Location & Hours



Curator's Choice

Baltimore Oriole

Baltimore orioles (Icterus galbula) are medium-sized songbirds that are part of the blackbird family (Icteridae). Naturalist Mark Catesby first described these birds in 1731, naming them after Lord Baltimore, the colonial proprietor of Maryland who had a family coat-of-arms that was orange and black. Baltimore orioles eat insects, fruit, and nectar, often foraging in treetops for food. They can be seen migrating through Tennessee from late April through early September. If you want to attract them to your Mid-South yard, try supplying a bird feeder stocked with fruit or nectar. You can also cut oranges in half and hang them from trees.

Nanuq (Dr. Misner and the Polar Bear)

One of the most iconic artifacts in the collection of the Museum of Science and History is a taxidermied polar bear donated by Dr. Howard Misner in 1975.  Listen to our most recent Tributaries podcast to hear the back story.

Bud Boogie Beach

Bud Boogie Beach was a small water park located on Mud Island in Memphis, Tennessee. The island has a 2000-foot-long flowing scale model of the lower Mississippi River, ending in the Gulf of Mexico. The model was not designed for swimming.  Turning it into a “beach” was the idea of Sidney Shlenker, infamous businessman and promoter. The city gave Shlenker control of Mud Island and the development of the Pyramid in the late 1980s. His original idea for the opening of the “beach” was to acquire dump trucks full of sand from Destin, Florida, and have a parade with camels from the city border to Mud Island. Like most of Schlenker’s plans, this never happened. Bud Boogie Beach was one of the few ideas Shlenker put into place before being removed from the project. The beach opened in 1989, seasonally from Memorial Day through Labor Day.  Sponsored by Budweiser, it included a sand beach, paddle boats, concession stands, a New Orleans-style restaurant and several games, including water basketball and water volleyball. It permanently closed in 1997.

Image credit: Memphis Pink Palace Museum Collection, 2019.019.0002

Virgo Erigone

Many constellations in the night sky have several myths associated with them, and constellations that are near each other are often related to one another in these stories. The constellations Virgo, Boötes, and Canis Minor have one story in common that reveals their possible origins. Icarius of Athens was a grape farmer and winemaker who learned his trade from Dionysus, the Greek god of wine. One day, Icarius made wine so strong that those who drank it appeared poisoned. The intoxicated shepherds killed Icarius, thinking he had poisoned them. Maera, Icarius’ dog, brought Icarius’ daughter Erigone to her father’s body. In grief, both she and the dog died. Dionysus decided to honor all three of them by placing them in the night sky. Icarius became the constellation Boötes, Erigone became Virgo, and Maera became Canis Minor.

Image courtesy of Stellarium

Pearl - June Birthstone

Pearl, June’s birthstone, is unique among the traditional birthstones for being of biological rather than geological origin. Pearls are made when mollusks secrete a fluid, called nacre, to coat irritants that have made their way into their shells. The irritant in question is usually a parasite, but humans also manufacture pearls by purposefully inserting irritants into the shells of farmed mollusks. The nacre deposited around the irritant to form a pearl is chemically identical the minerals aragonite and calcite, but it is not technically considered a mineral because minerals are strictly defined as being inorganic in origin. The nacre, also known as mother-of-pearl, builds up in concentric layers over many years to form a pearl. Unlike other gemstones, a pearl does not require polishing or faceting to enjoy.

Shopping Carts

In the first Piggly Wiggly grocery stores, shoppers had to rent a handheld shopping basket to hold their groceries as they walked through the aisles. Clarence Saunders, the store’s founder, quickly changed to allowing shoppers to borrow a basket for free, but they were still limited by the amount of things they could fit into their basket. Sylvan Goldman of the Humpty Dumpty grocery stores in Oklahoma City noticed that customers would only fill their handheld baskets halfway because they were difficult to carry. He invented the first shopping cart in 1937 by putting two baskets on a folding frame with wheels, which made it easier for shoppers to transport more groceries to the cashier. By 1940, shopping carts were commonplace in supermarkets across the country, including Piggly Wiggly stores.

Memphis Minnie McCoy

Legendary blues musician Memphis Minnie McCoy was born on June 3, 1897, in Algiers, Louisiana. Lizzie Douglas, her given name, showed great talent on the guitar and banjo as a child. She ran away to Memphis at age 13, where, as Lizzie “Kid” Douglas, she played in clubs and on the street. She developed her own “Memphis Style,” combining Louisiana country rhythms with the Memphis Blues. A Columbia Records talent scout ‘discovered’ Minnie playing in a Beale Street barber shop. Her debut record, cut in 1929, made her a star. She had three husbands, each one an accomplished blues guitarist. Her flamboyant, pioneering style influenced the next generation of blues greats. She was one of the first to play the blues on an electric guitar and was praised by fellow musicians who said “she played like a man.” Minnie died in Memphis in 1973, and the Blue’s Foundation inducted her into their Hall of Fame in 1980.

Constellation Bootes

The constellation Boötes, also called the Herdsman, is part of multiple Greek myths. In one story, Boötes is Philomenus, a son of Demeter who was a plowman and drove the oxen in the constellation Ursa Major, which Greeks saw as a cart with oxen before seeing it as a bear. Another myth about Boötes is that it is a memorial for the person who invented the plow, which revolutionized agriculture. In another story, Boötes is Icarius, a grape farmer who was killed by shepherds when he made wine that was so strong it appeared poisoned. However, the most common story involves the nymph Callisto and her son Arcas. While some versions of the myth say that Callisto and Arcas were turned into the constellations Ursa Major and Ursa Minor, others say that Arcas was turned into the constellation Boötes. In this form, the constellation Boötes is often shown holding the hunting dogs from the constellation Canes Venatici and chasing the bears Ursa Major and Ursa Minor. The brightest star in the constellation, and the fourth brightest in the night sky, is named Arcturus. Whichever myth you associate with Boötes, it is easy to find because of Arcturus’ brightness. Follow the curve of the Big Dipper’s handle as it arcs towards Arcturus to located Boötes.

Image courtesy of Stellarium


The Mississippi Embayment was the inland sea that extended up to the present-day Coon Creek in West Tennessee during the late Cretaceous Period, which ended about 66 million years ago. The landscape near the shore was alive with sub-tropical vegetation and dinosaurs. Although dinosaurs were abundant 71 million years ago, only the remains of only one kind of dinosaur – hadrosaurs – have been identified from our region. This hadrosaur skull is on display in the geology gallery of the Museum.

Hadrosaurs (Hadrosauridae) are commonly known as duck-billed dinosaurs for their flattened, duck-like snouts. These plant-eating dinosaurs lived in herds and grazed on low-growing vegetation. They walked on two legs as juveniles, switching to four legs as they matured into adults weighing several tons.

Like modern herd animals such as wildebeests, the hadrosaurs had many predators. Where there were hadrosaurs, there were carnivores that preyed on them, like the tyrannosaurs and raptors. Although their remains have not yet been found, they were certainly living in our area 70 million years ago.

Einstein Eclipse

May 29th, 2021, is the 102nd anniversary of the solar eclipse experiment that launched Albert Einstein to scientific stardom. In 1915, Einstein’s four papers on his theory of general relativity were considered unconventional compared to Isaac Newton’s accepted theories on classical mechanics. Many academics were skeptical of his new ideas. Einstein believed that space and time are not independent of each other, contrary to the classical notion that time is uniform throughout and also separate from space. One idea in his theory is the “fabric” of spacetime, commonly illustrated as a sheet of spandex fabric that can be warped by mass. Gravity is the curvature of spacetime, a manifestation through the warping. It was already accepted that the gravity of a star could deflect a photon (light particle), but Einstein hypothesized that it occurred on a larger scale. There was nothing large enough on Earth to prove his theory, so he, like many before him, looked to the skies.

During a total solar eclipse, the Moon covers the disk of the Sun from Earth, making the Earth almost as dark as night during the brief period of totality. By comparing the locations of background stars’ light during the eclipse to their normal locations in the sky, one could prove the warping of spacetime, due to the gravity of the Sun. After clouds thwarted experimental attempts during the solar eclipse the previous year, the successful experiment occurred on May 29, 1919. Two expeditions set out, one to Sobral, Brazil, and the other to Principe, Africa.  Their objective was to measure gravitational deflection of the starlight that passed near the Sun. Once it was confirmed that their calculations matched Einstein’s predicted deflection value, the results quickly made news, and today, Einstein is a household name synonymous with genius.

Image courtesy of  NASA/Gopalswamy

Carnivora Building

The Memphis Zoo officially began in 1906 when the Memphis Park Commission allocated $1,200 to the effort. Colonel Robert Galloway, who was the main lobbyist for the zoo, continued to use his personal funds to care for the abandoned exotic animals that had joined the Southern black bear Natch in Overton Park. He promised the Park Commission that he would generate funds from citizens to create a building for the animals and provide money to purchase new animals. Accordingly, he helped organize the Memphis Zoo Association to raise funds. The Carnivora Building was constructed in 1909 to house nine big cats. Over the years, many visitors were dismayed to see the big cats kept in indoor cages. Eventually, there was a wishing well inside the building where visitors could throw coins to help “Free the Big Cats,” which eventually netted an estimated $75,000 that became seed money for a 1988 feasibility study on zoo improvements. In 1993, the zoo opened Cat Country, a 3-acre open air exhibit, and Firecracker became the first Memphis Zoo lion to live with grass beneath its paws. The old Carnivora Building transformed into the Cat House Café, the Zoo’s main restaurant.

Constellation Crater

Many constellations in the sky are related to the constellations around them, such as the constellation Crater. Crater is the Latin word for the Greek word “krater,” which described a type of cup that was used to water down wine. In Greek mythology, a crow was sent with a krater to fetch water for the god Apollo to water down his wine, but it stopped 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 the snake 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 respectively. He placed Hydra 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

Brain Coral

It’s easy to see how the brain coral, diploria labyrinthiformis, got its name. It has an amazing resemblance to a human brain, with deep grooves that mimic the brain’s folds. Despite its appearance, most of this coral is not living tissue. Only the outer millimeters are tissue while the rest is the calcium carbonate skeleton. Every year, brain coral only grow a few millimeters, but in time can grow up to six feet in diameter. Some coral are many hundreds of years old. Brain coral live in clear, shallow water and have symbiotic algae living in their cells. This provides the coral with energy made through photosynthesis. They also eat small zooplankton, which helps give both the algae and coral energy. Even though pollution, coral bleaching, and disease are common, scientists believe brain coral are a species of least concern because they are so common. You can see this specimen in the Cossitt Gallery in the Pink Palace mansion.

Holiday Inn Sign

In 1951, Memphis businessman Kemmons Wilson took a vacation that changed how Americans hit the road. On a trip to Washington, D.C., the Wilson family found overpriced, unattractive, and cramped roadside lodgings that offered few amenities and charged extra for each child. Wilson decided to create a motel where kids could stay for free that had a phone in every room, air-conditioning, a swimming pool, and a restaurant on site. 

One year later, the first Holiday Inn opened on August 1, 1952, on Summer Avenue in Memphis. The motel lobby was a bright mixture of hunter green walls, red furniture, and chartreuse curtains. The one story buildings were arranged around a pool, rooms cost $6 a night, and kids did indeed stay for free. Wilson needed an eye-catching way to bring motorists to his motel so he spoke with Harold Balton of Balton Sign Company. Balton had his in-house artists Gene Barber and Roland Alexander design the original Holiday Inn “Great Sign.” The first sign cost $13,000, and it was Wilson’s only real advertising for his first location. The 50’ tall green and yellow sign featured a yellow arrow with orange bulbs to draw drivers to the hotel office. The marquee had interchangeable letters so the manager could welcome individuals and groups to the hotel. In 1982, the Great Sign was replaced with a smaller, plain green sign. Company executives felt that the original sign was an icon of the 1950s that no longer suited their needs. Kemmons Wilson, who retired from the company in 1979, called the decision “a hell of a mistake.” He has an engraving of his Great Sign on his tombstone.

Painted Bunting

Male painted buntings (Passerina ciris) are unmistakable, with a bright blue head, green back, and red belly. Females and juveniles are a bright yellow-green with yellow eye-rings. A group of painted buntings is known as a “mural” or “palette” of buntings. These birds have two distinct ranges. The larger of these is in the southwestern United States, down through Texas and into Mexico. The smaller range is along the Atlantic coast of the United States into the Caribbean. They prefer to nest in densely wooded areas, among shrubs and thickets. They eat seeds for most of the year, but eat insects during mating season.  

In 1841, John James Audubon wrote that trappers caught thousands of these beautiful birds every spring. Shipped from New Orleans to Europe, they fetched a high price when sold as cage birds. They are still illegally trapped and sold in Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean, and Florida. The past few decades have seen a significant decline in their population due to habitat loss, the illegal pet trade, and parasitism from brown-headed cowbirds, which lay eggs in their nests. They are also threatened by climate change, and their conservation status is near-threatened. You can see this specimen in the Cossitt Gallery in the Pink Palace Mansion.

Memphis Mad Dogs

The Memphis Mad Dogs was an expansion team of the Canadian Football League that only survived for the 1995 season. FedEx CEO Fred Smith owned the team, which proudly wore the team colors “Mad Dogs Green,” burgundy, and yellow. In 1993, Memphians had tried to bring an expansion NFL team to the city, but lost to Charlotte and Jacksonville. For many, the CFL Mad Dogs felt like a consolation prize. The team’s biggest star was Joe Horn, a community college player who became a 1,000 yard receiver for the Mad Dogs, attracting attention from NFL scouts. The Kansas City Chiefs drafted Horn in 1996, and he went on to a 12-season NFL career, ultimately appearing in four Pro Bowls.

While the Mad Dogs did draw some crowds to the Liberty Bowl in 1995 during summer games, the CFL was unable to compete with the American college football season. The Mad Dogs folded ten months after it began, with a 9-9 record. The other American expansion teams quickly followed, leading the CFL to end its expansion experiment.

Phoebe Omlie

Phoebe Fairgrave Omlie was born on November 21, 1902. She fell in love with flying and, by 1920, was touring the country with the Phoebe Fairgrave Flying Circus. She parachuted, danced on the wings, and hung by her teeth from planes. She also set the record for a woman’s parachute jump at 15,200 feet.

Phoebe married her pilot, Vernon Omlie, in 1921. A year later, the Omlies literally landed in Memphis. She became Memphis’ own Amelia Earhart. She won flying competitions, became the first woman to cross the Rocky Mountains in a light aircraft, and even campaigned for Franklin Delano Roosevelt by air in 1932.

During the Second World War, Phoebe helped establish 66 flying schools, including one in Tuskegee, Alabama that trained black pilots for combat in World War II. The Omlies were instrumental in getting the Memphis Airport built. In 1982, the control tower was named in their honor.

Circumpolar Constellations

Some details from legends are based on an actual phenomenon. According to one legend, the bears in constellations Ursa Major and Ursa Minor were thrown into the sky and forced to circle the pole, unable to reach water (the horizon). Ursa Major and Ursa Minor can be found in the northern part of the sky all year, which makes them circumpolar constellations, which means they never fully set for a portion of the Earth. These constellations are located near celestial poles, so they remain visible in the night sky as the Earth goes through its seasons. However, this doesn’t mean that some stars in these constellations don’t “move” or even fall to the horizon during the year. For example, the Big Dipper found in Ursa Major lays flat on the northern horizon during the fall, but it stands on its handle during the winter. Circumpolar constellations observers in one hemisphere won’t be visible at all in the other hemisphere. Major circumpolar constellations for the Northern Hemisphere are Ursa Major (the Great Bear), Ursa Minor,(the Little Bear), Cassiopeia (the Queen), Cepheus (the King), and Draco (the Dragon). For us in Tennessee, we can see Camelopardalis (the Giraffe) and Lynx (the Cat) throughout the year. Other northern observers can consider Auriga (the Charioteer) and Perseus (the Hero) as circumpolar. For sky watchers in the Southern Hemisphere, Crux (the Southern Cross), Carina (the Keel), and Centaurus (the Centaur) are circumpolar. These constellations are not familiar to many Mid-Southerners because they are never visible in our skies.

Image courtesy of Stellarium

Big Leaf Magnolia

The big leaf magnolia (Magnolia macrophylla) is a deciduous magnolia native to the southeastern United States. This tree lives up to its name and boasts the largest simple leaf (up to 30 inches long) and largest single flower (up to a foot in diameter) of any native plant in North America. The flowers bloom in May and are white with small purple spots at the base. Once the flowers begin to open, they release a sweet fragrance that attracts beetles. The beetles in turn pollinate the tree. 

Magnolia trees are an ancient species, with fossil records dating back 100 million years. These primitive trees evolved before well-known pollinators like bees and butterflies. Beetles existed millions of years ago and are attracted to magnolias’ large fragrant flowers, which have an abundance of pollen.  

A big leaf magnolia can be seen just below the observation deck of the visitor center at Lichterman Nature Center.

Mid-South Allegory

Three of the largest objects in the Memphis Museum of Science & History (MoSH) collection are Burton Callicott’s Hernando De Soto murals in the mansion lobby. He painted these murals in 1934 as a New Deal funded Public Works of Art Project. In 1936, he competed for one other Works Progress Administration mural, this one for the federal courthouse in Vicksburg, Mississippi. In his submission titled Mid-South Allegory, Callicott shows his views on social values and racial equality. The middle black figure picks the cotton that the central white figure processes into cottonseed oil. The two men in the upper portion are both engaged in bringing the crop to market. Artist Ray Kass argues in Burton Callicott: A Retrospective that the painting gives equal emphasis to the contributions of black and white Southerners in the development of the region’s main crop. Additionally, the symbolic figures at the bottom of the painting represent the martyrs of the historic South, a rebel soldier and a slave.

The selection committee rejected the painting and instead choose one titled Vicksburg—Its Character and Industries by Henriette Amiard Oberteuffer. Since Vicksburg, Mississippi, was a bastion of Jim Crow segregation, Callicott’s social commentary was likely too extreme for the selection committee. He was, however, chosen to install Oberteuffer’s mural.

