersonville boarded the Sultana in Vicksburg, Mississippi. The steamboat was severely overcrowded, filled to over six times its capacity. On April 27, when the steamer was a few miles north of Memphis, a boiler exploded. The explosion propelled passengers and cargo into the chilly Mississippi River. Many people in Memphis heard the explosion and sent out rescue boats. They were able to save hundreds of passengers who made it to shore before the Sultana finally sank around Marion, Arkansas. About 1800 men died, over 300 more than perished on the Titanic. It was the worst maritime disaster in American history. The disaster did not get as much national news coverage as would be expected because on the same day as the explosion, Union soldiers shot and killed John Wilkes Booth, Lincoln’s assassin. This tintype photograph shows Albert Norris. He survived the Sultana explosion, and rescuers took him to Gayoso Hospital in Memphis to recover. The tintype was taken at the hospital in 1865.


Can touching a toad give you warts?  No! Warts are caused by a virus, not by an amphibian. However, warts could be an indication of whether you are looking at a frog or a toad.  Although both are amphibians that belong to the animal order Anura, their characteristics separate them into different family groups.  In general, frogs have smooth slimy skin and lay eggs in clumps; toads have bumpy and dry skin and lay their eggs in long strands. Frogs tend to leap, and toads tend to hop. Toads also have a large gland behind their eyes called a parotoid gland. If a potential predator tries to eat a toad they can excrete a toxin from this gland. Both frogs and toads are intimately tied to water. All amphibians (frogs, toads and salamanders) lay their eggs in water, even if they spend the majority of their adult life on land.  American toads (Bufo americanus) are common throughout the Mid-South, and they can lay up to 8,000 eggs, which hatch into tadpoles after a week.  The tadpoles are herbivores (plant eaters), but when they emerge from the water as toads, they are carnivores and consume lots of insects.

American and Fowler’s toads (Bufo fowleri) have readily adapted to human habitation in the Mid-South and can be found in backyards, as long as they have some cover from the heat and access to water.

Check out this video of Lichterman Nature Center’s Backyard Wildlife Curator talking about frogs and toads on the Family Plot TV show on PBS. 


From the Bible to movies, snakes often get a bad rap, but there are snakes in the Mid-South that even the most ophidiophobic person should like: kingsnakes. Kingsnakes get the name “king” because they will eat other snakes, including venomous ones. Kingsnakes are constrictors, which mean they squeeze their prey before consuming it.  Constriction in snakes is often misunderstood; the prey does not die from crushed bones or suffocation, instead the constriction cuts off the blood supply to the brain of the prey, killing it quickly. Kingsnakes are able to eat venomous snakes because they have some resistance to venom, but most of the time they surprise a venomous snake and grasp it behind the head, never giving it an opportunity to bite.   Kingsnakes will also eat rodents, small mammals, eggs, and occasionally birds.  Although they are kings in the snake world, they often fall prey to raccoons, opossums, foxes, hawks, owls and domesticated animals. The speckled kingsnake (Lampropeltis getula holbrooki) is one of the most common snakes observed on Lichterman Nature Center’s property. Their name comes from the single speck of yellow-white found in the center of most of their scales. In addition to being on the property, a two year old speckled kingsnake is housed in the Backyard Wildlife Center meadow exhibit.

To see what other plants and animals have been seen at Lichterman Nature Center, check us out on iNaturalist.


