More Pink Palace
West Memphis, AR - Events of Monday, June 16, 2014
After finishing the natural history section of the Pink Palace Museum, we headed to the second floor where there were exhibits on the human history of the Memphis area.
Native Americans first arrived in the area about 11,000 years ago. They hunted and gathered food along the fertile Mississippi River and its tributaries. Over time, they began to stay for longer periods. They began to build more permanent houses and started farming. The first villages began to appear about 2,500 years ago. The museum had a display of Mississippian pottery and tools.
Europeans first came to the area in 1541. We learned about Hernando De Soto's expedition this past February when we visited the De Soto National Memorial in Bradenton, FL. Click here to read about that visit and the De Soto expedition.
When French explorers arrived in 1673, most of the farms and villages of the Mississippian people were gone, and swamps and forests had reclaimed much the land. The Native American population had been decimated by disease introduced by the Europeans. In the late 1700s and early 1800s, European settlers began to arrive in the area in larger numbers and pushed the few remaining Indians out.
The city of Memphis was chartered in 1826. The demand for cotton was growing because the invention of the cotton gin in the late 1700s brought down the price of cotton and the Industrial Revolution in the early 1800s brought down the price of fabric made from cotton. In the 1840s, Memphis was undergoing a boom as cheap land for growing cotton and the presence of the Mississippi River for transportation attracted even more new residents. By 1860, Memphis rivaled St. Louis and New Orleans.
Not only did the Industrial Revolution make fabric and clothing less expensive, but it also made possible the manufacture of affordable furniture. Memphis had a growing and prosperous middle class. The photo below shows a typical, early Victorian, middle-class parlor.
Tennessee seceded from the Union in 1861 and briefly became a Confederate stronghold until it was captured by the Union in 1862.
Memphis was occupied by Union forces for the remainder of the war. Because of its strategic location on the Mississippi, Memphis became a Union supply base. As a result of the war and the Reconstruction period that followed, the economy of Memphis became depressed.
Just as the city finally began to slowly recover from the aftermath of the war, yellow fever epidemics in the 1870s further devastated the economy. Things got so bad, the city declared bankruptcy in 1879 and lost its city charter. Memphis emerged from bankruptcy in the 1880s and was rechartered in 1893. Memphis entered the 1900s as a fairly prosperous center for the cotton trade.
In our last post, we mentioned how Clarance Saunders began building the Pink Palace mansion in 1922. Building of the mansion was made possible by Suanders' success in the grocery business. Clarance Saunders had established a large grocery wholesale company in Memphis in the early 1900s; and in 1916, he decided to open his own grocery store which he called the Piggly Wiggly. The museum has a replica of the original Piggly Wiggly Saunders built on Jefferson Avenue in Mmephis.
Piggly Wiggly was the first true self-service grocery store. Customers, who were given shopping baskets, entered the store through a turnstile, made their way up and down the aisles picking up groceries as they went, and ended up at the check-out counter at the front of the store. By 1922, Piggly Wiggly had 1241 stores. The concept was so successful, other grocery stores quickly entered the self service market.
As we also mentioned in our last post, Saunders encountered financial difficulty as the result of some attempted stock market wrangling. He declared bankruptcy in 1923, lost his Piggly Wiggly empire and lost his unfinished Pink Palace mansion. We also explained how investors who bought Saunders' estate for the land eventually donated the mansion to the city of Memphis to be made into a museum.
From the Piggly Wiggly, we crossed the mezzanine to the mansion itself where there is a continuation of the cultural history of Memphis. There was a small display on the music of Memphis and on WWII.
There was also a display on the importance of cotton in Memphis. In 1931, Memphis and the rest of the country were in the throes of the Great Depression. A Memphis businessman proposed "cotton week" to promote the use of cotton. The Cotton Carnival, now called Carnival Memphis, was born. The carnival is held in the spring. It is a bit like Mardi Gras with parades, kings and queens, parties and a ball. It has been expanded to also include charitable events.
After we finished up in the mansion, we headed out to the mezzanine where there was one more exhibit to see. It was a temporary exhibit about insects called Twice Bitten. The exhibit featured several super-size insect heads including a bee depicted at 200 times actual size.
There were also several gigantic, robotic insects including the praying mantis shown below.
Also included in the exhibit were about a dozen live tarantulas. The one shown below is a Mexican red knee.
After seeing the Twice Bitten exhibit, it was a little before 1:00, which was perfect timing for the 3D IMAX movie. The movie was on Jerusalem and was done by National Geographic, so the photography was excellent. It was interesting to see how Jerusalem became the focus of three major religions - Christianity, Judaism and Islam.
By the time the movie was over, it was almost 2:00, and we were hungry. As luck would have it, Central BBQ is right down the street from the Pink Palace.
Central BBQ is our favorite place in Memphis to get ribs. Their ribs are prepared with dry rub. There are several kinds of sauce available - regular, mustard-based, vinegar-based and hot. We liked the regular, which is thick and sweet, mixed with vinegar-based sauce to cut the sweetness.
We had a slab of ribs for two for $25, which includes four sides. For our sides, we shared potato salad, onion rings, pork rinds, and mac and cheese. We usually like slaw with our barbecue, but we remembered from last year their slaw is a little too tart for our taste. The potato salad and onion rings were good, and the mac and cheese was okay. This was the first time either one of us had pork rinds, and we didn't care for them. The ribs, however, were delicious. They were smoky and meaty.
With our bellies full, we headed back to the motor home to relax the rest of the afternoon and evening and to watch the barges go up and down the river. Our time in Memphis was almost over. Stay tuned to find out where we headed next.