Baird and Allison Callicott donated the painting to the Pink Palace in 2004. You can view it on the mansion lobby mezzanine.

Court Square

In the late 1800s, city planners introduced a variety of exotic species into Court Square to beautify the park. To hear about the monkeys, peacocks, and other non-native species that tried to survive in their new home and to learn about invasive species that we see in our landscape today, listen to the newest episode of Tributaries, the museum’s podcast.

Lena Warner

Lena Angevine Warner is rightfully known as Tennessee’s pioneer nurse. Lena Angevine, born in Grenada, Mississippi, in 1869, was the only member of her immediate family to survive the yellow fever epidemics of 1877 and 1878. Raised by her grandmother, Lena attended St. Mary's Episcopal School in Memphis, and, in 1887, became the first student accepted at the Memphis Training School for Nurses. She studied further in Chicago, was briefly married to E. C. Warner, and, in 1898, became the first superintendent of nurses at the new City of Memphis Hospital. During the Spanish American War, Warner volunteered for service, survived cholera, and became the chief nurse in Cuba during the campaign. She later returned to Cuba as part of Dr. Walter Reed’s team, which successfully discovered that the Aedes egypti mosquito was the carrier of yellow fever.

Returning to Memphis after the war, she organized the West Tennessee Graduate Nurses’ Association. She was the first chairman of the State Board of Examiners for Nurses and Tennessee’s first licensed nurse. Her RN license number was 000001. In 1916, Warner moved to Knoxville to work for the University of Tennessee. Her activities were related to prevention and public health. She retired in 1946 at age 79, died two years later and is buried in Elmwood Cemetery. You can learn more about the history of nursing in Memphis in the Saddlebags to Science exhibit in the museum’s cultural history gallery.

Ursa Major & Slavery

Did you know that the Big Dipper and the Little Dipper, despite being some of the most well-known patterns of stars in the night sky, are not recognized as constellations? Instead, they are asterisms, well-recognized patterns of stars that are either part of a larger, recognized constellation or a small group of stars not big enough to be considered a constellation. The importance of the Big Dipper and the Little Dipper in directing stargazers to the North Star, however, is important in understanding the experience of enslaved peoples in United States. Enslaved peoples who were trying to escape to freedom in the North could not rely on written directions because the vast majority of enslaved people were never taught to read and write. They also couldn’t rely on compasses or maps.

Instead, runaways came to rely on recognizing the Big Dipper, also known to enslaved peoples as the Drinking Gourd, which is a dipping ladle to drink water. If you follow the gourd’s outline, you can extend a straight line to the outermost star of the Little Dipper, which is the North Star. Recognizing the Drinking Gourd and following the North Star was often the only way an escaped enslaved person had to guide themselves on their journey north to freedom. Many narratives and songs referenced following the Drinking Gourd to freedom, which were also used to teach other enslaved people how to find the North Star. The popular African American folksong, Follow the Drinking Gourd, was composed decades after the Civil War and tells the story of following the Drinking Gourd to freedom.

Church's Park

A soda fountain waiter at Church’s Park at Auditorium wore this medallion with a fastening pin soldered to the back. At the end of the 19th century, there were still no city parks in Memphis for the Black community. So in 1899, Robert R. Church, Sr. purchased six acres on Beale Street and spent $50,000 developing Church’s Park and Auditorium. The site became the cultural center for the Black community. Peacocks strutted around the beautifully landscaped park with its fully equipped playground. On summer evenings, musicians performed concerts on the elaborate band stand.

The 2000-seat auditorium hosted performances by the great black entertainers of the day, the annual convocation of The Church of God in Christ, the Mason’s Carnival, theatrical performances, commencements and receptions. In 1902, President Theodore Roosevelt spoke to nearly 10,000 people at Church’s Park ,and Booker T. Washington was honored at an elegant breakfast banquet in 1909. Admission was charged for public events, but there were always times when admission was free.

Robert Church Jr. held the first meetings of the Lincoln Republican League and the Memphis Branch of the NAACP at the Auditorium. Church’s Auditorium was demolished after WWII, but the park was restored as a memorial to its founder in 1987.


Spiderworts (Tradescantia) are a genus of 65 herbaceous perennials. Virginia spiderwort (Tradescantia virginiana) is a native species that will flower in both the sun and the shade. It is widespread in the eastern and central United States, found in environments ranging from moist prairies to woodlands and stream banks to roadsides. Each three-petaled flower lasts for one day. Flowers bloom in succession, and new ones open daily from terminal clusters, or umbels, that contain numerous buds. The plants have arching leaves and can grow up to three feet tall. The foliage often dies in the summer, but it can return and rebloom in late summer or fall. It is a vigorous grower, spreading through underground stems, or stolons, to form large colonies. You can find spiderwort growing in the Backyard Wildlife Center meadow at Lichterman Nature Center.

Mary Magevney - Sister Mary Agnes

Mary Magevney was born on February 14, 1841, the eldest daughter of Eugene and Mary Smyth Magevney. She was baptized in the front parlor of the Magevney House, which was the first Catholic baptism in Memphis. She and her younger sister Kate were among the first students at St. Agnes Academy. Between the ages of 14 and 18, Magevney went to Sommerset, Ohio, to attend the Sacred Heart Academy of St. Mary’s. She entered the convent on June 6, 1863. She took her vows as a novice on August 15, 1863, and received the religious habit and the name Mary Agnes. Sister Mary Agnes made her vows as a Dominican sister in 1864. She eventually moved to Galveston, Texas, where she established the Sacred Heart Academy and become the convent and school’s first Mother Superior. In 1887, she established the first Catholic school for African American students in Texas. Sister Mary Agnes passed away at the age of 50 on March 4, 1891, from stomach cancer. She is buried in Houston, Texas, but is honored and memorialized on the Magevney monument at Calvary Cemetery in Memphis.


Emerald, May’s birthstone, is the green variety of the mineral beryl. Trace quantities of the elements chromium or vanadium are responsible for its color, which distinguish it from other less-valuable varieties of beryl such as aquamarine or morganite. Beryl contains the element beryllium, which is rarely found in large enough quantities in Earth’s crust to form the mineral. Even rarer still is the presence of both mineral-forming quantities of beryllium and the trace elements that give it its green hue in the same place. Emeralds are usually found in shale or limestone beds that have undergone contact metamorphism, a type of metamorphism in which an existing rock is altered by magma. The shale or limestone beds provide the chromium, or vanadium, and the magma provides the heat and beryllium necessary to make these rare crystals. Unlike most gemstones, emerald is not especially durable. In fact, fractures and inclusions are so common that they have basically no effect on their value and can even serve as a sign of their authenticity.


One of the most common, native trees found in the Mid-South and at Lichterman Nature Center is the Sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua). The deciduous leaves are star-shaped and have palmate venation, meaning the veins of the leaf resemble a human hand. The sweetgum is mainly found on alluvial soils, but it can invade hardwood stands and pine plantations due to its prolific seeding and profuse sprouting from stumps and lateral roots. Its bark sometimes seeps an aromatic, bitter gum that can be used to flavor tobacco. Its fruit is a light green, spiky, woody ball with many capsules. American sweetgum seeds are eaten by several species of birds and small mammals and deer. It is mostly found as an overstory (canopy) tree throughout the Southeastern United States. In autumn, the foliage turns yellow, crimson, purple, or maroon before falling off in the winter. In the winter, the sweetgum can be identified by its large terminal bud and by the many fruit heads, or “gumballs,” that fall.

The sweetgum is planted as a shade tree due to its early and rapid growth. Historically, the sweet gum tree was used in the production of soaps and various pharmaceuticals. Today, a chemical (shikimic acid) found in the infertile seeds of the sweet gum tree is one of the main ingredients found in Tamiflu, a popular influenza medication.

Memphis Massacre

In May 1866, a series of violent attacks against formerly enslaved peoples in Memphis shocked the nation. Four years earlier during the Civil War, the Union army took control of Memphis. Thousands of escaped, and later emancipated, enslaved people moved to the city from the surrounding farmlands. These migrants competed with the city’s lower-class, mostly Irish whites for jobs, which caused rising levels of hostility. The 3rd U.S. Colored Heavy Artillery Unit formed in June 1863 and recruited troops from the city’s black population. Stationed at Fort Pickering in South Memphis, the army discharged the regiment on April 30, 1866, one year after the end of the war. However, most of the former soldiers stayed in uniform and decided to remain in the fort until the army paid them.

Tensions between Memphis’ Irish police force and the black former soldiers came to a head on May 1, 1866, when a brief firefight broke out. As word of the clash spread, armed mobs of policemen and white citizens went to South Memphis. When the violence started, many black Memphians took shelter in Fort Pickering. Three days of rioting left 46 black individuals dead, 5 black women raped, 75 injured, 100 robbed, and 4 black churches and 12 black schools burned. The violence did not stop until General George Stoneman declared martial law on the afternoon of May 3.

News of the riot spread rapidly throughout the country as the events unfolded. While President Andrew Johnson declined to take executive action to obtain justice for the victims, Congress established a House committee to investigate. Republican congressional candidates in the 1866 elections used the riot to condemn Johnson’s Reconstruction policies and used their increased majority to pass Radical Reconstruction over the president’s veto. This act imposed temporary military rule on ten Southern states and established procedures for their readmission to the Union. These included writing new state constitutions, ratifying the Fourteenth Amendment making formerly enslaved people citizens, and giving black men the right to vote.

Happy May Day!

The roots of May Day stretch back to the ancient world, and the holiday spread throughout Europe by the Middle Ages. In the 1870s, American social reformers wanted to give workers, many of whom were immigrants, wholesome, “traditional” American pastimes. They deemed May Day celebrations a good solution. Schoolchildren around the country learned to dance around a maypole, tying ribbons as they went. This stereopticon card was produced in 1898. In Memphis, May Day was celebrated at a number of schools, and it remains an ongoing tradition at Hutchison.

Image credit: Memphis Pink Palace Museum Collection, 1987.031.0005

Lucie Campbell

Born in 1885, Lucie E. Campbell was an African American composer, singer, choral leader, educator, and civil rights advocate. She moved to Memphis with her mother and eight siblings when she was two years old. She began her musical training by eavesdropping on her older sister’s music lessons. In 1904, she recruited Beale Street musicians to form a Music Club, which grew into a choir with a thousand members that sang at the Baptist National Convention. The National Sunday School and Baptist Training Union Congress of the National Baptist Convention named her its music director in 1915.

Throughout her life, Campbell composed and published over 100 hymns including "The Lord is My Shepherd" and "He'll Understand and Say ‘Well Done.’"  While she was composing and performing her own music and encouraging other musicians, Campbell taught English and History at her alma mater, Booker T. Washington High School. She taught for forty-two years, held offices in local and national educational associations, and helped write national educational policy. She was an inaugural inductee to the Memphis Music Hall of Fame in 2012, and several of her hymns are still sung today.


Amber is fossilized tree resin, a plant product made by specialized cells when an injury occurs to certain plants. Resin is not water soluble and it hardens when exposed to air, essentially forming a bandage over the plant’s wound. It is also antiseptic and protects the plant from disease. Millions of years ago, when a resinous tree fell, resin-coated logs could be carried by water to coastal deltas where they were buried over time in sedimentary deposits. When these sediments were oxygen-free, liquids including oils, acids and alcohols in the resin evaporated out. The resin began to harden as the organic molecules linked to form polymers. Hardened resin that continued to polymerize and lose liquids eventually became amber, an inert solid. Amber can preserve plant matter, insects, fungi, and, rarely, vertebrates that originally got stuck in the resin. Amber has been found throughout the world, with most deposits dating to the Eocene.

Constellation Hydra

The constellation Hydra represents a water snake, and it is the largest modern-recognized constellation. It is named after the Greek monster Hydra, a water snake with the ability to grow back multiple heads if one was cut off. Slaying the Hydra was the 2nd of the Greek hero Heracles’ Twelve Labors. When Heracles cut off the Hydra’s first head, two heads grew in its place. As he tried to cut the heads off, more heads grew to replace those that were lost. Eventually, Heracles told his nephew Iolaus, who had accompanied him on this labor, to use a torch to burn the stumps of the cut heads in order to prevent more from growing back. In the middle of this battle, Hera, who held a grudge against Heracles because he was the son of her husband, Zeus, and a mortal woman, sent a giant crab to distract Heracles. Heracles crushed the crab under his feet and eventually beheaded the last Hydra head. To commemorate this battle, Hera placed the Hydra and the crab in the night sky as the constellations Hydra and Cancer. Heracles went on to finish his Twelve Labors and was also placed in the night sky as a constellation in recognition of his adventures.

Canada Geese

If you’ve visited Lichterman Nature Center you’ve probably encountered a Canada goose (Branta canadensis) or at least heard the familiar honk from across Mertie’s Lake. Although their name suggests they call Canada home, most of the birds we see in the Mid-South have never visited our northern neighbors. An increase in agriculture and lawns has led to a change in migratory patterns for this familiar bird. Some populations no longer migrate and instead stay in urban areas where lawns, golf courses, and parks provide food and clear views of potential predators. Canada geese are herbivores and eat grasses, sedges, grains, seeds, berries, aquatic vegetation, and, occasionally, human food scraps.

During spring, Canada geese can be seen nesting along the shores of Mertie’s Lake at Lichterman Nature Center. They typically build a nest on the ground and camouflage it with surrounding leaves and vegetation. They become quite territorial during this time and can incubate up to 8 eggs, although 2-4 is more commonly seen with the geese at Lichterman Nature Center. After 1-2 days, the newly hatched young will leave the nest covered in yellow down already able to eat, swim and dive. The young will often remain with their parents for a year. 

Hubble Launch Day

On April 24th, 1990, the Hubble Space Telescope began its journey into space. Hubble has provided us with information and beautiful images of our universe. It is a special reflecting telescope, using precisely placed mirrors to reflect the light from mirror to mirror to the viewer. Since the Earth’s atmosphere distorts starlight, the Hubble Telescope is not located on Earth. On this day 31 years ago, it left the Earth’s surface aboard the space shuttle Discovery, and it was deployed into orbit the next day. It takes about 95 minutes for the telescope to make a revolution around the planet at 17,000 miles per hour. Named after the American astronomer Edwin Hubble, it is one of NASA’s Great Observatories. According to NASA, information from the Hubble Telescope has been seen in over 17,000 peer-reviewed publications, which have then been cited in roughly 900,000 more publications. You also could not find a current astronomy textbook without information contributed by the Hubble, and odds are that you have seen one of the many images it has taken. Hubble has taken over one million observations and continues to collect data that is used all over the world.

Image courtesy of NASA, ESA, and STScI

T.O. Fuller State Park

T.O. Fuller State Park, located at 1500 Mitchell Road West in South Memphis, was originally called Shelby County Negro State Park, the first segregated Black-only park in the South. In 1938, during the Great Depression, the Civilian Conservation Corps began work on the site near the Mississippi River, creating a recreation lodge, trails, roads, picnic shelters, and cleared spaces for outdoor recreation. Other improvements, which would have created recreational facilities comparable to other state parks, did not materialize. This was both due to racism, which slowed the mobilization of people and money to a park that would solely benefit Black visitors, and the discovery of prehistoric remains when crews began digging a swimming pool.

The park is named after Thomas O. Fuller, who was born in North Carolina to previously enslaved parents. Fuller became an ordained minister in 1883 and moved to Memphis in 1900 to become the pastor at Beale Street Baptist Church. Rev. Fuller felt that a peaceful attitude was the way to create an environment in which whites and Blacks could exist together, and he preached non-violent racial reconciliation. He became principal of Howe University in 1902 and created the first four year degree program for African Americans in Memphis. Rev. Fuller also chartered the first African American missionary Baptist church in Memphis as well as petitioned to change the name of then Negro Industrial High School to Booker T. Washington High School. Among his other accomplishments are his widely acclaimed book, A Pictorial History of the American Negro, and his work with civil rights organizations.

E. H. "Boss" Crump

Edward Hull “Boss” Crump dominated Memphis politics for more than 40 years. A native of Holly Springs, Mississippi, he moved to Memphis in 1894 and became involved with politics. He was elected mayor as a reformer in 1910 and served until 1916 when he resigned. Crump built a Democratic political machine that influenced and controlled the city from behind the scenes, and his power increased over the years. Few politicians crossed him, and those who did lost. His involvement in state and national politics extended his influence beyond West Tennessee. Crump maintained an uneasy alliance with millionaire Republican Robert R. Church, Jr. for many years. Church rallied African American voters to Crump’s candidates in local elections, and Crump made some concessions to improve the lives of the city’s large African American population. Crump died on October 16, 1954. Three years later, city officials dedicated a statue in his honor at Overton Park. This plaster maquette, created by artist F.P. Zimmer, was not chosen. Sculptor Donald De Lue made the actual memorial statue in Overton Park.

Indigo Bush

Indigo bush (Amorpha fruticosa), as its name implies, is a small shrub that blooms 3-6 inch blue-purple spikes in the late spring. The fragrant flowers attract a large number of pollinators, especially bees. It is also one of the host plants for the common Silver-spotted skipper butterfly (Epargyreus clarus). The plant is native to the eastern United States, but it was introduced into the western United States where it is considered invasive because of its tendency to form thickets in riparian zones and along streambanks. Because the indigo bush has an extensive root system, it is used in erosion control along lakes, streams, and ponds.  When early pioneers came across the plant, they used the small amount of blue pigment to make dye, and most likely gave the plant its common name indigo bush, not to be confused with true indigo (Indigofera tinctoria), which was traditionally used for making dye. Indigo bush can be seen around Mertie’s Lake at Lichterman Nature Center.

Frances Hooks

Frances Dancy Hooks’ career in education spanned 24 years. Starting in 1949, she was a teacher and guidance counselor in the Memphis City School System. She co-founded the Memphis Volunteer Placement Program to bring in volunteer counselors to work with African American students. She helped introduce College-A-Rama where high school students could meet with college recruiters. In 1968, she organized the People Power Project, promoting dialog between black and white teens.