Millipedes are one of nature’s best composters. These arthropods are decomposers, and more specifically detritivores. Detritivores are animals that eat dead and decaying leaves and plants and return nutrients back to the soil. They are most active at night and can be found in moist environments like under logs, in flower beds, and in compost piles.  Although their name means “thousand legs” and they are often referred to as 1,000-leggers, there aren’t any species of millipedes that have 1,000 legs.  Most species have between 20-400 legs. They have two pairs of legs on most of their body segments, which is one way to distinguish them from centipedes, which have only one pair of legs per segment.  Centipedes superficially look like millipedes, but they are quite different. While millipedes are decomposers, centipedes are predators and actively hunt invertebrate prey. They use pinchers to grasp prey and inject venom. They also can bite people--so don’t try to pick up a centipede! Although millipedes do not bite, they do have interesting defense mechanisms. If startled, they can coil their body into a tight spiral. They can also release a foul smelling odor to deter predators, and they can irritate or stain human skin. The Backyard Wildlife Center at Lichterman Nature Center has an American Giant Millipede (Narceus americanus) housed in the “Rotten place to live” forest section.

Spotted Salamander

The spotted salamander (Ambystoma maculatum) is a secretive but common amphibian found throughout the Mid-South.  This nocturnal salamander only emerges from its underground burrow to eat and mate. They are carnivores and will eat insects, slugs, and other invertebrates found on the forest floor. One of the first warm spring rains triggers salamanders to emerge and travel to vernal pools to mate and lay eggs.  Vernal pools are seasonal pools that fill with water in the winter and spring and dry up in the summer. Spotted Salamanders return to the same vernal pool every year. All of the salamanders in an area typically emerge on the same day (or few days) to travel to their vernal pools. Rain allows the salamanders to travel longer distances over land without drying out. Once they reach the pool and mate, females can lay a hundred or more eggs in a jelly-like clump. Salamanders go through metamorphosis like frogs and toads. Their larvae are called tadpoles and develop in water before emerging for life on land.  Vernal pools are ideal for salamander development because the pools do not support fish that would eat the eggs and tadpoles; however, the pool can support an abundance of insect larvae that young salamanders eat.  Like other amphibians, they are sensitive to environmental changes like pollution and habitat loss.  The spotted salamander’s bright spots serve as warning coloration to animals that may want to prey on them, but if the coloration doesn’t work, they can release a milky toxin in the glands on their back and tail.  Spotted salamanders can live up to 20 years.  The Backyard Wildlife Center at Lichterman Nature Center houses a spotted salamander in the Environmental Lab. 

Virginia Opossum

Meet the Virginia opossum (Didelphis virginiana), one of the Mid-South’s most misunderstood creatures. Opossums are North America’s only marsupial (pouched mammal). Their closest relatives are kangaroos and koalas, and their babies grow up in a pouch on the mother’s abdomen. Opossums also have some pretty unique ways of protecting themselves.   Have you ever heard of playing ‘possum? Opossums don’t really “play” dead. They actually faint when they get really scared and sometimes they go to the bathroom on themselves, which makes them really smelly and unappealing to potential predators.  Another way they protect themselves is by showing all fifty of their teeth. That’s more teeth than any other North American land mammal! The Backyard Wildlife Center at Lichterman Nature Center houses two non-releasable Virginia Opossums. They are approximately 2 years old. 

Opossums can be found throughout the Mid-South and have adapted to living near humans. They will often scavenge for food at dawn and dusk near trash cans and roadsides. In addition to eating human trash and carrion (dead animals), they will also eat insects, worms, nuts, eggs and fruits.  Opossums fall prey to foxes, coyotes, raccoons, owls and domesticated dogs. That is one of the reasons their live span in the wild is just 1-3 years. Female opossums give birth to an average of 9 babies (called a litter) the size of honeybees, though she can have up to 20, after being pregnant for a short 13 days. About 2 months later, the young, now about 5 inches long, start to venture outside the pouch. They hang onto their mom’s back as she teaches them where to find the best feeding spots. By 5 months, they are on their own, and females can start having their own litters. 

Look Beneath the Surface for an Intriguing Story

You can’t hide anything from historians! While conservators were working on cleaning and preserving the cornices and ceiling at the Mallory-Neely House, they discovered various wallpapers and paint left behind from the different families. The three strips above the doorway represent three eras of habitation within the house, while the far-right strip shows just how dirty homes can get.

