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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 

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.

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.

Toads

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. 

Kingsnakes

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

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.

Banjuke

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

Mummies

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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