In 1951, she married young lawyer Benjamin Hooks. When he became the first black appointee to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in 1973, Frances Hooks put her education career on hold. She became her husband’s assistant, secretary, advisor, and traveling companion. When her husband became Executive Director of the NAACP in 1977, Frances Hooks and Earleen Bolden organized Women in the NAACP (WIN). Hooks spent much of the 1990s as the National Coordinator for WIN. She urged local chapters to focus on issues such as teen pregnancy, black history, and AIDS. Locally, she served on the Advisory Board of Rhodes College and the Memphis Symphony League. 

In 1994, Oregon State University gave the first “Frances Dancy Hooks Award” to recognize students, staff or faculty who exemplify Mrs. Hooks’ work—those who build bridges across cultures, show courage in promoting diversity, and proudly “Walk the Talk.” It is one of many awards given in her name.

House Wrens

House wrens (Troglodytes aedon) are commonly found in the Mid-South and across the entire Western Hemisphere. These songbirds will live in many habitats, as long as they have trees and shrubs interspersed with clearings where they can forage for insects and spiders to eat. House wrens are fierce competitors for nesting cavities. Males will peck at larger birds and drag eggs and young out of nest site they want. Their nests can become infested with mites and parasites that feed on young wrens. Scientists hypothesize that the reason wrens will add spider egg sacs into their nest material is so that the newly hatched spiders will eat the nest parasites.

Callicott Murals

Burton Callicott was born in Terre Haute, Indiana in 1907. He trained as a sculptor at the Cleveland School of Art, graduated in 1931, and moved to Memphis during the Great Depression. In 1933, he received a commission to paint a single-panel mural showing De Soto’s exploration of West Tennessee for the center alcove above the Pink Palace Museum’s lobby staircase as part of the New Deal’s Public Works of Art Project. Callicott wanted to paint a fresco, but the committee wanted it on canvas so that it could be removed. After seeing his sketches for The Coming of De Soto, the committee asked him to make sketches for two additional panels. Callicott and Harry Dixon, his assistant, began painting the first mural in summer 1934. The men built canvas stretchers on the lobby floor and then attached the panels to the wall. Callicott used a chalk snap line to create one-foot sections on the canvas. Using his pencil drawings, divided into one-inch squares, he copied and enlarged the design onto the canvas panels. The Park Commission never reimbursed the men for the materials they purchased, which meant that they had to pay for paint, canvases and stretchers out of their PWAP stipend. The entire project took about one year—including drawing time and bureaucratic delays.

In November 1984, the Pink Palace hosted a reception celebrating the 50th anniversary of the murals. The museum presented Callicott a check for $167.80, the cost of the materials he bought for the project. Callicott decided to donate the money back to the museum to start a conservation fund for the murals. In early 1995, the murals were conserved and framed as he had originally recommended.

King Cotton

For over a century, cotton was king in the Mid-South. But what does that mean? Why was cotton so important to the regional and city economies? What impacts did it have on the people who grew, transported, graded, traded, and wore the plant’s fibers? Learn more about our region’s entanglement with cotton by reading this month’s Closer Look blog.

Wild Ginger

Wild ginger (Asarum canadense) is a native perennial wildflower that grows throughout the eastern United States in shady, deciduous forests. The plants are pubescent, covered with short, soft hairs, especially on their flowers and leaf petioles, the stalks that attach the heart-shaped leaves to the plant. The rusty brown, bell shaped flowers bloom in the early spring and are found at the base of the plant lying against the ground. The flowers evolved to attract the small pollinating flies that are attracted to thawing animal carcasses. The ginger flowers are a similar color to decomposing flesh. The flies enter the flower to escape the wind, eat some of the pollen, and spread the pollen to other flowers. Wild ginger spreads by rhizomes, horizontal underground stems that grow continuously and put out lateral shoots and roots. They grow in colonies that can expand six to eight inches in every direction yearly. Historically, Native Americans and Euro-American settlers used wild ginger to treat wounds, and modern researchers identified two antibiotic compounds in the plant, validating its efficacy. You can see wild ginger in shady areas along the forest trails at Lichterman Nature Center.

Harper's Weekly

Harper's Weekly, A Journal of Civilization was the leading American political journal of the last half of the 19th century. Based in New York City, it was published by Harper & Brothers from 1857 until 1916. It featured foreign and domestic news, essays, fiction, and humor.

During the Civil War, military coverage dominated every issue. The journal’s reports kept soldiers and their loved ones at home up-to-date on the details of the fighting. In addition to its news stories, illustrations and cartoons by artists like Winslow Homer and Thomas Nast played a major role in shaping and reflecting public opinion from the start of the Civil War to the end of the century. Many Americans were illiterate, but they could understand the news through Nast’s biting illustrations.

An article by Private Miles O’Reilly, describes the battle at Ft. Pillow, Tennessee, where on April 12, 1864, over 300 black troops and civilians were killed by Confederate troops under the command of Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest as they tried to surrender. This image shows the rebel soldiers bayonetting, shooting and cutting the throats of surrendered white and black Union forces. Some of Pink Palace Museum’s collection of Harper’s Weekly editions is on display in the Civil War and Yellow Fever exhibits.

Magevney Grounds

Mary Smyth Magevney originally planted the Magevney House’s kitchen and herb garden. The carriage house, with its red brick and white stucco walls, also dates to the Magevney years, but this ends the similarity of the current grounds to the Magevneys’ time. An outhouse once stood in the southeast corner of the backyard, but it was torn down long ago. The well was conveniently near the kitchen and not too far from the house. An extensive archaeological survey performed in the 1980s proved that the well continued to be used by Kate Magvney even after artesian well water was made available as indoor plumbing throughout Memphis. The latest iteration of the kitchen with its attached servant’s quarter was torn down in the 1940s. It was built in the 1870s to replace the original small kitchen on the eastern side of the lot.


Diamond, April’s birthstone, is the world's most highly prized gemstone and hardest natural substance! The majority of natural diamonds formed under intense heat and pressure in the Earth’s mantle, and were later carried to the surface in violent volcanic eruptions. The durability and visual brilliance of this mineral has made it a coveted gemstone across cultures and time, but even those that are not suitable for use as gemstones have important practical applications. Diamond’s hardness makes it an excellent abrasive, and small fragments are used in saws and drill bits to increase their power. The majority of diamonds used for this purpose are synthetic due to high industrial demand that cannot be met through mining alone. Additionally, diamonds with visible inclusions that make poor gems are priceless for scientific investigation into the Earth’s evolution. They provide a durable container in which minerals from Earth’s distant past can rise through the crust unaltered. Diamonds are valuable for both their beauty and utility. 

Constellation Leo

The constellation Leo has long been associated with lions. The Persians, Turks, Syrians, Greeks, Jews, and Indians all named this constellation with their respective names for lion and identified the constellation with a lion in their mythology. The Greeks identified Leo as the Nemean Lion Heracles (Hercules in Roman mythology) slayed, in the first of his Twelve Labors. The god Zeus honored the labor of Heracles by placing the Nemean Lion in the stars as the constellation Leo.

Image courtesy of Stellarium.

World War I Recruitment Poster

This poster represents the black soldiers, officially called “colored troops,” who served their country in World War I. Although African Americans were treated as second class citizens, many African American men were willing to serve their country, eagerly joining the war effort. War service gave them a chance to show their patriotism and worthiness for equal treatment in the United States.

 At the beginning of World War I, there were four all-black regiments: the 9th and 10th Cavalry and the 24th and 25th Infantry. Within one week of Wilson's declaration of war, the War Department had to stop stopped accepting black volunteers because the regiments were full. In the end, hundreds of thousands of African Americans served in the war. Even in military service, black soldiers were not treated as equals. Most were assigned to basic labor, though many did see combat. Even so, foreign service fostered the ideal of equality for men who had served their country and had been to places where color was not used as a reason for discrimination. Black soldiers returning from war wanted a better life at home. You can see this recruitment poster in the Memphis City Life exhibit in the Pink Palace mansion.

Great Blue Herron

Standing about four feet tall with a wingspan up to seven feet, the great blue heron (Ardea herodias) is the largest heron in North America. Herons fly with slow labored wing beats. They can be found in wetland and saltwater habitats from southern Canada to northern South America. An all-white form, called the great white heron, ranges from Florida to the Caribbean. The great blue heron feeds on fish, frogs, turtles, salamanders, insects and small mammals. When hunting, it often stands motionless in shallow water waiting for prey to come close. The heron also walks slowly through water, its neck thrust out, watching for a tasty morsel. Great blue herons can sometimes be observed at Lichterman Nature Center in April, May and June.

Sick Meteorite

This meteorite from Canyon Diablo in Arizona exhibits lawrencite disease, a type of chemical weathering that can afflict meteorites containing the mineral lawrencite. Lawrencite is an iron-chloride found in meteoric iron that forms along the seams between the iron-nickel alloy minerals that compose the majority of an iron meteorite. Lawrencite also shows a property called deliquesence, a process by which the mineral absorbs moisture from the atmosphere until the mineral itself dissolves in the absorbed water and forms a solution. In lawrencite, this liquification produces a brown to green gooey sludge consisting of iron oxide and hydrochloric acid. The acid attacks the other iron minerals in the meteorite, creating more sludge. Ultimately, the affected area spreads and will eventually cause the entire sample to break down. While there is no cure for lawrencite disease, there are steps conservators can take to slow the process. A MoSH conservator sealed this specimen with acryloid B-72 resin to contain the deterioration.

Mississippi Embayment

The most important geological structure in Eastern North America is right under the feet of Mid-Southerners. The Mississippi Embayment spans 100,000 square miles through Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas, Texas, Tennessee and Illinois. This huge trough was created when North America drifted across a super-plume of magma, which lifted the area up one to two miles. When the area cooled, it created a large depression. An arm of the early Gulf of Mexico flooded the Embayment, reaching as far north as 100 miles into Illinois. Beginning 145 million years until the end of the Cretaceous, 65.5 million years ago, this area was a shallow sea up to 200 feet in depth. Huge predatory mosasaurs and whales swam its waters. Bivalves, crabs, and lobsters swarmed in the shallows. In some areas, these seas left thousands of feet of sediment full of fossils of the abundant life that once lived here. Occasionally, the sediment is nearly a mile deep. Between these layers of sediment are artesian aquifers of fresh water, filtered by the sediment and available to millions of people throughout the Embayment area. One of the most important fossiliferous locations in the Embayment is the Coon Creek Formation, which has a well known exposed section near Adamsville, Tennessee. To read more about the Mississippi Embayment, read our Closer Look blog.

Jacob's Ladder

Jacob’s ladder (Polemonium reptans), also known as Greek valerian, is a native Tennessee wildflower. It is an herbaceous perennial. The plant sends up new growth each year then dies down to the ground while the roots remain alive to send up new top growth the next year. The light blue, bell-shaped flowers grow in loose, terminal clusters, meaning that the flowers are carried on the end of branches. It grows well in partial shade and will self-seed. The leaves are arranged like rungs of a ladder, which is how the plant got its common name. The flowers’ nectar and pollen attract bees, butterflies, and moths. It is found naturally in open woodlands and can also be propagated in home gardens. You can see them in shady areas along the forest trails at Lichterman Nature Center.

Vietnam Veterans Memorial

The Vietnam War was controversial, and the dissension continued long after the war ended, as evidenced by the debate surrounding the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. When the committee unveiled the design, many people felt it was not monumental enough. However, in the years since the memorial’s unveiling, it has become an icon, a fitting and moving memorial to the more than 58,000 American soldiers who died in the war. 

Though millions of Americans visit the Wall each year, few realize that Memphis played a crucial role in its creation. Binswanger Glass, a Memphis company, won the contract to etch the names of 58,261 fallen soldiers into the polished black granite slabs that make up the Wall. The company submitted this Architect’s Sample to the Memorial Committee in order to win the contract. The company donated the sample to the Pink Palace Museum, and it is on display in the geology exhibit in the natural history gallery.

Anti-Slavery Token

British porcelain maker and abolitionist Josiah Wedgwood popularized the image of an African man kneeling in supplication on a porcelain cameo. The original design depicted a nearly naked African man, begging on his knees, with the phrase “Am I not a man and a brother,” on the front. The reverse showed a pair of hands clasping in friendship with the phrase “May slavery and oppression cease throughout the world.” Wedgwood sent hundreds to Benjamin Franklin, president of The Pennsylvania Society for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery Prevention and for the Relief of Free Negroes Unlawfully Held in Bondage. Franklin gave them to members of the society and wealthy individuals who believed in the cause. They soon became status symbols, worn more for fashion than for the message. Soon after, British foundries produced a version in copper that made the coin affordable for anyone with similar sympathies. The white abolitionists saw this as a powerful message. However, while the image of a black man humbly begging for his freedom was a comfortable paternalistic view of the slaves, it wasn’t until black men and women modified the phrase that it became an image of power within the black community. Henry McNeil Turner, the first African American man to be elected to the Georgia legislature after the Civil War, was refused a seat. In a powerful speech , McNeil asked “…Am I a man? If I am so, I claim the rights of a man.” This sentiment came to full strength in the 1968 Memphis sanitation workers strike when marchers wore signs that proclaimed, I AM A MAN.   

Sign of The Times

On February 1, 1968, a malfunctioning garbage truck crushed and killed sanitation workers Echol Cole and Robert Walker in East Memphis. They had sought shelter from the rain in the truck’s bin. Sanitation workers at the time did not receive protective clothing, shower facilities, pensions, vacations or health benefits. On average, they earned $1.80 per hour. Forty percent of the city’s 1,300 sanitation workers relied on welfare or a second job to support their families.

On February 12, sanitation workers voted to go on strike to protest their working conditions and pay. The American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), a national labor union, worked with the strikers. Some Memphians urged the City Council and Mayor Henry Loeb to address the sanitation workers’ concerns. The Mayor felt the strike was illegal and refused to negotiate. In response African American ministers and community leaders formed Citizens on the Move for Equality (COME) under the leadership of Reverend James Lawson. Workers soon began carrying signs with the simple yet powerful slogan: I Am A Man.

The wording and design of the I AM A MAN signs resonated with African Americans, workers and their allies across America. The sanitation workers and black men more broadly were tired of the paternalism of the Memphis City Government. They were tired of being referred to as boys and doing the heaviest and dirtiest work at the lowest pay in City government. They had no sick leave, holidays or even guarantees that they would be paid from day to day. They were tired of not being provided with safety equipment and made to work with dangerous trucks. Their message, I AM A MAN, was specific to their plight but echoed among workers and African Americans across the nation.

Magevney Slaves

We know very little about the lives of Eugene Magevney’s enslaved people. The first enslaved person at the house may have been Hanna, purchased for $650 in 1848. She was 24 years old. After working at the house for about a month, Hanna either ran away or was stolen, and Magevney published a notice in the Daily Memphis Enquirer offering a $20 reward for her return. She appears to be living with Magevney again by the 1850 census, along with her four-year-old daughter. No known documentation exists showing what happened to Hanna, but she was no longer with the Magevneys in 1860.

In 1852, Eugene Magevney purchased a 13-year-old girl named Leah for $450, $200 less than he paid for Hanna four years previously. A younger, untrained girl often would be a cheaper purchase than an experienced and healthy woman. In 1853, Magevney purchased a 9-year-old boy named Alfred for $500. Like Hanna, Alfred was also gone by 1860.

The 1860 slave schedule shows five enslaved individuals living in the Magevney household, a 26-year-old man, a 19-year-old woman, a three-year-old female child, a one-year old male child, and a 12-year-old female child. We have no additional information about the 12-year-old girl. The 19-year-old woman appears to be Leah, the 26-year-old appears to be her husband John, and the three-year-old and one-year-old appear to be their children. Baptismal records at Saint Peter’s shows that John and Leah had their children Elizabeth and George baptized there in the late 1850s.

Sputnik Monroe

Roscoe “Rock” Monroe Brumbaugh, famously known as Sputnik Monroe, started a revolution in Memphis wrestling. His wrestling philosophy was “win if you can, lose if you must, always cheat, and if they take you out, leave tearing the ring down.” During the height of his wrestling career in the 1950s - 60s, Monroe often attracted 15,000 or more fans to shows. His wrestling character was that of the antagonist, also known in wrestling terms as the “heel.” Even with his villainous persona, his fans loved him.

Monroe fought segregation at every turn. African American spectators were forced to sit in the balcony, even though they paid the same prices as white audiences. Monroe helped to integrate Ellis Auditorium by bribing a doorman to let in more African Americans so that there would be no place for them to sit, except in the white section. Not only were his shows soon desegregated (and completely sold out), but other southern sporting events also desegregated.

When Monroe wasn’t wrestling, he was hanging out with friends on Beale Street. He was arrested for the charge of “mopery,” or the crime of a white person spending time with a black person in public. He chose his friend, Russell B. Sugarmon, Jr., a prominent African American civil rights attorney, to represent him. He lost his case and had to pay a $25 fine.

Known to his family as Rock, most of his costumes were made by his mother-in-law. She made several jackets with matching “wrasslin’” shorts.


Do you know what an asterism is? It is an easily recognizable and popularly known pattern or group of stars in the night sky. Unlike constellations, which are officially recognized by the International Astronomical Union (IAU), asterisms are not recognized by any formal institution. The most popular asterism in the night sky is the Big Dipper. The Big Dipper is compromised of the 7 brightest stars in the recognized constellation Ursa Major. The Big Dipper became important in celestial navigation because its rim points to Polaris, a star in the constellation Ursa Minor that remains fixed in the night sky and points north. While the Big Dipper is an asterism, the Little Dipper is just another name for the constellation Ursa Minor.