Greek Mythology has Its Place at the Mallory-Neely House

When you walk into the drawing room at the Mallory-Neely House, you will immediately notice “Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss.” This copy of Antonio Canova’s famous statue was purchased by Mrs. Neely in Paris. Greek mythology was just as popular in the Victorian time period as it is today!

Gas Lamp a Beacon of History at Mallory-Neely House

One of the few pieces from the second owners of the Mallory-Neely House, this exterior gas lamp globe belonged to the Babb family. It was originally one of two that sat at the end of the driveway, and it would have let everyone know who was living at 652 Adams Ave. It has been placed upon a base for display purposes. From 1864 to 1883, the Mallory-Neely House was the residence of cotton factor Benjamin Babb and his family.

Stained Glass from World's Fair Finds a Home at Mallory-Neely House

The families who lived in the Mallory-Neely House had a knack for collecting objects from various World’s Fairs. A friend of the Neely family purchased the stained glass in the entryway doors at the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago. It was carefully transported back to Memphis, where it was installed for all to see.

A True Hidden Gem in Memphis

The Mallory-Neely House Museum gives a glimpse into life in the late 19th century.  A true hidden gem in Memphis, it is located on Adams Avenue, aka “Millionaire’s Row.” Built in 1852, this house was home to 5 different families—the Kirtlands, Babbs, Neelys, Grants and Mallorys.

Planetarium Technology Continues to Evolve

The AutoZone Dome at the Sharpe Planetarium has a 50-foot screen and state-of-the-art  equipment, including the recent addition of lasers.  These are not the bulky lasers of the last century; they are compact, more precise, and more powerful. In fact, Memphis has the honor of owning the first system of its kind with a patented lens system and built-in effects.

Engineers are always thinking of the future of planetarium technology, using current limitations to invent solutions. One problem with our current system is that light projection depends on a screen, and screens reflect light. In order to represent a universe that is all around us, we need to project onto a curved screen, but since it is curved, some light will be reflected back onto the screen itself. Most digital projectors generate light even in areas that represent the blackness of space. To compensate for that extra light, our projection screen is painted a medium grey with 50% or less reflectivity. Nevertheless, the screen will bounce back scattered light. As a result, we can never simulate the true velvet blackness of space that astronauts report seeing from their ideal vantage point.

One recent solution was offered in 2019 by Evans and Sutherland, an American company that created Digistar, one of the first digital planetariums. Their engineers have used the latest LED technology to create the first digital dome. They have eliminated the need for lenses that can get dirty and out of focus. Indeed, they have eliminated the need for a separate projector altogether. The dome itself is the source of the light!

It is an exciting universe we live in, and one never knows what the future will bring. When this period of social distancing is over, we will be right here to entertain you and guide your journey through this wonderful universe.


Planetariums Have Come a Long Way

After Walther Bauerfeld’s invention of the projection planetarium, people could see and learn about the universe day or night, regardless of the weather. The first planetarium theater was a hit. Planetariums sprung up around the world to feed the public’s thirst for knowledge of the new discoveries being announced almost daily from ever larger telescopes that were also being built. Most of these new telescopes were in the United States, including one designed by an American named Armand Spitz. Soon more companies started to design and produce planetarium projectors. You can read more about planetarium design here.

Memphis’s first planetarium projector was a Spitz A-1 projector installed in 1954 at the museum. It provided a place for science interpretation combined with the hallowed tradition of storytelling. Armed with a pointer, a planetarium lecturer directed attention across light years of time and space, inspiring ideas worthy of an infinite universe.

The newest planetarium in Memphis is the AutoZone Dome at the Sharpe Planetarium, located in the Pink Palace Museum. The projector is digital and uses a 3D database to provide the ability to simulate space travel. Planetarium shows include prerecorded programs about some of the most intriguing topics in astronomy, often with a live, guided tour of the current night sky. Visitors can even be launched from the front lawn of the museum to look back at earth, and travel to other planets and beyond.


