Still More Memphis: Beale Street
West Memphis, AR- Events of Sunday, July 8 to Monday, July 9, 2012
Our friends, Dick and Barbara, arrived early Sunday afternoon as planned. We walked down to their site to greet them, then we headed back to our rig to give them time to set up. A lot of RVers are grateful for uninterrupted time to set up or pack up. Most of us have our own routine, but interruptions can be the cause for missing important steps in the process...sometimes causing unneeded damage. Later, we got together again to share dinner and catch up on what we all had been up to since we last saw each other.
This was Dick and Barbara's first time in Memphis in 43 years, so the discussion turned to sightseeing possibilities. One thing they decided they wanted to see was the Peabody ducks. The Peabody Hotel in downtown Memphis has live ducks in the fountain in the lobby, and every morning at 11:00 AM, the Duckmaster marches the ducks from their "penthouse" on the hotel roof, down the elevator and across the lobby to the fountain.
Back in the 1930s, hunters were still permitted to use live ducks as decoys for duck hunting. The manager of the hotel put a couple of his live decoys in the hotel fountain after a hunting trip as a prank, and it was a huge hit with the guests. The Peabody Hotel has had ducks in the fountain ever since.
The other thing we planned to do while we were downtown was to walk down Beale Street. Beale Street is to Memphis as Bourbon Street is to New Orleans, except Beale Street doesn't have girlie shows. New Orleans is known for jazz, and Memphis is known for the blues. Beale Street is loaded with clubs and bars with performances by various blues artists.
Rather than try to park downtown, we decided to park at the visitor center and take the trolley. The trolley only costs $1 (50 cents for seniors).
The Memphis trolley began operation in 1993 with restored, vintage cars from all over the world plus a few, recently-built replicas. Cars came from places like Brazil, Portugal and Australia.
We just made it to the Peabody Hotel in time for the duck march. All the good spots near the fountain were already taken, so we hustled to the mezzanine where we were able to see a little better.
The Mallard ducks (one drake and three hens) march to the fountain to the tune of John Phillip Sousa's King Cotton March. The ducks return the the penthouse at 5:00 PM.
After the event, most people began to dissipate, but some crowded around the fountain for a better look at the ducks and for photos. The entire space in the lobby was completely filled with people just a few minutes before the photo below was taken.
As we walked through the hotel lobby on our way out, we came across something you don't see very often anymore - phone booths.
From the Peabody, we walked a few blocks to Beale Street. In the 1840s, Beale Street was the main thoroughfare of South Memphis, which was then a separate town from Memphis. By the early 1900s, Beale Street was the location of many clubs, and it quickly became a haven for African-American musicians and the blues.
Although Cleveland claims to be the birthplace of the term "rock and roll" (the phrase is said to have been coined by Cleveland disc jockey Alan Freed to describe the uptempo, blues music he began playing in the early 1950s), Memphis claims to be the birthplace of rock and roll music itself. The music, which began in the late 1940s and early 1950s, has its roots in African-American blues, country, jazz and gospel music.
Civil rights difficulties of the 1950s and 1960s and urban renewal in the 1960s took its toll on Beale Street, and it went into decline. In the 1980s, Beale Street underwent major redevelopment. Today, Beale Street boasts many new clubs and restaurants.
A. Schwab is a dry goods store on Beale Street that was established in 1876. It is a tourist attraction that still sells assorted dry goods, souvenirs and novelties.
Paul could tell the store was going to be fun from the reproduction pedal cars in the front window.
The old, wooden floor creaks underfoot, and old tables and display cases line the aisles.
Inside, they had a lot of fun merchandise.
We walked down the street until most of the clubs and restaurants ran out, then we turned around and walked back up the other side. Along the way, there was a statue of W. C. Handy, who was a composer and musician. Handy is called "father of the blues." He began playing clubs along Beale Street in 1909, and he wrote much of his music while living in Memphis.
As we walked, we could hear the music blaring out of the bars and clubs. Hawkers on the sidewalk tried to entice us into their restaurant for lunch, but we had other plans. We were heading to a restaurant back over near the Peabody called Charles Vergos Rondevous that is well-known for ribs. Unfortunately, when we got there, we found out it was closed on Mondays. In fact, they don't even open until 4:30 PM during the week, so we would have been out of luck on any day but Friday or Saturday.
Since the Rondevous was closed, we went with Plan B. We hopped the trolley back to where we had parked and drove to the Bar B Q Shop where we had gone the day after we first arrived in Memphis.
Barbara had a chopped pork sandwich, and the rest of us had chopped pork plates. Everything was delish!
There was a 50 to 70% chance of rain for the remainder of our stay in Memphis. We wanted to do a little more sightseeing with Barbara and Dick, and we were hoping the weather would cooperate. Stay tuned.