Eastern Bluebird

The Eastern bluebird (Sialia sialis) population was in severe decline because of habitat loss, but in recent years the population has rebounded, due in part to an increase in bird-lovers providing them with backyard bird houses! They tend to live in open country around trees with sparse ground coverage. Originally, their habitat consisted of pine savannas, beaver ponds, and mature, open woods. Today, they are commonly found in agricultural fields, suburban parks, and backyards. They are found across central and Eastern North America, as well as some parts of South America. They reside farther North during early spring and late fall and migrate south during the winter months. The bluebird’s name comes from the vivid blue coloring on its head, back, wings, and tail. It has a rust-colored breast and throat, and a white belly. Males have a brighter coloring, thought to be used for attracting mates, while females have a paler pigmentation to their feathers. Their diet consists of a vast variety of insects, as well as fruits and berries, especially during the winter. Although they are not considered threatened or endangered, there has been a drop in their population due to destruction of habitat and more aggressive species taking over nesting grounds. You can see this specimen on display in the Cossitt Gallery in the Pink Palace Mansion.


Cycads are palmlike, woody plants that make up the order Cycadales. There are three living cycad families, which contain a combined 306 species. Despite resembling palm trees, they belong to completely different phyla and are not closely related. These gymnosperms, plants whose seeds are unprotected by an ovary or fruit, have a stout, woody trunk with a crown of large evergreen leaves. The leaves are usually pinnately compound, with leaflets on either side of a central axis. Cycads are dioecious, with distinct male and female plants. The males produce cones that release pollen, which is carried to cones on female plants. On female cones, unfertilized seeds are open to the air so they can be directly pollinated. The fossil record indicates that cycads existed during the Lower Permian Period (270-280 million years ago) and spread widely. Scientists have found cycad fossils on every continent, proving their wide dispersal during the Triassic and Jurassic Periods (251-145.5 million years ago). During the Cretaceous Period (145.5-65.5 million years ago), conifers and angiosperms (flowering plants) almost completely replaced cycads. You can see

Tulip Poplar

Each year in the spring, Tennessee’s state tree, the tulip poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera), blooms with lovely, light green or yellow tulip-shaped flowers that stand out beautifully against its uniquely-shaped bright green foliage. The tulip-shaped flowers give the tulip poplar its name, though this tree is more closely related to the magnolia than to poplars or tulips. The flowers produce large quantities of nectar, making them attractive to pollinators like bees and butterflies, and is widely used as a honey plant.

Tulip poplars are fast growers, quickly reaching heights of over 150 feet tall. The tulip poplar is one of the largest trees in the eastern United States. The largest one ever recorded was 191 ft. tall! Their size, strength, and propensity to grow straight make tulip poplars desirable in the timber industry.

Tulip poplars have also been referred to as “canoe trees” because Native Americans frequently used them to fashion dugout canoes. They have also historically been used in traditional medicine for treating ailments including malaria, typhoid, sore throats, arthritis, and burns. Tulip poplars are listed in the register of trees that make Lichterman Nature Center a certified arboretum and can be seen throughout the grounds.

Eugene Magevney

Eugene Magevney was born in Fermanagh County, Ireland, on September 15, 1798. He immigrated to the United States in 1828, settling in Memphis where he made his fortune in real estate and became an American citizen in 1833. Five years later, he purchased a house at 198 Adams Avenue. The small, white clapboard cottage was typical of pre-Civil War middle-class homes. Magevney was a devout Catholic, and his home was the site of several religious firsts in Memphis. The first Catholic mass was celebrated there in 1840 and the first baptism in 1841. It was probably no coincidence that St. Peter, the first Catholic church in the city, was built next door.

In 1941, a descendent deeded the house to the City of Memphis. The Magevney House became a part of the Memphis Museum system in 1974. It is one of the oldest remaining homes in Shelby County and is furnished as it might have been in 1850, featuring several of the Magevney family’s personal possessions. Information about visiting the Magenvey House can be found here.

Memphis Red Sox - "Pee Wee" Carter Glove

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. Brothers 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 gloved belonged to legendary Red Sox infielder Marlin “Pee Wee” Carter. Carter was one of the stars of the team in the 1930s, and played in the East-West All-Star Game in 1942. He served in the Coast Guard from 1943 to 1945. Although Cater played 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.

Constellation Cancer

The constellation Cancer is the Latin word for “crab” and played a part in one the Twelve Labors of the Greek hero Heracles, better known by his Roman name Hercules. While Heracles was attempting to slay the Hydra during his 2nd Labor, the Greek goddess Hera sent a giant crab to distract him. Hera did not like Heracles because he was the son of her husband, the Greek god Zeus, and a mortal woman. Heracles crushed the giant crab under his foot and was also able to defeat the Hydra. Hera placed both the Hydra and the crab in the night sky as constellations, and the crab came to be known as the constellation Cancer.

Pi Day & Einstein

On March 14, we celebrate Pi Day and physicist and mathematician Albert Einstein’s birthday. A play on the mathematical constant 𝜋, defined as the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter, its decimal representation begins with 3.14. As it is an irrational number, the decimal representation never ends or demonstrates a repeating pattern. Modern technology has allowed for pi to be calculated to 31 trillion digits! The uses of pi are almost as endless as the number itself, but we see it pop up often when dealing with mathematics and physics. If you would like to celebrate the occasion, you can find many restaurants and bakeries having sales on pie to celebrate the day with a pun. You can also check Pi Day’s website to learn more about pi, get help with math, and see the first million digits of pi (you may have to wait for the page to load all those digits-keep on scrolling)!

Image courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech

McGregor Millwheel Quilt

Dorris McGregor made this “millwheel” design quilt in the 1930s. She pieced the fabric together by hand, repurposing several materials including blankets, kitchen curtains, kitchen towels, and seersucker clothing in her quilts. She used a sewing machine to quilt the three layers using pink thread. McGregor learned to quilt from her relatives in Kentucky where she originally lived. She and her husband, Allison, moved north as part of the Great Migration and lived in Oak Park, Michigan, for over 50 years.

Hadden’s Horn

David Park “Pappy” Hadden was one of the most colorful figures of Memphis’ past. Hadden rose to the forefront of Memphis politics after the yellow fever epidemics of the late 1870s. The epidemics left the city depopulated and broke, and Memphis lost its city charter and became a Taxing District. Hadden served as the President of the Taxing District from 1882 until 1889 and oversaw the successful clean-up of the city. As President of the Taxing District, Hadden also served as a county judge. While carrying out his duties as judge, he noticed that most of the assault and murder cases that came before his court were related to complaints of cheating in games of dice. Hadden decided to try something new to fix the problem. He created an anti-cheating device that became known as “Hadden’s Horn.” A horn-shaped leather cup held the dice while gamblers shook them. No one could swap out the dice, and using the horn ensured the dice were shaken properly. You don’t need to gamble to enjoy dice games. You can find simple games for kids here.

Eastern Redbud (Cercis canadensis)

One of the sure signs of spring in the Mid-South and at Lichterman Nature Center is the blooming, purplish pink flowers of the eastern redbud (Cercis canadensis). Flowers bloom before the leaves even emerge. The leaves are heart-shaped and have palmate venation, meaning the veins of the leaf resemble a human hand. The redbud has a simple leaf with one blade attached to the stalk and alternate, one leaf per node, arrangement. Eastern redbuds can thrive in various habitats ranging from stream banks and moist bottomlands to drier slopes and ridges. It is mostly found as an understory tree, living under the canopy of taller trees, throughout the Southeastern United States. It is somewhat shade tolerant and does not host serious insect pests or diseases.

In the autumn, the tree’s foliage turns yellow, before falling off in the winter. Due to changes in the length of daylight and changes in temperature, the leaves stop their food-making process. The chlorophyll breaks down, the green color disappears, and the mostly yellow colors become visible to give the leaves part of their fall splendor. The oblong, flat, brown legumes containing seeds do survive through the winter. Their flower buds are stalked, keeled, and easily seen each autumn on twigs older than the previous year’s growth. In the winter, the winter bud of the redbud is not encircled. There are globular flowers that appear on the trunk of the tree during the colder winter months. When spring comes around again, the process starts all over with the redbud preparing to show off its bold purplish pink flowers. For more information, visit the Arbor Day Foundation.

Redbuds can be seen lining the entrance drive to Lichterman Nature Center as well as throughout the property. 

Happy Birthday to Us

What is now the Pink Palace Museum of Science & History (MoSH) opened in its first iteration on March 8, 1930, with little fanfare other than small articles in the Commercial Appeal and the Evening Appeal. The Museum was not finished, but the Park Commission and the Museum Advisory Board decided to open and show the exhibits that were already installed. In fact, only three rooms had partially finished exhibits. The “most interesting collections” were an Arctic wolf, Kodiak bear, Sonora grizzly, glacier grizzly, sea otter, and musk ox head. The notice said that the Museum would be open from 11 to 4 each week day and for two hours on Sunday afternoons. The commissioners said, “It is the idea...that the utmost care be taken in its acceptance and placing of exhibits in this museum…This care on the part of those in charge of the museum we hope the public will appreciate and by doing so thereby understand the small amount of space occupied at this time with exhibits.” A lot has changed in 91 years. Today the Museum of Science & History occupies two buildings, and includes Lichterman Nature Center, Mallory-Neely House, Magevney House, and Coon Creek Science Center.

White Trout Lily

White trout lily (Erythronium albidum) is a spring ephemeral woodland wildflower. It emerges from the ground in the early spring and quickly blooms before the canopy trees begin to leaf out. Once the trees start to get leaves, they shade the forest floor and the trout lily begins to die back. As its name suggests, it has a white nodding flower. If you happen across a blooming trout lily, take advantage of the view because the bloom only lasts for a day or two. It can take more than five years for the plant to start blooming. It is an often overlooked wildflower due to its height (around 6 inches) and the fact that the blooms are short lived. By mid-summer the leaves have died, leaving no traces of the plant until it emerges again the following spring. It gets its common name from its mottled leaves resemblance to the speckling of brook trout. White trout lily can be seen blooming in March along the forest trails near the gazebo and Davidson Pavilion at Lichterman Nature Center.


Aquamarine, March’s birthstone, is the blue variety of the mineral beryl. This gem gets its name from the Latin word for sea water and owes its blue-green color to trace amount of iron present in its crystals. It is associated with the sea, but the waters from which this gem typically forms originate deep within the Earth. Aquamarine is often found in rocks called pegmatites, which form in pockets of extremely hot water left over from cooling magma. These extreme rocks form at the margins of batholiths, which are created when several square kilometers of magma rise up from the deep within the Earth’s mantle and cool under the surface. The water from which pegmatites form are often rich in rare elements, such as the beryllium required to form beryl, so they contain minerals that aren’t found in significant quantities in other types of rock. Pegmatites produce very large mineral crystals, weighing up to several tons, so large aquamarine crystals are readily available. Therefore, aquamarine’s value is mostly related to the richness of its color rather than its size.

Citizens to Preserve Overton Park

This year marks the 50th anniversary of Citizens to Preserve Overton Park vs. Volpe, the Supreme Court decision that prevented Interstate 40 from being routed through Overton Park. To hear more about the case and its impact on Memphis, the American legal system, and environmental activism, listen to the latest episode of Tributaries, the museum’s podcast.

Kenneth McKellar's Panama Hat

This Panama hat belonged to Tennessean Kenneth Douglas McKellar (1869-1957) who served as a United States Representative from 1911 until 1917 and as a Unites States Senator from 1917 until 1953. A Democrat and a member of E.H. “Boss” Crump’s political machine, he served longer in both houses of Congress than anyone else in Tennessee history. McKellar died on October 25, 1957, and is interred at Elmwood Cemetery in Memphis.

Despite the name, hand-woven Panama hats originated in Ecuador. The hats first became popular in 1848 when traders brought them to the Isthmus of Panama where prospectors bought them on their way to California during the Gold Rush. People would say that they bought their hats in Panama, and the name stuck. Napoleon III became enamored of the hats in 1855, and they remained popular for many years, with other notable figures, including J.P. Morgan and Al Capone wearing them.

Puerto Rican Nationalists Attack U.S. House of Representatives

Puerto Rican Nationalists Attack U.S. House of Representatives

On March 1, 1954, four Puerto Rican nationalists entered the visitor gallery of the United States House of Representatives. During a vote on a bill to allow migrant Mexican farmers to enter the U.S., Lolita Lebrun, Rafael Cancel Miranda, and Andres Figueroa Cordero pulled out weapons and began shooting at the House floor. Five representatives, including Memphis’ Clifford Davis, were wounded. The three shooters attempted to leave the gallery, but were stopped by visitors and capital police. After a sensational trial, all three were sentence to between 16 and 75 years in prison. After the trial, the Sergeant at Arms of the House held a lottery among the wounded representatives to distribute the weapons to them. Davis “won” this Walther P-38 handgun used by Andreas Figuero Cordero. Davis donated it to Ruth Bush, the museum’s director, in 1962. On September 10, 1979, President Jimmy Carter granted clemency to the shooters. You can find this handgun on display in the museum history exhibit in the Pink Palace Mansion.

Frankstown Fossil Site

The Frankstown fossil site in Prentiss County, Mississippi, formed about 75 million years ago, when the sea washed sand away from a much older beach. As the sea churned up fossils and sand, the heavier fossils concentrated by the millions in a small area.

Unlike most marine fossil localities in the Mid-South, Frankstown is rich in vertebrate fossil remains, especially fossil shark teeth. The site contains the remains of fish, turtles, crocodiles, rays, mosasaurs, and many other vertebrate animals. It is one of only a few sites in this area with dinosaur remains.

How did land-living dinosaur remains become mixed with those of sea creatures? Natural flooding of creeks and rivers probably washed decomposing body parts to the sea. There they mixed with the remains of marine dwelling animals. You can see this fossil slab near Tyra in the natural history gallery.

Red Roof Postcard

When Clarence Saunders planned his behemoth mansion, he named it Cla-Le-Clare. The name was a combination of the names of his children—Clay, Lee and Amy Clare. Memphis legend tells us that locals renamed it the Pink Palace as soon as the builders added the pink Georgia marble to the exterior. Saunders never lived in the house, and it fell to the Memphis Park Commission to turn the empty home into a museum. The commissioners decided to rename Cla-Le-Clare the Memphis Museum of Natural History and Industrial Arts. Before the museum opened to the public, members of the Museum Advisory Board began making recommendations to shorten the clumsy name. They got their way in 1936 after telling the Park Commission that they wanted their current “limiting” and “cumbersome” name shortened to the Memphis Museum.

Magevney Dining Room

The Magevney family had to walk through the girls’ bedroom to reach the dining room, but their food had a more direct route from the detached kitchen though the garden. In this space, the Magevneys enjoyed meals and one another’s company. Blanche Hamilton Karsch recalled that the dining room furniture was oak with a round dining table. Prior to television and other forms of modern technology, the entertainment value of conversation with family was priceless. The kitchen was a separate building, kept away from the house because of the risk of fire and to keep the strong food smells out of the rest of the house. A second room in the kitchen building probably housed servants.

Longueuil Mastodon

The 1739 expedition of Charles LeMoyne, the Baron de Longueuil, was a remarkable trek. The journey took his party of French troops and their Algonquin, Abenaki, and Iroquois Nations guides from Montreal to Fort Assumption, on the site where Memphis now stands. They went to aid Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville in his war with the Chickasaw, traveling by way of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. While camped north of Big Bone Lick, now a famous fossil site in Kentucky, some of the Indian troops went hunting. They returned to camp with several extremely large bones, including a femur, a tusk, and teeth. Longueuil, realizing what excitement this discovery would cause, packed away the bones. The party carried them through Fort Assumption, on to New Orleans, and finally back to France to the Royal Cabinet of Curiosities. They became the first New World fossils to be studied and published. Scientists of the time were confused by the animal’s molars, totally unlike the teeth of mammoths and modern elephants. They proposed that the fossils represented both an ancient elephant and an ancient hippopotamus. George Cuvier, the father of paleontology, believed that they were from and extinct animal, which he originally called the “Ohio Animal.” He later renamed it “mastodon,” because the cone-shaped cusps of the molars reminded him of breasts. The fossils are in the Paris Museum of Natural History. You can see this mastodon jaw fragment in Pink Palace Museum’s natural history gallery. You can hear more about mastodons on Tributaries, the museum’s podcast.

Frost Flowers

Did you know that there are flowers blooming this winter?  Frost flowers are one of the most interesting seasonal occurrences in the South. They are not really flowers at all, but thin ribbons of ice crystals that form at the base of some plants after our first hard freeze. This phenomenon occurs on cold nights in the late fall or winter when water is expelled from a plant and freezes as it leaves the stem. As more water is pushed out, it forms petals that can sometimes resemble flowers. Frost flowers are usually short lived and most often observed in the morning, usually disappearing by late morning when the temperatures warm slightly. Some plants are more apt to produce these delicate flowers. Some have been observed at  Lichterman Nature Center on white wingstem (Verbesina virginica), also known by the common name frostweed. Frost flowers are most often observed in the Wildlife Attractant Garden at Lichterman Nature.

Nicolaus Copernicus

February 19 is the birthday of Renaissance-era astronomer, mathematician, and economist, Nicolaus Copernicus. Accepted beliefs about the heavens during his lifetime (1479-1543) were far from today’s accepted astronomical truths. Prior to Copernicus, beliefs about the solar system derived from the Ptolemaic model, which placed Earth at the center of the universe. Though Copernicus had finished his work on heliocentrism (the Sun-centered model) around 1532, he did not publish it until he was on his deathbed, whether from fear of scrutiny or religious objections. Despite urgings from friends and colleagues to publish, he continued his work in secret. Once published, his theories began what is now known as the Copernican revolution. Along with Kepler’s laws of planetary motion and Newton’s laws of gravity, Copernicus's findings inspired generations of scientists in their astronomical investigations and research.

Copernicus also studied economics, law, medicine, languages, and diplomacy. He is well known in economics for the quantity theory of money, which states that the price level for goods/services is directly proportional to the money supply. He also served as a secretary, translator, physician and diplomat for his uncle and others while observing the skies and working on his heliocentric theory.

Mars Perseverance Rover Mission

On July 30th, 2020, the Mars Perseverance rover launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. The Perseverance is part of NASA’s Mars Exploration Program, which aims to explore Mars and provide scientific discovery by using robotics to gather information. Because Mars is millions of miles away from Earth, it will take months for Perseverance to land on Mars. It is expected to land February 18th, 2021, inside the Jezero Crater. 