Technology and Observation of the Universe

From the time of the ancient Greek philosophers to the Middle Ages, human understanding of the universe changed very little. With better technology, including navigation tools and telescopes, came more precise observation.  Early scientists bravely questioned the status quo. Great ones like Copernicus and  Tycho Brahe started to pull back the veil protecting long-held beliefs, which sparked the Renaissance. Ruling authorities saw this as a threat to their power and fought against change; however, reason ultimately won out, and the idea of crystalline spheres silently crashed to the ground, opening the universe to a new era of discovery.

All through this time of change, the sky never lost its power to compel humans to look up, not only for the sheer beauty of the sight but also for the mysteries yet to be discovered. From this desire grew the need for a better way to show and teach each new generation who wants to share in the wonders of the universe. Unfortunately, the sky is not always available to see, even at night. Today, the lights of cities obscure the view that inspired generations before. Simulating the night sky is not easy. The first attempts were hollow spheres with precision-drilled holes to let in light from outside, which could fit barely half a dozen people. Electric lights provided a better solution. Walther Bauersfeld, a German engineer from Zeiss, acted on a suggestion from German astronomer Max Wolf and designed the world’s first projection planetarium. It opened in Jena, Germany, on July 18, 1926.

How the Sun, Moon and Stars Established a Year in Time

For early humans, the sky was full of mystery. The Sun, god-like in its power, ruled the day, providing light and warmth. Its power seemed to make the crops grow. The night, a time to gather close for safety, was ruled by the weaker light of the Moon.  Its enigmatic phases marked a regular period of time. Twelve “moonths” (months) conveniently marked the yearly cycle of the seasons. It was a useful way to prepare for the growing season on which lives depended. While the vast majority of stars moved in lockstep as if fixed in place on a slowly rotating crystal sphere, five lesser lights seemed free to move among them with a will of their own. These wandering stars, or “planetes” in Latin, called attention to themselves with their forward and backward motions at different speeds. They traced loops over time as they moved through twelve star patterns, which gave those constellations an implied heavenly significance. The Zodiac, as it came to be called, attracted a cadre of soothsayers who created rules to discern personality traits, predict future opportunities and perils, and divine the will of the gods. Naturally then, the planets were named for gods and given personality traits according to their motions and suggesting their intentions. Pairings of planets and the appearance of eclipses, comets, meteors, and aurora were open to interpretation concerning the lives of kings and commoners alike.

The Origin of Planetarium Theaters

We miss your presence in the AutoZone Dome at the Sharpe Planetarium, so this week planetarium manager Dave Maness will share the interesting story of the origin of planetarium theaters. Dave is one of the friendly voices you hear in the dark during planetarium shows at the museum, which usually include a story or two from those classic collections of dots we call the constellations.

It all began long before recorded history, after the taming of fire and the development of language. At the end of a busy day of hunting and gathering, and after consuming an evening meal roasted over an open fire, small groups of nomadic humans would likely lay back with full stomachs and relax under a starry sky. And what a sight it must have been! There were no city lights to compete with the twinkling starlight. Since the stars were nearly the same from night to night, the same stars greeted them each clear night like family. Soon they connected dots into shapes and then pictures, mostly animals at first and then people.

These ‘pictures’ were a revelation, as though a higher power set them there for a purpose, but why? With that question was born the art of storytelling. The sky became the picture book for those tales retold over millennia, and embellished along the way. Soon the sky was full of gods, royalty, animals, monsters, damsels in distress, the heroes who saved the day, and the villains who got their just punishments.


A banjuke, also known as a banjolele, is a four-stringed musical instrument with a small banjo-type body and a fretted ukulele neck. This banjuke was made by the J.R. Stewart Company in Chicago in the 1920s and belonged to Memphis blues player “Little Laura” Dukes.

Dukes was born Laura Ella Smith in North Memphis in 1907. Her father was a drummer in W. C. Handy's band. He would often bring her to the theaters and taverns where the band performed. Laura began her career as a singer and dancer. At 4’7” tall, she was often billed as "Little Laura" or "Little Bit." After initially learning guitar, she later took up the banjo, ukulele and mandolin.

Mineral Spheres

As a young man, Ward Hutchins attended the Colorado School of Mines. Though he worked as a pipe fitter, he loved to travel to hills and caverns collecting rocks. 

In the 1950s, Hutchins, also a champion bowler, started repairing and custom-fitting bowling balls as a sideline. In time, he lost interest in bowling, but he retained his love for spheres.  Combining two of his passions – mineralogy and bowling – he began crafting the rocks and minerals he loved to collect into these gleaming perfect spheres.

First, he cut the rock or mineral into a cube with a diamond saw. Then he ground the cube into a sphere and polished it to a high gloss. A wide selection of Hutchins’ work is on display in the Rocks & Minerals Gallery at the Pink Palace Museum.

Wood Hat

The Pink Palace Museum has an extensive clothing collection, including hats. One of our most unusual hats belonged to Mary Guidi, a successful Memphis lawyer who practiced in the city for 42 years. During her career, she won a 1949 Supreme Court-mandated retrial that was ordered on the grounds that the initial trial judge “had an aversion and prejudice to women lawyers.” She also won a case before the Tennessee Supreme Court in 1955 to require more specific language in police warrants.

Guidi worked in the Falls Building downtown. One day she overheard colleague Luther Hammons say that he could make anything out of wood, so she challenged him to make her a hat. According to Memphis Press-Scimitar newspaper columnist Eldon Roark, Hammons replied, “I’m not so sure I can make good, but I’ll guarantee you this: I’ll make something that will look more like a hat than the things you’ve been wearing.” Roark ran a picture of Guidi wearing this burled walnut hat in a 1940 column.

Roman Coins

Currently on display in the Cossitt Gallery in the Pink Palace Mansion, this Roman coin collection was donated by Louis Phillip Wulff in 1931.

In 79 AD, Mount Vesuvius erupted for two days, shrouding the Roman city of Pompeii in ash and lava, killing around 2,000 people. However, because of the amount of ash, many aspects of daily life in Pompeii were well preserved. Through this preservation, archaeologists have determined that Pompeii was a strong, monetary-based society.  Thousands of coins like the one seen here have been uncovered at the site.

Another coin is a silver denarius from Rome. Emperor Hadrian ruled Rome from 117-138 AD, and went on to be known as one of the Five Good Emperors. During his rule, he built villas, bath houses and buildings. He reconstructed the Pantheon and Trajan’s Forum. He also erected Hadrian’s Wall in Britain to delineate the northern border of the Roman Empire and display Rome’s power. Parts of this wall still stand today.

The bronze coin depicts Emperor Claudius II (Gothicus). Emperor Claudius II (213-270 AD) ruled the Roman Empire from 268-270 AD, before dying of the plague. His reign began the era of the Illyrian Emperors (268-285 AD). These emperors were known for their military strength, and Claudius II was no exception. He got his nickname “Gothicus” by defeating the Goths in the 268 AD Battle of Naissus, driving the Goths from the Balkan Peninsula.

Photo: Memphis Pink Palace Museum Collection


It seems appropriate that a MEMPHIS museum should have mummies in its collection, right? Especially since Memphis, Tennessee, is named after Memphis, Egypt.

Animals were extremely important to ancient Egyptians, both as gods and pets. When someone of importance died, often their pets or animals with symbolic meaning were buried to accompany them into the afterlife. These animal mummies were often put in wooden cases, jars, or wrapped directly with the mummified human. Before being mummified, this crocodile was dipped in bitumen, a natural semi-solid form of petroleum that encases the body and preserves it.  

Hawks had great importance in Egyptian culture. Horus, the god of the sky and divine protector of kings, is depicted having the body of a man and the head of a hawk. Horus was worshipped throughout Egypt and has particularly strong ties to Edfu, the site of the ancient city Mese. This mummified hawk was found in Edfu inside the Temple of Horus, which was erected in 237 BC.  