Perseverance’s main job is to look for signs of ancient life and collect rock and soil samples. To assist in this mission, an instrument called SHERLOC will be used, along with a camera called WATSON. Their names echo the Arthur Conan Doyle characters because these two instruments will work closely together. SHERLOC is an instrument at the end of the rover’s arm, which will look at sand-grain sized clues in the rocks found, while WATSON will take close-up pictures of the rock textures. Together, they will identify certain minerals, organic molecules, and the rock surfaces found on Mars. The mission is set to last for at least one Mars year, which is around 687 Earth days. 


Image courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech

Veronica Coleman-Davis

When the Honorable Veronica Freeman Coleman-Davis was sworn in as U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Tennessee in 1993, she became the first black person, as well as the first woman, to serve as United States attorney in Tennessee. She is a graduate of Memphis State University Law School (1975), and has served as both a city and county Assistant Public Defender. In 1977, she was a founding partner in the first all-female law firm in Tennessee—Coleman, Sorak and Williams—and practiced as a private Defense Attorney. She was also the founding president of the Memphis Chapter of the Coalition of 100 Black Women. Three years later, she became the first black woman hired as Assistant District Attorney General for the 30th Judicial District of Tennessee. She became litigation attorney for Federal Express Corporation and rose to the rank of Senior Attorney, before accepting a position as a Juvenile Court referee, the first black woman in the state to hold that position.

Coleman-Davis advocates the vigorous enforcement of the law and has gained a reputation for being tough but fair. As U.S. Attorney, she initiated many innovative programs, including Operation Ceasefire, which focuses on reducing the number of guns in the hands of juveniles, and Child Pornography and the Internet, which brings law enforcement, internet service providers, and the business community together to fight child pornography. Coleman-Davis is a past President of the Ben F. Jones chapter of the National Bar Association and a member of the Federal Bar Association, National Bar Association of Women Attorneys, Memphis Bar Association, and Tennessee Associations for Women Lawyers. In 2000, she was awarded the Association of Women Attorneys’ prestigious Marion Griffin-Frances Loring Award.

Mardi Gras Memphis

In the early post-Civil War years (1865-1870), Memphis was plagued by deplorable sanitary conditions, disease, political corruption, and crime. Colton Greene (1833-1900), a Civil War veteran and an insurance businessman, promoted the idea of a Mardi Gras festival to be held in Memphis to bolster its financial situation and raise its cultural and social prestige. In preparation for its inauguration in 1872, Greene, with the assistance of cotton factor David Park Hadden (1835-1903), created the Mystic Society of the Memphis to organize its major events. He also recruited other civic and business leaders to turn this plan into a successful annual carnival industry. Other krewes formed, such as the Ulks and Momus, which added a competitive spirit to the planning and execution of the festival decorations and activities. Masquerade balls and theatre productions provided entertainment for white citizens throughout the city. In the evening, parades with floats and costumed revelers marched down Main Street with firework displays lighting the scene. By 1873, the Mardi Gras drew 25,000 visitors  to the city – a number that reached 100,000 by 1876, and a reported record number by 1878. The Memphis Mardi Gras continued until the turn of the century, but after the yellow fever greatly diminished the crowds in 1879-1880, it never reclaimed its former glory. You can see Memphis Mardi Gras invitations in the Memphis history exhibit in the cultural history gallery.

Colonel John W. Dawson

Colonel John W. Dawson was born February 18, 1837, in Delaware. He is listed in the 1860 census as a bookkeeper living in Memphis with a personal estate value of $300. Dawson became a Colonel while fighting in the Confederate Army under the command of Eugene Magevney’s brother and business partner, Michael Magevney. Dawson married Kate Magevney in 1867 at St. Peter’s Catholic Church. He worked in the distillery business and was an active member in the political scene of Memphis. He and his wife lived at various hotels before eventually settling into a house on Court Avenue. Unfortunately, Dawson would die April 29, 1872, of tuberculosis at the age of 35, leaving Kate a widow.

Lincoln League

This badge for the 1920 Lincoln League of America Convention in Chicago belonged to Memphian Robert Reed Church, Jr. In 1916, Church founded the Lincoln League to increase voter registration and participation among Memphis’s black residents. Church used the fortune he inherited from his father to grow the Lincoln League beyond Memphis, focusing on voter registration and organizing national conventions to coincide with Lincoln’s birthday, because he believed that political power was key to improving black Americans’ lives. While organizing the Lincoln League, Church was also an active member of the Republican party, serving as a Shelby County delegate to eight consecutive Republican National Conventions from 1912-1940. In the early 20th century, black Americans did not have full voting rights, but through his work, Robert R. Church, Jr. ensured that African Americans’ concerns were heard at the highest level of national politics.

The ability to provide votes made him a political force in Memphis, which was dominated by Democratic politician E.H. “Boss” Crump. In return for rallying black voters for Crump’s chosen Democratic candidate for local office, Crump tolerated Church’s national organizing for the Republican party and his role as a federal patronage dispenser during Republican presidencies. This uneasy arrangement ended in 1940 because Crump’s political machine was no longer dependent on the black votes that Church could provide, and Crump no longer needed to tolerate another political boss in Memphis. Crump decided to collect previously ignored back taxes on Church’s Memphis properties, seize them while Church was out of town, and burn Church’s mansion on Lauderdale Street to the ground, ostensibly to test new fire equipment.

Amethyst - Purple Gaze

Amethyst, the birthstone for February, is one of the most widely recognized purple gems. Amethyst is a purple variety of the mineral quartz, and it owes its color to background radiation from the soil and rock in which it has been buried. Quartz is made of the elements silicon and oxygen, but it often contains trace amounts of iron. Radiation from the rocks surrounding a quartz crystal can knock electrons from the iron in the quartz, causing the crystal to take on a purple hue. The intensity of color of an amethyst crystal is based on the amount of iron present in the crystal and the amount of radiation to which it is exposed. The color can range from an extremely light purple, as in the specimen pictured in this post, to nearly opaque. Amethyst is extremely common and relatively resistant to scratching, making it an affordable and desirable gemstone.

Mastodon Finds in Memphis

The American mastodon (Mammut americanum) roamed the forests of the Mid-South for at least three million years. They browsed on trees, shrubs, and other foliage in the swampy woodlands of the Mississippi River Valley. Several discoveries of mastodon remains have been made in the Memphis area, two of them by curious kids.  

One such discovery was made in 1976 by two boys exploring around Nonconnah Creek. The boys, Mike Baker and Rusty Brown, saw a tusk sticking out of the sand. They showed their find to Mike’s brother Bill, an archaeology student, who contacted the Pink Palace Museum. With funding from the Plough Foundation, museum staff members directed a team of archaeologists from Memphis State University in excavating the site. Tests on the mastodon's remains found it was between 23,000 and 17,000 years old. Several intact plant fossils of the same age were also found near the bones. The mastodon remains can be seen today at the Pink Palace Museum in the natural history gallery.

In 1989, two ten-year-old boys, Wade Bowers and Clay Davis, discovered a mastodon tooth in a drainage ditch in Raleigh. They thought they’d found a dinosaur tooth and wanted to donate it to the Museum, and the land owner, Jon Thompson, agreed. Museum staff members identified the fossil as a mastodon and visited the site, but did not find any more exposed fossil material. They encouraged the boys to keep an eye out for more pieces, and eventually the boys saw a tusk emerging from the earth. They were so afraid that something might happen to the tusk before the Museum staff could make it to the site, they camped out all night with friends to guard their discovery. You can learn more about mastodons on the latest episode of Tributaries, the museum’s podcast.

Fort Prudhomme

This early map of the Southeast shows the territory of Indigenous tribes. In February 1682, a party led by René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle journeyed down the Mississippi River from Northern Illinois. When the party stopped to hunt just north of present-day Memphis, they lost a man, Pierre Prudhomme. La Salle’s men built a stockade on the Second Chickasaw Bluff (near modern day Randolph in Tipton County, Tennessee) to protect the party while they searched for him. They called it Fort Prudhomme. A few days later Prudhomme found his way back, and they continued downriver. Fort Prudhomme became the first structure built by white explorers in what was to become West Tennessee. Even though the stockade itself was only briefly occupied, the name remained on maps of the territory, which you can see on this 1778 map.

Boy Scout Poster

Girl and Boy Scout troops of Memphis have helped generations of children develop into resourceful young adults with the motto: Be Prepared. Scouting strives to help young people with their physical, mental and spiritual development. The movement began in England in the early 20th century with the Boy Scouts. By 1910, the Girl Guides (Girl Scouts in the United States) formed to welcome girls and young women. The Chickasaw Council of the Boy Scouts formed in 1916. Renowned Memphis artist Burton Callicott created this linoleum cut fundraising poster for the council in the 1930s. It was posted on the outside of streetcars.

Petrified Wood

When a tree reaches the end of its life cycle and dies, it will likely begin the process of decomposition. Organisms called decomposers will quickly take up residence on a fallen tree under normal conditions, breaking it down, and releasing its nutrients back into the soil. However, a tree that is quickly buried after death may escape the process of decomposition and become preserved as fossil called petrified wood. Instead of decomposing, a tree preserved as petrified wood undergoes a process called petrification. During petrification, the organic materials are replaced by minerals carried by groundwater. These minerals, usually varieties of quartz, are absorbed into the porous wood and can preserve the details so accurately when they crystallize that some specimens are easily mistaken for regular logs. You can find petrified wood on display in the Pink Palace Museum’s Walk Geology exhibit in the natural history gallery. Next time you visit, look for bark and other woody structures preserved in the specimen.

Constellation Gemini

Gemini is Latin for twins, and the constellation Gemini represents the famous Greek twins Castor and Pollux. They were known as the Dioscuri in Greek mythology and both had the mortal Leda as their mother. While Castor was the mortal son of Leda’s husband Tyndareus, Pollux was the immortal son of Zeus. They were Greek heroes who were members of the Argonauts who sought the Golden Fleece.Castor and Pollux feuded with their cousins who were also twins, Lynceus and Idas. The feud turned violent, and ,while the twins were able to defeat their cousins, Castor was mortally wounded. Pollux was given the choice by his father Zeus to either become a god and live on Mt. Olympus or give half of his immortality to his brother. Pollux chose to save Castor and the two spent half of their time in Hades and  the other half on Olympus. Zeus turned the twins into the constellation Gemini,  and the two brightest stars in the constellation are called Castor and Pollux.

Memphis Dancing With the Tsars

In February 1872, Czar Alexander II of Russia sent his son, the Grand Duke Alexis on a tour of the United States. While seen as diplomatic mission, the true reason for the trip was to separate Alexis from his pregnant lover, the daughter of a poet who was not royalty. Alexis arrived in New York on November 1, 1871, and travelled with his entourage to Washington, D.C., to meet President Grant. The Grand Duke told the president that he would like to hunt American Buffalo. Grant had General Sheridan arrange an expedition with General George Custer, General Sheridan, and Wild Bill Hickok. The entourage continued by train to Philadelphia, Boston, Canada, Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Louis, Nebraska, Louisville, and Memphis. Alexis arrived in Memphis on February 2, 1872 and  stayed at the Peabody Hotel in a suite decorated with paintings by Memphis artist, Carl Gutherz. At the Peabody, the Grand Duke was treated to a lavish ten-course dinner. After a short rest, the entire party moved to the nearby Overton Hotel for a grand ball.  Alexis arrived at 11:30 PM and greeted the 800 guests individually. The reception committee included ex-Confederate President Jefferson Davis, Captain C.B. Church, and John Overton, Jr. A midnight supper was served, after which the Grand Duke danced with the wives of white Memphis luminaries. Although dancing continued until 2:00 AM, Alexis returned to the Peabody at 1:00 AM. The next morning, he boarded  a steamboat to see Mardi Gras in New Orleans.

Mallory-Neely House Morning Room

The Mallory-Neely House’s morning room served as the informal eating area for the family and the place where the day’s early tasks were undertaken. Family members frequently ate breakfast in this room, and the lady of the house handled correspondence or made assignments to servants from this room. Young children ate evening meals here until they were older and well-behaved enough to eat with older family members in the dining room.

The morning room is the only room in the house that has experienced almost no stylistic changes since the mansion’s construction in the 1850s. Its original millwork, marble mantel, cast-iron fireplace grate, wide plank spruce flooring, and ceiling plasterwork all remain in place. The Neelys covered this original flooring in the other rooms with oak floors during the 1890s. The crown molding in this room is an example of “run in place” plaster created on the spot with the use of a profile template. Flowers are featured in the Rococo center ceiling medallion.

Saber-Tooth Salmon

During the Late Cretaceous period, an inland sea covered the Mid-South. The Western Interior Sea teamed with life including marine reptiles like mosasaurs and plesiosaurs, echinoderms, mollusks, and saber-toothed fish. Species of Echodus were common, small to medium sized predators. These ray-finned fish had fangs at the front of their lower and upper jaws. Paleontologists believe that they may have used their fangs to capture prey like squid. They were also prey for larger animals, and their fossils have been found in the stomachs of larger animals including sharks, sea birds, and plesiosaurs. Echodus sp. are often referred to as “saber-toothed herrings,” but they have no relation to modern herrings. In fact, they appear to be related to modern salmon. This fossil is an Enchodus ferox palatine with fang.

National Seed Swap Day

The Lichterman Nature Center collects, processes, and stores seeds from over 200 plants from the property each year. Many of the plants Lichterman uses on the grounds and sells at annual plant sales are from seeds collected here – thereby conserving local germplasm, the hereditary material passed from generation to generation. These seeds are used for plant propagation, teaching, and sharing with others in seed exchanges. Seed exchanges preserve our horticultural heritage by providing a forum for seeds of native and “pass along” plants. They also increase the genetic diversity of ornamental and edible plants, provide opportunities for novice gardeners to exchange information with experienced gardeners on a wide range of topics, and give gardeners a winter kick-off event to start planning their spring plantings.

The first National Seed Swap Day was held on January 26, 2006. Started by the Washington Gardener Magazine, it is now typically observed the last Saturday in January. Lichterman held its first Seed Swap event on January 26, 2013. 

Microscopes - A Closer Look at Technology

Microscope technology has come a long way since Hans and Zaccharis Janssen constructed the first compound microscope between 1590 and 1610 in Middleburg, Holland. Robert Hooke, an English physicist, made coarse and fine adjustments to microscopes and added an illumination system and a stage for the object being observed in 1665. In 1834, Charles Chevalier developed the first successful achromatic (without color) lenses that eliminated color fringe from images. Thirteen years later, Charles Spencer created the first American-made microscope that allowed a user to focus the image sharply and eliminated light distortions. Images through Spencer’s telescope are comparable to a basic microscope available today. You can compare views through Janssen, Hooke, Chevalier, and Spencer microscopes in the natural history gallery.

Dr. Miriam DeCosta-Willis

Dr. Miriam DeCosta-Willis is a writer, scholar and university professor. A Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Wellesley College, she has defined her life by her passion for learning and commitment to equality. Born into a family of educators, DeCosta-Willis has had a forty-year academic career. She has taught at LeMoyne-Owen College, Howard University, George Mason University, the University of Maryland Baltimore County, and Memphis State University. She co-founded the Memphis Black Writers' Workshop, chaired the Tennessee Humanities Council, and organized the Du Bois Honors Program.

DeCosta-Willis was a pioneer in the struggle for racial and gender equality. She organized a student protest in high school, took part in the Montgomery Bus Boycott, and marched in Washington, D.C. She went to jail as one of the leaders in the boycott of Memphis public schools. When Memphis State University denied her admission application in 1957, she went to Johns Hopkins University, becoming one of the first African Americans to receive a PhD there. She returned to Memphis State in 1966 as the school’s first black professor.

As a university faculty member, DeCosta-Willis wore this academic regalia, consisting of hood, tam and gown, for important ceremonial events such as graduations. The colors and style of the regalia indicate the wearer’s field of study, the university attended, and type of degree attained. DeCosta-Willis’s regalia indicates that she earned a Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins University.

Daisy Room

This room at the Mallory-Neely House served as the master bedroom for Isaac and Lucy Kirtland, Benjamin and Mary Babb, James and Frances Neely, Daniel and Pearl Grant, and Barton and Daisy Mallory.

Daisy Mallory was the home’s longest term resident. She was 12 years old in 1883 when she and her family moved from their home on Jefferson Avenue to this house. Aside from attending finishing school in New York City and travelling from time to time, she lived the rest of her very long life, 86 years, in this house. She died July 9, 1969, five days after celebrating her 98th birthday.

After her death, the Daughters of the American Revolution operated the house as a museum from 1973 to 1985. As part of their remodeling efforts, they added new cabbage rose wallpaper in this room in a style similar to a paper Mallory had chosen when she last redecorated the space in the 1940s. They also replaced the 1890s carved wooden mantelpiece in this bedroom with a marble mantle from the 1850s that was relocated from one of the third-floor bedrooms. The DAR also hung the reverse paintings on glass of George and Martha Washington.

The Whales of Mississippi

During the Late Eocene epoch, 38 million years ago, sea levels were higher than they are today. In North America, the coasts of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, South Carolina and Georgia were flooded 100 miles inland from today’s coast. Florida was a large island in the continental sea off the coast. For four million years, this was the home of now extinct whale species. Although whales had existed in earlier seas, after the Cretaceous extinction killed the giant predator reptiles, whales flourished. One species, Zygorhiza kochii was unusual in many ways. It was a toothed whale with rows of jagged teeth for shredding its prey. It had a narrow body with front flippers that had an elbow that bent. Some paleontologists believe this allowed the whale to give birth on land. Its spine let it oscillate while swimming. Z. Kochii is an early ancestor of today’s toothed whales, sperm whales, killer whales, and porpoises, and it is the Mississippi state fossil. You can find this fossil in the museum’s natural history gallery.