A donor gave these two mummies to the museum in 1968, and they are on display in the Cossitt Gallery in the Pink Palace Mansion.

Photo: Memphis Pink Palace Museum Collection

Yellow Fever

COVID-19 isn’t the first time a virus has struck Memphis hard. Three times in the 1870s, Memphis was ravaged by yellow fever. The disease is characterized by jaundiced skin, fever, hemorrhaging, black vomit, and in some cases, mental decline.

The worst outbreak occurred in 1878. This epidemic began in Memphis in mid-August 1878 when ships evaded quarantine measures in fever-stricken New Orleans and landed sick passengers and sailors at the Memphis harbor. The yellow fever virus passed from human to human through Aedes aegypti mosquitoes. They thrived in Memphis, where sanitation measures were lax and  standing water where the females could lay their eggs was abundant.

The city Board of Heath made an official announcement of the epidemic on August 13,1878. Within days over 25,000 people left Memphis. These people were refused entry into several other cities once the national media ran stories about the epidemic. The people who stayed behind during the “fever season” were given limited aid from assorted groups. The sisters of St. Mary’s Cathedral went to peoples’ homes to offer help, and the Howard Association provided supplies, aid, and professional services. The first African American doctor to practice medicine in the city, Dr. R.H. Tate from Cincinnati, came to assist the Howard Association’s mission, but he died after only three weeks in Memphis. Since the cause of the virus was not known at the time, there was little the helpers could do to prevent the spread of the disease.

Unlike Memphians of the past, we know what spreads COVID-19--person-to-person contact and transmission of respiratory droplets--so remember to wash your hands and follow the CDC guidelines

Photo: Yellow fever hospital tent engraving published in on the cover of Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper on September 21, 1878; Memphis and Shelby County Room, Memphis Public Library & Information Center

Memphis Red Sox

In 1921, Memphis had two main Negro baseball clubs, the Memphis Union Giants and the A. P. Martin's Barber Boys Baseball Club. The teams combined in 1922 to become the Memphis Red Sox. Dr. J.B. Martin and Dr. B.B. Martin, members of one of Memphis’s most prominent African American families, bought the team in 1929 and established Martin Park. In 1937, the Red Sox became a charter member of the Negro American League. They were one of the few teams in the league to have their own ball park. The Negro League gave the black community a source of pride in a time of segregation and inequality. This glove belonged to infielder Marlin “Pee Wee” Carter. Carter was one of the stars of the team in the 1930s, and played in the 1942 East-West All-Star Game. He served in the Coast Guard from 1943 to 1945. Although Cater returned to play until 1951 and the Red Sox continued to flourish into the early 1950s, the Negro Leagues declined after Jackie Robinson integrated major league baseball in 1947.

Photo: Memphis Pink Palace Museum Collection, 1979.020.0002

International Day of Remembrance of Slavery Victims

On today’s United Nation International Day of Remembrance of Slavery Victims and the Transatlantic Slave Trade, we recognize slavery's legacy of racism. Most of the first Africans in Memphis were enslaved to white settlers. Slaves were merchandise in Memphis, bought and sold as labor to support the city’s cotton trade. By the mid-19th century, Memphis was the South’s largest inland slave market. Slave dealers such as Nathan Bedford Forrest made fortunes by purchasing and selling black men, women and children. By 1860, slaves accounted for 17% of Memphis’ population. In addition to brutal fieldwork, some slaves were artisans, cooks and domestic workers. Despite slavery’s abolition in 1865, inequalities persist in our social, economic and legal systems.   

Large numbers of black migrants arrived in Memphis during the Civil War and Reconstruction (1865-1877). Reconstruction brought positive change for the black community. However, Jim Crow laws mandating segregation across the South replaced the reforms of Reconstruction. This period was marked by lynchings and other violence that forced many to flee north. Throughout 1950s and 1960s, black Memphians and their supporters increasingly challenged Jim Crow laws, including the famous “I AM A MAN” march that was followed by the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. Today, black Memphians, including recent African immigrants, make up approximately 65% of the population. 

Photo: This fist charm was found at the Hilderbrand House, a small plantation near today’s Memphis International Airport. It was manufactured as part of a hook and eye closure. Many archaeologists believed enslaved peoples adopted these objects as charms or as secret symbols of resistance. 

W.C. Handy and Danny Thomas

W.C. Handy is one of the most recognizable names in Memphis music. Handy was born in 1873 in Florence, Alabama, to formerly enslaved parents. He was a literate man who wrote down the songs of black workers, which formed the basis of the blues. Handy moved to Memphis in 1903 and kept an office on Beale Street. In 1909, E.H. Crump hired Handy to play music as part of his mayoral campaign. He wrote “Boss Crump,” later renamed “Memphis Blues,” which became the campaign’s theme song. Handy moved to New York City in 1917, the same year he published “Beale Street Blues,” and worked there until he died in March 1958 at age 84. 

In September 1958, Memphis hosted a “Blues of Glory” show at Crump Stadium to honor Handy and raise money for a memorial statue to be placed in Handy Park on Beale Street. One of the night’s special performers was gospel singer Mahalia Jackson.  Mrs. W.C. Handy presented her husband’s trumpet to Mayor Edmund Orgill who accepted on behalf of the city and had the trumpet placed in the Memphis Museum (now the Pink Palace Museum). Before the trumpet was retired, Luther Steinberg of the show’s orchestra played “Memphis Blues” one last time on the instrument. 

 In March 1955, entertainer Danny Thomas put on a show at Crump Stadium to raise money for the hospital he wanted to create, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. He wrote and performed a song titled “Bring Back Our Beale Street Blues,” to protest the city changing Beale Street to Beale Avenue to conform to a city plan making all east/west thoroughfares avenues. After Thomas performed the song, Mayor Frank Tobey changed the name back  to Beale Street. In October 1960, Thomas came to Memphis to lay the cornerstone for St. Jude.  Thomas visited Handy Park and was invited to play a few notes on Handy’s trumpet, which was on loan from the museum for the occasion.  Newspaperman Clark Porteous noted, “He’s not so good on the trumpet, yet…it was the sentiment that counted.” 

Photo: Memphis Pink Palace Museum Collection, 1979.039.0001 

Carolina Parakeet

In January of 1827, British writer Mrs. Francis Trollope landed in Memphis on her way to Neshoba, a utopian community east of Memphis. Later Mrs. Trollope wrote about Memphis in her book, Domestic Manners of the Americans. Here are some excerpts from her experience in our city. “The remainder of the day passed pleasantly enough in rambling round the little town, which is situated at the most beautiful point of the Mississippi; the river is here so wide as to give it the appearance of a noble lake.....The town stretches in a rambling irregular manner along the cliff, from the Wolf River, one of the innumerable tributaries to the Mississippi, to about a mile below it.  Half a mile more of the cliff beyond the town is cleared of trees, and produces good pasture for horses, cows, and pigs;  At either end of this space the forest again rears its dark wall, and seems to say to man, "so far shalt thou come, and no farther!"...... Behind this long street the town straggles back into the forest, and the rude path that leads to the more distant log dwellings becomes wilder at every step......The great height of the trees, the quantity of pendant vine branches that hang amongst them and the variety of gay plumaged birds, particularly the small green parrot, made us feel we were in a new world.....” The “small green parrot” was the Carolina Parakeet (Conuropsis carolinensis), which became extinct by 1904. You can find this specimen in the Cossitt Gallery in the museum. You can read more about the decline of Carolina parakeets on the Smithsonian Magazine’s website.

Photo: Memphis Pink Palace Museum Collection, 1931.002.0116

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