Feral Pigeons

Domestic pigeons (Columba livia domestica) have a long history of living with humans. Archaeologists have found pigeon images dating back to 4500 B.C., indicating that rock pigeons (Columba liva) may have been the first bird domesticated by humans. People have used these birds for food, as messengers, and in laboratory research. Charles Darwin kept domestic pigeons and used his observations of both captive and wild pigeons to formulate parts of his theory of evolution. Pigeons form long-term bonds, staying with the same partner for life. They are also remarkable navigators. Pigeons sense the Earth’s magnetic fields and can use cues based on the position of the sun to find their way home from great distances. Feral pigeons are derived from domestic pigeons that have returned to the wild. They have adapted to urban life and are abundant throughout much of the world. They have a variety of shade and plumage patterns, including the blue-bar (bluish-gray bird with two black bands on the wing and a black tail tip), checker (spots on the wings), and pied (any color splotched with white). You can see a feral pigeon in the Backyard Wildlife Center at Lichterman Nature Center. This pigeon was hit by a car, which resulted in a broken wing and the loss of one eye. A wildlife rehabiliatator placed her at Lichterman in 2008.Feral

Vein Viewer

Veins are blood vessels that carry oxygen-depleted blood to the upper-right atrium of the heart. Advances in technology have made it easier for medical professionals to find veins for medical procedures including IV insertions, blood sampling, and blood donations to make them easier and less painful. Mobile and easy to use, the Vein Viewer senses veins under the skin of the patient and projects images onto the patient’s skin. The device works by projecting near-infrared light onto the patient’s skin. Some of the light penetrates the skin and is absorbed by the tissue that contains hemoglobin, the protein in blood that carries oxygen. The rest is reflected back to the light projector. There, a video camera captures the image and sends it to a computer which processes the data and projects the image directly onto the patient’s skin. You can try a Vein Viewer for yourself in the natural history gallery at the Pink Palace Museum.

Constellation Taurus

The constellation Taurus is one of the oldest recognized constellations, and some researchers believe the constellation is depicted in a cave painting in Lascaux, which dates to around 15,000 BCE. In Babylonian astronomy, Taurus was known as “The Bull of Heaven” and mentioned in the Epic of Gilgamesh. In this epic poem, the goddess Ishtar sends the Bull of Heaven to kill Gilgamesh, the Mesopotamian hero, because he rejected her desire to be with him. Enkidu, Gilgamesh’s ally, is able to tear off the bull’s back half and throws the pieces into the sky where they became the stars of the constellations we know as Ursa Major and Ursa Minor. To the Egyptians, Taurus represented a sacred bull that would sacrifice itself to ensure the renewal of spring. The Druids, who were the religious leaders of the Celts, held an important religious festival when the Sun passed through Taurus.

Blanche Karsch

Born Ann Donnelly in 1878 in New York City, Donnelly was orphaned by 1881 and living at a Catholic Mission Orphanage on Lower 5th Avenue in Manhattan. Kate Magevney adopted her, renamed her Blanche, and sent her to live with Kate’s sister, Sister Mary Agnes in Galveston, Texas. Blanche was raised and educated at Sacred Heart Academy (and convent) by her adopted aunt. In 1891, at the age of 13, Blanche returned to Memphis to live full time with Kate (already widowed twice) at the Magevney House. Blanche lived there with Kate until her marriage in 1903 to the physician Joseph Karsch. Kate and Eugene moved to a bungalow in Midtown with their two children, Hamilton and Mary Louise. After her adopted mother Kate’s death without a will, her court battle over the Magevney estate against the children of Eugene Magevney’s siblings was followed nationally and became a landmark case in the rights of adopted children. She won the case, inheriting part of the estate while the convent in Galveston, Texas also inherited a part. She bought out the convent’s share of the property. Karsch later donated the house to the City of Memphis in 1940. She died on February 23, 1961.

Ferocious Giant Lizards in Memphis

63 million years ago, during the Cretaceous Period, an inland sea covered the Mid-South to depths of 1,000 feet. The area was teeming with life, from bivalve mollusksand snails to sharks and sea turtles. The apex hunter of the Tennessee sea was the mosasaur. Mosasaurs were common worldwide and flourished in the shallow seas. Our display specimen came from the chalk beds of Kansas, but mosasaur fragments have been found in Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, and elsewhere in the Mid-South. Our curators have excavated specimens including Prognathodon overtoni, Plioplatecarpus depressus, and Mosasaurus maximus. Some mosasaur species grew to be longer than 50 feet. Our specimen, a Tylosaurus,measures 27 feet, 6 inches. It is unusual because it contains 95% of the original bone structure. As a predator, mosasaurs were the aquatic equivalent of the T-rex. Like the dinosaurs and other giant reptiles, mosasaurs became extinct at the end of the Cretaceous Period in a world-wide extinction event. You can read more about mosasaurs in our Closer Look blog.

Clyde Parke Miniature Circus

As a child, Clyde Parke loved the circus. He grew up during the Golden Age of circuses, the late 1800s. In those days, the circus came to town by train. The performers and animals paraded from the railroad stop through town to the site where they set up. The Great Depression led to the decline of the circus. Clyde Parke, finding himself out of work and missing the grand circuses of his youth, began building an elaborate miniature circus with moving parts. A grand parade, with wild animals, horses and floats, circles tents where trapeze artists perform. Parke planned on exhibiting his miniature circus throughout the Mid-South, but he found that it was too large for most display areas and it took two people approximately five days to setup. He displayed it for the first time in 1935 as part of the Memphis Cotton Carnival. He showed it again in 1953 at the Mid-South Fairground and at a Memphis department store in 1959. In 1970, Parke decided to donate the circus to the museum. It took him four months to take the circus apart and reassemble it at the Pink Palace. After two years of conservation, museum staff moved the circus to a new gallery in the Pink Palace mansion.

Dinosaurs of the Mid-South Podcast

How do scientists decide what counts as a dinosaur? Which ancient reptile was the apex predator in the Mid-South? And what dinosaurs live here today? Listen to the latest episode of Tributaries, the museum’s podcast, to learn the answers!


Garnet, the birthstone for January, refers to a wide variety of often red gems. The name garnet is used for a group of closely related minerals called the garnet group. Garnet group minerals share the same basic chemical structure, each varying from the other by one or two of elements in their chemical formula. The garnet group minerals include almandine, pyrope, spessartine, andradite, grossular, and uvarovite. Garnet gets its name from the Greek granatus, which refers to garnet’s visual similarity to pomegranate seeds. It is usually red in color, as the name implies, but can occur in all colors except for blue! The color of a garnet gem, like all other gems and minerals, is determined by its specific chemical composition. Garnet is prized as a gemstone for its resistance to scratching, widespread availability, and wide range of colors.

Milky Way

The Milky Way galaxy is home to not only our solar system but also almost everything we can see in the night sky. It is a spiral galaxy, defined by its pinwheel shape, with 4 major arms. Our solar system is located near the Orion Spur, which falls between the Perseus and Sagittarius Arms, and lies 28,000 light years from the center of the Milky Way. Keep in mind that a light year is roughly 5.88 trillion miles, defined as the distance light travels in a vacuum in one year. At the center is a supermassive black hole with the mass of about 4 million Suns, and our solar system is orbiting it with an average speed of 515,000 miles per hour. The Milky Way is approximately 100,000 light years in diameter, but it’s only about 1,000 light years thick. The Sun is just one of around 200 billion stars located in our home galaxy, and over 2,500 of those have planetary bodies orbiting around them, called exoplanets. This search continues so that we may learn more about our home, the Milky Way.

Image courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech/R. Hurt (SSC/Caltech)

Happy Birthday Stephen Hawking

On January 8, we celebrate the birthday of physicist and cosmologist, Stephen Hawking. Born in Oxford, England, in 1942, he was one of four children in a family known for being intelligent and eccentric. He was diagnosed at the age of 22 with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a slow-progressing, motor neuron disease that causes paralysis over time. Hawking taught at several institutions and became known for his work on gravitational singularity theorems and radiation emissions from black holes. He also wrote A Brief History of Time, a popular science book for the general public to learn about our universe. As his condition progressed, he lost the ability to speak and learned to communicate with technology, eventually using a single cheek muscle to operate the device. Though he passed away in 2018 at age of 76, his ideas and contributions still reverberate throughout the scientific community.

Image courtesy of NASA/Paul Alers

Southern Flying Squirrel

The southern flying squirrel (Glaucomys volans) is native to the eastern United States and is often found in the same areas as gray squirrels. Both species can be found in forests and neighborhoods with large hardwood trees. They aren’t observed as often as gray squirrels because flying squirrels are nocturnal, meaning they are active at night. The flying squirrel’s name is slightly deceiving because they cannot fly. Instead, they glide from tree top to tree top using a thin membrane stretching from its front to back legs. They have been documented gliding more than 100 feet. Human wingsuits used in base jumping and skydiving are based off of this membrane used for gliding. Flying squirrels are omnivores, mostly eating seeds, nuts, and fruits. They will occasionally visit backyard feeders at night to grab a quick meal. 

Flying squirrels are relatively small, only weighing a few ounces, but they have large eyes that enhance their night-time vision. They have numerous predators, including owls, domestic cats, raccoons, and snakes. They are cavity nesters, and will use old woodpecker holes, hollow trees, and nest boxes. They can have two broods a year starting in February. If they have a late summer brood, the young will often stay with their parents through the winter. In winter, flying squirrels often den together to stay warm and can occasionally be found in attics. 

The Backyard Wildlife Center at Lichterman Nature Center occasionally houses a southern flying squirrel in the “Night Shift” section of the forest exhibit

History of The Mallory-Neely House

Banking and insurance executive Isaac Kirtland built the mansion at 652 Adams Avenue around 1852 for his wife Lucy and their eight children. It was built in the Italianate style, a popular architectural style of the mid-1800s. In 1864, the Kirklands sold the property sold for $40,000 to Benjamin and Mary Babb. Babb made his living in the cotton industry. In 1883, the Babbs sold the property to a cotton factor, James Columbus Neely, for $45,000. This was the last time the house was sold, and it remained in the same family until the Neely’s grandchildren donated the house to the Daughters of the American Revolution in 1972.

It was during the ownership of James Columbus and Frances Blocker Neely that this house took its present appearance. They expanded the home’s third floor in the 1890 and added a second story to the tower. They also redecorated most of the interior of the house around the same time. The Neelys had five children, and after their marriages, both daughters raised their families in this house. The youngest daughter, Daisy, who was 12 years old when her family moved here, lived the rest of her long life in this house. She died in 1969 at the age of 98. Several of the rooms remain as her parents decorated them, leaving us a uniquely preserved late Victorian mansion.


Nine-banded armadillos (Dasypus novemcinctus) are common in modern day Shelby County, but it has not always been that way. The first documented sighting of an armadillo in our county was in 1974, and sightings continued to be rare until the 2000s. Prior to 1850, nine-banded armadillos were not found north of the Rio Grande River. Now armadillos range as far north as Illinois, and could spread as far north as New York. Researchers believe the rapid range expansion has occurred because of decreased predators, milder winters, the armadillos’ high reproductive rate, and the addition of bridges and highways, which allow armadillos to cross natural barriers and serve as routes to new areas. You can examine this armadillo skeleton in the Skeletons exhibit in the natural history gallery at the Pink Palace Museum.

Lieutenant Lee

George Washington Lee was born in Indianola, Mississippi, on January 4, 1894, and attended Alcorn Agricultural and Mechanical College before serving as a lieutenant in the United States Army during World War I. After the war, Lee returned to Memphis and became a successful businessman and leader of the local Republican Party. As one of Memphis’ earliest African American historians, Lee wrote several books that emphasized black pride as well as African American entrepreneurship in the area. As a trusted ally of fellow Republican Robert R. Church, Jr., Lee helped establish and maintain several of the early African American banks and insurance companies in Downtown Memphis. He was a prominent leader in the local chapters of the NAACP as well as the Urban League. Lieutenant Lee’s contributions to the city were lasting, and as a result the city dedicated Lieutenant George W. Lee Avenue after his death in 1976.

Image credit: Memphis Pink Palace Museum Collection, 2012.007.0001


For over a century, postcards have been a popular way for people to communicate. During the “Golden Age of Postcards,” 1907-1915, postcards first took on the divided back appearance familiar today. The United States Congress passed an act that allowed messages to be written on the left side of the postcard with the address on right half. Postcards for holidays including Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving, Memorial Day, and New Year’s proliferated. If you look closely in the office and the postal window in the country store exhibit, you will find several postcards on display.

Magevney Family Quilt

During the late 19th century, members of the Magevney family created this patchwork crazy quilt. Featuring irregularly shaped pieces of silks, velvets, and brocades, the quilt is also embroidered with a variety of stitches. Crazy quilts are products of the Victorian era, and were at their height of popularity in the last quarter of the 19th century. While they might look random, crazy quilts were carefully planned. Quilters laid out combinations of fabrics to find the best arrangement before sewing. These quilts were the country’s first needlework craze. Women’s magazines published patchwork patterns, silk manufacturers sold bundles of scrap, and fabric manufacturers began printing cloth that imitated the patchwork designs.

King Vulture

This taxidermied king vulture (Sarcoramphus papa) came to the museum through our Zoo Salvage Program. In the 1970s, Pink Palace staff members started this program to build up the museum’s natural history collection. After an animal died at the Memphis Zoo, the zoo’s vet notified the museum’s staff biologist. If the animal would further the museum’s educational goals, which included teaching anatomy and evolution, the zoo donated the animals to the biology labs for use in exhibits or education programs. Some of these animals were taxidermied while others were designated to be used as skeletons. The museum still has several of these specimens in our collection.

King vultures range from southern Mexico to southern Argentina. They are the largest New World vulture, except for condors, with a wingspan of up to seven feet and weighing weigh up to eight pounds. These spectacular birds are often depicted in Mayan and Aztec art and mythology. Although they are not considered an endangered species, king vultures are declining in number, largely due to habitat loss.

Building His Dream Home - Saunders' Pink Palace

Clarence Saunders built his palatial home on 155 acres just to the east of Memphis’s city limits. He laid out the idea for the mansion even before hiring architect Hubert T. McGee to draw the plans. On December 29, 1922, construction on the mansion was going strong, but only a few months later Saunders would lose his battle with Wall Street brokers, declare bankruptcy, and forfeit his “pink palace” before he ever lived there. You can learn more about Saunders and his dreams for his southern showplace in the mansion exhibits at the Pink Palace Museum.

Orion in Greek Mythology

In Greek mythology, the hero Orion was the half-mortal son of Poseidon and Euryale. He was a great hunter who carried a large club as his main weapon. In one myth, Orion fell in love with the Pleiades, 7 sisters who were Titan Atlas’ daughters, and pursued them relentlessly. To save them, Zeus placed them in the sky as the Pleiades star cluster in the constellation Taurus, which explains why the constellation Orion chases them across the sky. Another constellation Orion chases in the night sky is Lepus, which represents a rabbit. Orion is assisted in his hunt by his two hunting dogs who are represented in the constellations Canis Major and Canis Minor.

The constellation Orion is also associated with the constellation Scorpio, which played a role in his death. In one version of the myth, Orion boasted that he would kill every animal on Earth. This boast offended Artemis, the Greek goddess of the hunt and of animal. She sent a scorpion to attack Orion. The scorpion and Orion fought, and the scorpion killed Orion. The battle was so great, however, that it caught Zeus’ attention of Zeus, and he placed the scorpion in the night sky as the constellation Scorpius. Artemis then asked Zeus to placed Orion in the night sky to serve as a reminder to mortals to not be too prideful and make boasts that could anger the gods. In other versions of the myth, Orion and Artemis actually hunted together as friends and Orion was killed by a scorpion that was either attempting to kill Leto, Artemis’ mother, or that had been sent by Apollo, Artemis’ brother who was jealous of their relationship. The grieving Artemis put Orion into the night sky. She also places Scorpio in the sky to commemorate Orion’s death. Orion is still afraid of Scorpio and disappears below the horizon when Scorpio begins to rise in the night sky.

Mr. Bingle - A Memphis Holiday Icon

From the 1850s until the 1960s, Main Street was the center of Memphis’ retail shopping district, anchored by the department stores Goldsmith’s on the south end of the street and Lowenstein’s at the north end. The original Enchanted Forest at Goldsmith’s delighted visitors in the mid-1950s and used Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer in its advertisements. Not to be outdone, Lowenstein’s also set up Christmas displays for shoppers. Mr. Bingle was a popular Christmas character for Lowenstein’s department stores in the 1950s. He originated in New Orleans’ Maison Blanche stores, which later became part of the same store chain as Lowenstein’s.

Red Ryder BB Gun

Ralphie from A Christmas Story would probably be jealous of our 1950 Red Ryder BB Gun. The Red Ryder BB Gun was developed and produced by the Daisy Manufacturing Company, which built vane-less windmills and rifles since the late 19th century. In the early years of manufacturing, the company gave out a free BB gun with every purchase of a vane-less windmill. The Red Ryder model BB gun was introduced in 1940, and it was based on the popular Red Ryder western-themed comic strip and licensed by the owners of the comic franchise. Red Ryder was also made into a movie serial the same year. In fact, 1940 is also the year that the movie, A Christmas Story, takes place. Ralphie’s coveted rifle, a “two-hundred shot, hundred range model air rifle with a compass in the stock” would not have existed as there was no such model. It’s also not an accurate description as all Daisy BB guns are smooth bored and by definition not a rifle. Spoiler alert, Ralphie gets his rifle in the end, and he is lucky that he did. In 1942, Daisy stopped producing the Red Ryder in order to produce rifles for the WWII effort. Red Ryder production began again in 1949, and continue to be made today at a factory in Rogers, Arkansas. The Red Ryder BB gun is the most popular air gun ever built.

Perseus Constellations

The constellations Perseus, Andromeda, Cepheus, Cassiopeia, Pegasus, and Cetus all belong to the Perseus Family of constellations because they are all associated with the Greek mythological story of Perseus. King Polydectes, who wanted to marry Perseus’ mother, Danaë, sent him on a quest to slay the Gorgon Medusa, whose stare could turn anything to stone. Perseus was able to slay Medusa after receiving several objects from the gods to aid him in his quest. From Medusa’s severed head sprang Pegasus, a winged horse whom Perseus was able to tame.

On his way home, Perseus flew over Andromeda, who was chained to some rocks by the ocean. Andromeda’s mother, Cassiopeia, had boasted to the gods that her daughter was more beautiful than all of the Nereids, sea-nymphs who served Poseidon, the Greek god of the sea. As punishment, Poseidon sent the sea-monster Cetus to destroy the kingdom of her parents, Cepheus and Cassiopeia. Her parents learned that the only way to save their kingdom was to sacrifice Andromeda, which is why she was chained to the rocks as a sacrifice to Cetus. Perseus was able to slay Cetus by using Medusa’s head to turn the sea-monster to stone and then save and marry Andromeda.

After saving Andromeda, Perseus returned home to save his mother from Polydectes by turning him to stone. Perseus gave Medusa’s head to Athena for her to place upon Zeus’ shield, which she carried, as thanks to the gods for assisting him on his adventures. In commemoration of these events, the Greek gods placed everyone who was involved in this story in the night sky as constellations. This family of constellations can best be seen in the late fall and early winter in the Northern Hemisphere.

Oxbow Lake

An oxbow lake starts as a curve, or meander, in a river. Meanders that form oxbow lakes have two curves, one that curves away from the river and one that curves back towards it. Over time, the force of the river erodes the outer banks of the curves and deposits sediment on the inside banks. The river cuts a new, shorter channel through the eroded banks. As a river creates a shorter course, sediments will continue build up along the new channel, eventually cutting the meander off from the river. The result is a stillwater lake that has no water flowing in or out that creates important ecosystems. You can learn more about the oxbow lakes in the natural history gallery at the Pink Palace Museum.

This satellite image of the Mississippi River just south of Memphis is courtesy of USGS and NASA.

Peabody Hotel Duckmaster

In 1933, The Peabody Hotel’s General Manager Frank Schutt and his friend, Chip Barwick, returned from an unsuccessful hunting trip in Arkansas, where they were using live ducks as decoys. When the two men arrived back at the hotel, they mischievously decided to put their live decoys in the hotel’s indoor fountain. This joke was received with wholehearted excitement as the hotel guests reacted to the ducks with happy surprise. The reactions were so enthusiastic that the ducks stayed.

The title “Duckmaster” was born in 1941 when Edward Pembroke, a bellman at the hotel and former circus trainer, offered to train the ducks. For 51 years, Pembroke trained North American mallards (Anas platyrhynchos) to march from their rooftop penthouse down a red carpet to the indoor fountain, all to the tune of King Cotton March. This march still occurs twice a day and is popular with Memphians and visitors alike.

National Twin Day

Happy National Twin Day! Today we are celebrating all the twins out there. Here are some fun twin facts:

1. Identical twins have different fingerprints.

2. Twins can have completely different skin tones.

3. Twins start interacting in the womb at 14 weeks.

4. Identical twins can develop different diseases.

5. It is possible for twins to have different dads.

6. Once you have one set of fraternal twins, you are 3-4 times more likely to have another set.

7. Nigeria has the highest rate of multiple births and the most identical twins.

8. China has the lowest rate.

9. Twins can have different birthdays (longest gap is 63 days)

10. Mothers of twins live longer.

Today, we also celebrate our resident twins at the Mallory-Neely House, Frances “Frannie” Mallory and her fraternal twin brother Barton Lee, Jr. Born in 1905 to Daisy and Barton Lee Mallory, Sr., Frannie and B. Lee, Jr. were known for being inseparable as children.

Crown Turban

Crown turban (Turbo cidaris natelensis) is a species of sea snail in the Turbinidae marine mollusk gastropod family. Turban snails have strong, dome-shaped calcareous opercula, calcium carbonate structures that are attached to the animals’ muscular feet and serve as a door to trap moisture in and keep enemies out. The shell has a heliciform shape, a spiral around a central column. The broad, conical spire contains 5-6 whorls, or complete 360 degree revolutions, in the shell’s spiral growth. Crown turban shells are usually flammulated, meaning they have a flame-shaped color pattern. They are found in the Indian Ocean. You can see this specimen in the vitrine case in the Mansion into Museum exhibit in the Pink Palace mansion.

Penguin Pond at The Enchanted Forest

The Penguin Pond is a beloved tradition at the Enchanted Forest. Each year, classrooms, companies, and individuals raise funds to support Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital. For every $50 donation, the hospital gives a stuffed penguin to a child spending the holidays at the hospital and recognizes the donors with a penguin in the Pond. Our penguins may live in the magical, northern Enchanted Forest, but in the real world, penguins live almost exclusively in the Southern Hemisphere. You can learn more about these aquatic, flightless birds and their evolutionary history in the latest episode of Tributaries, the museum’s podcast.

"Sole Owner Tigers" Football Team

By the early twentieth century, American sports fans were increasingly embracing football as a rival to baseball for their affections. Here in Memphis, the 1920s offered gridiron enthusiasts some especially exciting times. Perhaps the greatest football moment of that era came on December 15, 1929, when a crowd of 8,000 Memphians packed Hodges Field to watch their local professional team beat that year’s NFL Champions, the Green Bay Packers. Clarence Saunders owned the Memphis team, and named it the Sole Owner Tigers. The unusual name stemmed from Saunders’ chain of “Sole Owner” stores, which he established after losing his Piggly Wiggly empire in a failed battle with Wall Street. As a team owner, Saunders gave new meaning to a hands-on approach. Practices were held at his country estate, where he often caught punts while dressed in expensive suits. Once, he stopped a game in progress to ensure ticketed fans reached their seats. Sanders invested heavily in player talent and wanted Tigers fans to get their money’s worth. This led him to strike a deal with the legendary Packers coach, Curly Lambeau, to hold the exhibition game in Memphis.

The game took place just a week after the Packers won the NFL crown. The Tigers shocked sportswriters and fans alike with a 20-6 victory. Afterwards, Saunders boasted of the “licking” his squad gave the NFL champs. He promised big things for the 1930 season, and told the Commercial Appeal, “The national championship of pro football is again our crown. Whoever wants to dispute this, let the challenge issue.” Unfortunately, Saunders went bankrupt with the onset of the Great Depression. The team continued under new ownership through 1934 but never again reached the high-water mark of 1929.

Constellation Cetus

The constellation Cetus, a sea-monster, is most often associated with the Greek story of Perseus and Andromeda. Cetus was the sea-monster sent to punish Andromeda’s parents for their arrogance by eating their daughter, but Perseus was able to save Andromeda by turning Cetus to stone with Medusa’s head. However, Cetus has been depicted many different ways throughout history. The Mesopotamians depicted Cetus as a giant whale. In the 1600s, astronomer Johann Bayer depicted Cetus as a dragon fish, while astronomers Willem Blaeu and Andreas Cellarius also depicted Cetus as a whale. Cetus has also been depicted with different animal heads attached to a fish-like body.

Geminids Meteor Showers

The Geminids are one of the most dependable meteor showers of the year, appearing to originate from the constellation Gemini. This year, its period of activity is from December 4-17, with the peak falling on the night between December 13 and 14. During the peak, the moon will only be 1% full, so hardly any light will distract from the shower. In good conditions, we can expect about 100 meteors per hour. The Geminids are one of the few showers that have a bit of activity before midnight, so you don’t necessarily have to be up late to watch. Typically, the Geminids produce bright and colorful activity, and they can even be observed in the southern hemisphere. The debris that supplies the Geminid showers originates from the asteroid 3200 Phaethon.

If you would like to keep up with upcoming meteor showers and storms, check the American Meteor Society’s calendar.

Image courtesy of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center Conceptual Image Lab

Chinese Screen at Mallory-Neely House

This Chinese screen dates back to the late 19th century Qing Dynasty. The Mallorys purchased it  at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair. According to oral tradition, the Chinese Empress Dowager selected the screen for the fair. The screen’s frame is hand-carved teak wood. Four embroidered silk panels represent the four seasons: Peony for Spring, Lotus for Summer, Chrysanthemum for Fall, and Plum Blossoms for Winter. Some of the stitch work was executed in a technique known as “the forbidden stitch.” This very fine stitch was often limited to the sole use of the garments and décor of Chinese nobility. You can see the screen on display in the Mallory-Neely House’s drawing room.

Ancient Bison

Bison antiquus, or the ancient bison, arrived in North America around 250,000 years ago from Eastern Asia. These ancestors of modern bison stood almost seven feet tall at the shoulder and weighed around 2,000 pounds. They eventually ranged from Florida to Oregon. Around 10,000 years ago, at the end of the last Ice Age, they disappeared from the Mid-South. Nowadays, the only bison to be found in the Mid-South are the smaller descendants of ancient bison in the imported herd at Shelby Farms.

From Richardson’s Landing, Tennessee, to Greenville, Mississippi, the sand and gravel bars of the Mississippi River cut through old sediments in the riverbed and along its banks, exposing the fossil remains of these ancient bison.

Thanks to the efforts of a group of amateur geologists, the Pink Palace Museum is home to several ancient bison fossils from the Mid-South. John Connaway and a group of friends collected fossils from the banks and sandbars of the Mississippi River for years. Recognizing the significance of their finds for research into the Ice Age in our region, they donated their collection to the museum.

Loblolly Pine and the Southern Pine Beetle

Loblolly pines (Pinus taeda) are one of the most industrially used trees in the Southeast. It is an evergreen, or coniferous tree, with dark needles reaching up to ten inches in length. Each fascicle, or leaf bundle, contains three needles. Loblolly pines can thrive in various habitats, ranging from saturated floodplains to dry upland slopes. The word “loblolly” means a low, boggy, or muddy area, where this tree is often found. It is mostly an overstory tree, reaching almost 100 feet in height. It is also one of the tallest eastern trees, with the record height topping 173 feet. The loblolly pine is moderately shade tolerant and is also found near the Southeast’s mixed pine-hardwood forests.

Loblolly pines are the host plants for the southern pine beetle (Dendroctonus frontalis), whose infestations lead to the trees’ deaths. Southern pine beetles are the most destructive pine insect pests in the southern United States. This aggressive tree killer is a native insect that lives predominantly in the inner bark of pine trees. Infested trees often exhibit hundreds of resin masses, or pitch tubes, on the outer tree bark. On phloem tissue, the beetles construct winding S-shaped galleries. The galleries created by both the adult beetles and their offspring will girdle a tree, causing its death. Southern pine beetles also introduce trees to blue-stain fungi. These fungi colonize xylem tissue and block water flow within the tree, resulting in tree death. Consequently, once a pine tree is successfully colonized by pine beetles, the tree cannot survive, regardless of control measures. 

You can see a loblolly pine along the trails at the Lichterman Nature Center arboretum. 

Club Handy

Club Handy

Andrew “Sunbeam” Mitchell opened Club Handy in 1946 and operated it through the 1960s. Rumor had it that Abe Plough was a silent partner in the club, which was situated on a floor above Plough’s Pantaze Drugstore, at the corner of Hernando and Beale. Kemmons Wilson, the creator of Holiday Inn, joined the investment group that helped finance the club.

Club Handy was a mainstay of blues and R&B artists who played to largely black audiences in what was known as the “Chitlin’ Circuit.” B.B. King, Little Junior Parker, Louie Jordon and Bobby Blue Bland appeared regularly. Even a young Elvis Presley played there. Mitchell also had a house band and a group of dancers called the Mitchelettes.

A Whale-Sized Toothpick

Narwhals (Monodon monoceros) are small whales averaging from 13 to 18 feet long and weighing up to 3,500 pounds. Its home is in the Arctic Ocean and along the coastlines of Greenland, Canada, Norway, and Russia. Adult narwhals have one pair of canine teeth which grow horizontally in the upper jaw. In the male, the left canine is a straight, screw-shaped tusk up to eight and a half feet long. Narwhals sometimes use this tooth to win mates, but that is not its primary purpose. Biologists speculated that these whales use the horns as ice picks, or to sense noises deep under water. However, recent discoveries show that the narwhal’s tusk is primarily a sensory organ. Narwhal tusks have no enamel protection. Sea water enters the horn through small channels, which are also present in human teeth. The liquid then travels through a network of tubules to the center of the tooth. From there a sensory nerve sends signals to the brain of the animal. The horn is sensitive to temperatures and can “taste” chemicals in the water. When salt concentrations in the water change, this nerve sends signals that adjust the narwhal’s heart rate. Biologists think that males may use the horn to find food and to locate females who are ready to mate.

Ruth Bush - Pink Palace Museum Director 1950 - 1967

Clarence Saunders never lived in his pink Georgia marble mansion, but the first two directors of the museum did. Julia Cummins, its first resident, lived there from 1929-1950. The second resident was Ruth Bush, pictured here, who lived in the mansion from 1950-1967. For both women, their bedroom was located on the second floor of the mansion with a bathroom next door. The rest of their living quarters were in the basement where the was a kitchen, living room, drawing room, restroom, and storage rooms. Bush was given a second refrigerator that she put upstairs. She also had a cabinet built in her bedroom to store a hot plate so that she could make herself breakfast without having to get dressed and walk through the museum to cook in her basement kitchen.

Mallory-Neely House Fireplace Mantels

The Neelys added the mahogany mantels at the Mallory-Neely House in the 1890s, replacing the original marble ones. Carved depictions of mythological “Green Men” peer down from above the beveled glass mirrors. By the late Victorian period, fireplace mantels had become increasingly ornamental and were the focal point for the arrangement of furniture. Étagères above mantels became standard pieces in Victorian households. Their shelving provided an attractive place to display a family’s more impressive ornaments. With the addition of wooden mantelpieces came the need for fire retardant materials. Tile was cleaner and more attractive than brick. Encaustic tiles (using paint made from pigment mixed with melted beeswax and resin) were mass produced in America by the 1880s.

The Tennessee Brewing Company

From 1885-1954, the Tennessee Brewing Company made beer in downtown Memphis at the intersection of Butler and Tennessee Streets. The company first marketed a pilsner before expanding to other styles. Prior to Prohibition, the brewery produced 250,000 barrels of beer a year. Afterwards, the company returned to the business brewing its Goldcrest lager. In 1938, the company renamed the beer Goldcrest 51 to honor the company’s 50 years in the business. Production ceased in 1954 when the brewery closed its doors.  In 2015, the Goldcrest Brewing Company revived Goldcrest 51, and it is now available in Memphis and eastern Arkansas. Today, the building is an example of adaptively reusing historic architecture and has been reimagined as an apartment building. 

Giant Meteor Hits Tennessee!

Approximately 200 million years ago, a 20-million ton meteor crashed into Tennessee. The impact, at speeds as high as 36,000 to 90,000 miles per hour, left a four-mile wide crater. The earth is visibly deformed in a ten-mile radius of the impact site. Although millions of years of erosion have worn the crater, structures such as the crater’s walls and floor are still visible. The floor of the crater had rich soils, which Native Americans and later European settlers used for hunting, gathering, and agriculture. Known as the Wells Creek Structure, the site is easily visible on topographic maps. The site is known for some of the finest shatter cones in the world. Shatter cones are created when sudden pressure waves penetrate to the bedrock and form conical shaped structures with pressure striations in the rock. The site was first identified as an impact crater when railroad crews sent samples of rocks to the Tennessee State Geologist in 1855. It was not until 1960 that geologists were able to prove Wells Creek was an impact crater. There are three major impact craters in the State of Tennessee. 

Goldsmith's Department Store - Original Home of the Enchanted Forest

For most of the twentieth century, Goldsmith’s Department Store was Memphis’ foremost shopping emporium. “Memphis’ Greatest Store,” as Goldsmiths billed itself, anchored the south end of Main Street. German immigrant Louis Ottenheimer moved from Arkansas to Memphis in the 1860s, with the hope of becoming a part of the young city’s economic boom. With his partner Moses Schwartz, Ottenheimer opened a store on Main Street and in 1867 brought his nephews, Isaac and Jacob Goldsmith, to work in the store. The two young men saved $500 and, in 1870, opened their own store on Beale Street. This store became Goldsmiths, one of the first true department stores in the South. The store blazed a trail for other retailers to follow. It was the first store in Memphis to install air conditioning, escalators, and a mechanical credit system. Goldsmiths began organizing an annual Christmas Parade in Memphis before the Macy’s Parade in New York, and in the 1960s it opened the Enchanted Forest, which has become a Memphis Christmas tradition (now shown each year at the Pink Palace Museum).

A Goldsmiths Department Store remained in the original location on Main and Beale until 1993. By that time, there were many Goldsmiths in and around Memphis. Although the family sold the chain in 1959, the stores retained the Goldsmiths name until 2003 when the name was changed to Macy’s. The Pink Palace Museum’s collection includes clothing, hats, and shoes with the Goldsmith’s label as well as this charge plate.

Wild Turkeys

Wild turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo) are native only to North America. Native Americans first domesticated them, followed by European colonialists. In the 1500s, turkeys were being shipped to Europe. Contrary to the popular legend, Benjamin Franklin did not advocate for the wild turkey to be our national symbol. However, he did write a letter to his daughter questioning the characteristics of the bald eagle since they often steal fish from other birds and pointing out wild turkey’s courage. By the early 1900s over hunting, habitat loss, and the demise of the American chestnut tree (Castanea dentata), a favorite food of wild turkeys, eliminated the animal from most of its range, including the majority of Tennessee. The creation of state wildlife agencies, hunting regulations, and reintroductions caused a rebound in the turkey population by the 1970s. Wild turkeys are now found in 49 out of the 50 states (they are found in Hawaii but not Alaska) and in every county in the state of Tennessee. Wild turkeys have been documented at Lichterman Nature Center, but it is rare. They are more often found in mature forests with nut trees and fields.  A taxidermy turkey can be seen in the Parade of Animals exhibit in the Visitor Center at Lichterman Nature Center.

Image courtesy of TWRA.

WHER: 1000 Beautiful Watts

Sixty-five years ago, WHER, the first all-female radio station in America, went live from Memphis, TN.  This Thanksgiving, we're giving thanks for this pioneering group of female DJs and our fellow Memphis museum, the Museum of Rock and Soul, by presenting an episode from their podcast, Memphis Musicology, hosted by Ezra Wheeler.  Ezra and the production team at the OAM Network use archival recordings to transport us back in time to the WHER studio to hear the story unfold. CLICK TO HEAR PODCAST.

Kosher BBQ

“There is no stronger test of an observant Jew’s true commitment …than being able to resist the aroma that wafts over East Memphis from Corky’s Restaurant,” writes Marcie Cohen Ferris in Matzoh Ball Gumbo. Many Memphians are dedicated to the cult of pork barbeque, and barbeque joints large and small dot the city streets. Reform Jews are able to join in the city-wide obsession, but Memphis-style pork barbeque is not for those who keep kosher.

In the late 1980s Melvin Katz and Ira Weinstein asked officials of the Memphis in May World Championship Barbeque Cooking Contest if they would sponsor a kosher barbeque contest. The officials declined, but Anshei Sphard-Beth El Emeth stepped in. ASBEE World Kosher BBQ Competition and Festival, the world’s first kosher barbeque contest, was born. Among team names, there have been “Holy Smokers,” “Shofar Shogood,” “Three Brisketeers,” and “Grillin n’ Tefellin.” Awards are given for best kosher beef brisket, short ribs, chicken and beans.

You can learn more about other BBQ traditions on the newest episode of Tributaries, the museum’s podcast.

William Neely Mallory - "Memphis Bill"

Daisy and Barton Mallory’s oldest son, William Neely, attended Popfret Academy, a Connecticut prep school, followed by Yale University. He was an outstanding athlete and was known as “Memphis Bill” during his days as fullback for the Yale football team. He achieved nationwide recognition as team captain during their undefeated 1923 season. He was selected captain and fullback of Walter Camp’s All-American team that year, an honor akin to winning the Heisman Trophy today. After graduation, Neely returned to Memphis and worked with his father in the cotton business. Very active in civic affairs, he was elected president of the Cotton Exchange, president of the Cotton Carnival, and a member of the Board of Trustees of Southwestern at Memphis (now Rhodes College). He reigned as the King of the 1935 Cotton Carnival. With the onset of World War II, Neely joined the US Army Air Corps. As an intelligence officer, Major Mallory engineered a plan to destroy 22 bridges crossing the Po River in Northern Italy to cut off German supply routes in the region. In 1944, he was awarded the Army’s Legion of Merit Award for this achievement. He was killed when a plane carrying service personnel home to the U.S. went down near Florence, Italy, in February 1945. He was 44-years-old and left a wife and young son. The Mallory Gymnasium at the Rhodes College and Mallory Air Force Depot in South Memphis are named in his memory. You can learn more about his life at the Mallory-Neely House.

Cigar Making

Few Memphians know that our city was once a center of the cigar-making trade. At one time at least eleven cigar-making establishments operated here and dozens of brands of cigars were produced. Three hundred Memphians were members of Union No. 266 of the Cigar Makers International Union of America, including at least one woman. This union was a powerful force in the Memphis Trades & Labor Council. The Memphis Cigar Factory on Main Street was one of the most successful. In 1892, with the opening of the first Memphis Bridge, they brought out the “Memphis Bridge” cigar. After World War I, a new Memphis cigar, called “Hambone” was introduced. It was named for cartoonist J. P. Alley’s racist depiction of his philosophical black character Hambone. This 5-cent cigar, “of the finest quality” was advertised with a drawing of a cigar-puffing Hambone flying an airplane. The popularity of the cigarette, the time-consuming labor of cigar-rolling, and other factors eventually hurt the cigar trade in Memphis. The last meeting of the Memphis union occurred in 1943, with only seven members remaining.

Chambered Nautilus - Ancient Predators & Scavengers

Nautiluses are a living link to the ancient past. They are the descendants of the ammonites that populated Earth’s oceans from 240 to 66 million years ago.

Chambered nautili (Nautilus pompilius) are mollusks and part of the cephalopod family, which includes squids, octopuses, and cuttlefish. While other cephalopods have small, internal shells, the chambered nautilus has an external shell. This coiled shell is a series of chambers. The soft-bodied animal lives in the last chamber, while the inner chambers hold gases that allow the nautilus to float. To adjust its density and position in the water, the nautilus can insert or remove fluid from its chambers through tubes. They also use these tubes to expel water, propelling the nautilus through the water. Chambered nautili live in deep waters near reefs. They have over 90 tentacles, more than any other cephalopod. Both predators and scavengers, the nautili use their tentacles to seize prey and bring scavenged food to their beak-like mouths.

Nautilus shells are prized for their beauty and often sold in shops. As a result, deep sea divers often collect living specimens to sell. In 2017, the chambered nautilus was listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. You can see this specimen in the Cossitt Gallery in the Pink Palace Mansion.

Mallory-Neely House - Second Floor Bathroom

Indoor plumbing was added to the Mallory-Neely House as part of the Neely’s 1890s renovation. One bathroom is on the second floor, and the other bathroom is directly above it on the third floor. Previously, this room probably served as a bath chamber without indoor plumbing. Both post-1890 bathrooms feature a toilet with a pull chain for flushing, a marble topped sink, and a bathtub. In the 1920s, a modern toilet was installed in the second-floor bathroom. These two bathrooms serviced nine bedrooms, six on the second floor and three on the third floor.

The second-floor bathroom was decorated in the 1890s. If you look up to the right just inside the doorway, you can view remnants of the ceiling stenciling bleeding through layers of paint. Most of this stenciling has been lost, but there is enough to show that there were linear bands of stenciling. Attached to the second-floor bathroom is a servant’s bathroom that the Neelys included in their renovation. The window between the two bathrooms provided light and perhaps ventilation.

Tiger Hoops T-Shirt

Memphis Tiger fans have always shown their loyalties through their wardrobes. This shirt belonged to Margaret Conway. Her granddaughter Jessie Wortham Dickert remembers, “Margaret ‘Mimi’ Conway was the fiercest and most loyal Tiger fan I have ever known. Whether it was sewing majorette uniforms for Tiger football or cheering loudly from her season ticket-holding seats at the Coliseum, Pyramid, and Forum, Mimi was always proud to be a Tiger. This shirt celebrates her 1985 trip to Lexington, KY for the NCAA Final Four and floods my mind with all the happy memories I shared with her rooting for good ol’ Memphis U. I can see and hear her now proudly sporting her Tiger blue and shouting down from Heaven – ‘Go Tigers Go!’” You can see her shirt in the Tiger Hoops exhibit.  

Bird's Eye View Map

After the Civil War, panoramic artists made many bird’s eye view maps of American cities, drawing metropolises from above and at an angle, similar to what a bird might see flying past from a half mile away. Their concern was less about representing exact scale and more about illustrating street patterns and landscape features in perspective. Artist Albert Ruger published this panoramic map of Memphis in 1870. Similar to other period maps, he drew the city with a bustling harbor and large numbers of people on the streets. Advances in printing technology allowed him to sell prints individually. You can zoom in on a high resolution scan of this map on the Library of Congress’ website.

Leonids Meteor Showers

Meteor showers are one of the many celestial phenomena we can observe on Earth. These beautiful occurrences are the result of space debris left in the path of Earth’s orbit that burn up in our atmosphere. Out in space, the debris is called a meteoroid. Upon entering Earth’s atmosphere at high speeds, it becomes a meteor. A meteor obtains meteorite status if it’s large enough to make it through the atmosphere and reach the surface without burning away completely. Meteor showers are often named after the constellation or bright star they seem to originate from, but activity can appear all over the sky. The Leonids are an annual meteor showers, concentrating near the constellation Leo. This year, the period of activity is from November 6-30, with the peak falling on the night linking November 16 and 17. This night, the Moon will only be 5% full, so not much light will distract from the shower. Activity typically peaks after midnight. This year, we can expect about 15 fast-moving meteors per hour. The debris that supplies the Leonid showers originates from the comet 55P/Tempel-Tuttle. The Leonid meteor showers are more unpredictable than others, with bright meteor storms about every 33 years. However, the next Leonid storm will occur in 2099, much later than the typical 33-year waiting period.

If you would like to keep up with upcoming meteor showers and storms, check the American Meteor Society’s calendar.

Image courtesy of NASA

Opalized Wood

Petrified wood is a type of fossil in which the organic material of fallen tree is replaced by a variety of quartz, normally chalcedony. It is a relatively common fossil, with little value as a gemstone or collector's specimen. You can find a large specimen of petrified wood on display in the Museum of Science & History's Geology exhibit. More rarely, the replacement mineral in petrified wood is a variety of quartz called opal. Opal is a mineraloid, not technically a mineral, that is made out of hydrated silica. Instead of crystals, as in quartz, the silica in opal is arranged in closely packed spheres with water or air filling the voids between them. Even more rarely, the replacement mineral is a variety of opal known as precious opal. The spheres of silica in precious opal are the right size and arrangement to diffract white light into its constituent colors. It displays a play of color that appears as a shifting rainbow as it is moved under a light, making it a highly prized gemstone. Opalized wood combines the visual interest of a precious gem and the preserved structure of an ancient tree.

Red-Tailed Hawks

Red-tailed hawks (Buteo jamaicensis) are some of the most common hawks, and the second largest, in North America. They have broad, rounded wings and short, wide tails. Unsurprisingly, given their common name, most subspecies of these hawks have red feathers on top of their tails. They prefer open areas like fields and deserts, perching high where they can look for their prey, which includes mammals, birds, snakes, and carrion. Those high perches include telephone poles and fenceposts, which is where you are likely to see one. During mating season, hawks fly in pairs in large circles to a high altitude before the male plunges into a deep dive followed by a steep climb back to circling height. After several swoops, the male will briefly touch the female from above with his legs. Sometimes the pair clasps each other with their talons and plummets in spirals before pulling apart. Red-tail hawks are monogamous, make stick nests high above the ground, and take turns incubating eggs. The hatchlings stay in the nest for about six weeks. You can see a red-tailed hawk at the Lichterman Nature Center. It came to us in 2005 after suffering wing damage that left it unable to fly, making it non-releasable.

WWI 92nd Division African American Officer’s Coat

This tailored Army uniform coat belonged to a member of the segregated 92nd Division, U.S. Army. The 92nd Division (Colored) was formed in 1917 at the start of American involvement in WWI when the army actively recruited African American men in Memphis and across the country. The 92nd division chose the Buffalo (Bison bison) as their insignia in homage to the African American soldiers that were called buffalo soldiers by the Native Americans during the Indian Wars. The 92nd Infantry was sent overseas in 1918 and saw action during the Meuse-Argonne  Offensive, one of the last great allied offenses in the war. The 92nd suffered 1,647 casualties. This uniform bears the 92nd Division (Colored) buffalo patch and chevron on the lower left sleep, which indicates overseas service. The buttons were called “vegetable” buttons because they were made of various plant materials such as nuts. The eagle buttons were standard on WWI military uniforms. The collar bears the cross rifles of the U.S. Infantry as well as the U.S. designation. Black soldiers fought fiercely for America overseas during this period of Jim Crow segregation and lynchings at home.

Peace Again Sculpture

Frances “Frannie” Mallory Morgan (1905-1987) was an accomplished artist. Well known to Memphians is Aquacade, a bronze sculpture located in the gardens at the Brooks Museum of Art. Her work in bronze, marble, and wood was exhibited in several museums near her home in Rye, New York, including the Whitney Museum of American Art and Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Toward the end of her life, she donated this sculpture to the museum as a memorial to her older brother, Neely, who died during World War II. She entitled it Peace Again and explained that its inspiration was the verse in the Old Testament Book of Isaiah about “turning swords into plough shares.” The piece, sculpted of white oak, won the National Association of Women Artists Prize in 1944.

Constellation Andromeda

The constellation Andromeda, also known as “the Chained Woman,” represents the daughter of Cepheus and Cassiopeia, the king and queen of ancient Aethiopia. Cassiopeia boasted that Andromeda was more beautiful than all of the Nereids, the 50 sea-nymphs who were known for their beauty and who served Poseidon, the Greek god of the seas. Not only did Cassiopeia offend the Nereids, she also offended Poseidon, whose wife Amphitrite was a Nereid. As punishment, Poseidon sent the sea-monster Cetus to destroy Aethiopia. Cepheus and Cassiopeia went to an oracle to find a way to save their kingdom but were told that only the sacrifice of Andromeda would appease the gods. Andromeda was chained to a rock and left for the monster to eat, but Perseus used the head of the Gorgon Medusa to turn Cetus to stone. Perseus and Andromeda married and founded the Greek city of Mycenae, which would become one of the major centers of Greek culture in the Bronze Age.


Ammonites, a marine animal with a coiled shell similar to the modern nautilus, lived during the Jurassic and Cretaceous Periods, spanning a period of about 150 million years, from about 201 million (the beginning of the Jurassic Period) to 66 million years ago (the end of the Cretaceous Period). They disappeared during the extinction event that wiped out the dinosaurs at end of the Cretaceous Period. Like the nautilus, an ammonite’s shell was divided into chambers. The septa (walls of the chambers) helped to strengthen and protect the shell. The ridges seen on the outside of this ammonite denote where the septa are inside the shell. The ammonite lived in only the last chamber of its shell, the body-chamber. The other chambers were filled with gas or fluid, which the ammonite was able to regulate to control buoyancy and to move through the water, much as a submarine does. Ammonites probably ate small plankton and slow-moving animals and vegetation on the ocean floor. Ammonites are an important stratigraphic time-marker for geologists because they had world-wide distribution, they evolved quickly, meaning each of the many species existed for a relatively short time, and it is easy to identify the species. You can see this ammonite on display in the Cossitt Gallery in the Pink Palace mansion.

Pineapple Stained Glass

A large stained-glass window was installed in 1893 in the stair landing. The window, purchased at the Chicago World’s Fair by Mr. and Mrs. Neely, features a variety of colored and decoratively cut-glass elements. At the center is a pineapple, a symbol of hospitality.

Shaped like a giant pinecone with a voluminous crown, the pineapple immediately commands attention. While it once represented unreachable wealth, the fruit now represents warm welcomes, celebration, and hospitality, especially in the South.

Coveted for centuries by kings for its scarcity and stately appearance, and lusted after for its taste, the pineapple became a worldwide obsession at the beginning of the 16th century. Europe’s royal houses paid thousands in today’s money for just one fruit to put on display as the centerpiece at their tables. It was the ultimate symbol of wealth and was christened the “King of Fruit”. It also became a shameless emblem of the financial and social inequality between the classes throughout Europe at the height of the tropical fruit’s obsession.

You can see this window on display at the Mallory-Neely House.

IceCube Telescope - Cold, Hard Facts

The neutrino telescope is unusual because it is not based on receiving light from outer space but on observing neutrinos, strange elementary particles. Neutrinos are produced from the most violent events in the universe including supernovae and colliding galaxies. They are similar to electrons, but, since they have no mass, they are difficult to detect, despite being one of the most abundant particles in the universe. Viennese physicist Wolfgang Pauli first focused on this elusive particle in 1930. His thoughts and experiments in particle physics helped formulate his theory that these massless particles were being produced from all parts of the universe. The problem was to detect them and find their origin.

After many unsuccessful attempts, engineers and physicists worked together to develop a new method to detect the neutrino. It was named AMANDA, Antarctic Muon and Neutrino Detector Array. This telescope is unlike any other because it is buried more than a mile deep in the Antarctic ice. No lenses or mirrors are employed for its operation. Instead, it consists of 80 strings of detectors that are each six kilometers long and housed in spherical glass pressure vessels. More than five thousand detectors monitor about a billion tons of deep Antarctic ice. An average neutrino particle will pass through the Earth undetected by the telescope; however, occasionally a neutrino will react with the ice and produce a charged particle that causes a cove of pale blue light that the sensors pick up. By watching how it passes through the three-dimensional grid of detectors, scientist can determine the origin of the particle. In November 2013, the International Collaboration that operates the IceCube Neutrino Observatory announced that they had detected high-energy neutrinos from outer space. Another astronomical mystery solved.

Image courtesy of Jim Haugen, IceCube/NSF

Sara Roberta Church - Political Pioneer

The daughter and granddaughter of millionaires, Sara Roberta Church grew up in an atmosphere of civic and political responsibility and racial pride. J. T. Settle, her grandfather and a prominent Memphis lawyer, gave her this gold bracelet when she was born. After graduating from Northwestern University in 1935, Roberta Church worked on behalf of children’s welfare in Chicago for thirteen years. Following the death of her father, Robert R. Church, Jr., in 1952, she replaced him as a candidate for the Republican State Executive Committee of Tennessee. She became the first black woman elected to public office in Memphis and Shelby County. In 1953, President Eisenhower appointed her as Minority Groups Consultant for the U.S. Department of Labor, the highest position occupied by any black woman in the federal government at that time. She later served as an administrator with the Department of Health, Education and Welfare. After retiring from government service in 1982, she returned to Memphis. She became active in community work and historical research. A dedicated historian and writer, Roberta Church co-authored two books and belonged to several historical organizations. She is remembered as a political activist and champion of women’s rights.

Persimmon (Diospyros virginiana)

One tree whose fruit provides food to many mammals and birds is the persimmon (Diospyros virginiana). It’s often referred to as a “possumwood” or “possum apple” because opossums are particularly fond of the tasty fruit. Fossil evidence dates the persimmon tree as far back as the Miocene Epoch, when now-extinct megafauna would eat the fruit, aiding in seed dispersal. Its oval-shaped leaves are deciduous, simple, alternate, and dark green. Its bark is dark brown and deeply furrowed into square, block-like plates. Persimmon are shade tolerant and mostly found as an understory tree, living under the canopy of taller trees, throughout the Southeastern United States. It is found in both dry and moist sites.

In the autumn, the foliage turns yellow-green or purple, before falling off in the winter. The fruit is a round, pulpy berry, that changes from green to orange or purplish-brown after the first frost. In the winter, the tree’s leaf scar, the mark left on a stem after a leaf falls, will have only one curved bundle scar. Its shriveled fruit may persist into winter. The creamy white, urn-shaped flowers appear in May and June. 

Persimmon trees can be found outside the visitor center near Mertie’s Lake at Lichterman Nature Center.

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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