Hey, gang-

So, with COVID limiting our travel options and keeping us close close to home Nicki and I have tried to explore our own backyard and be local tourists in the Mid-South area we live in.

This post is about some of our favorite local spots and the discoveries we recently made while in downtown Memphis for my birthday. When we went on our honeymoon in New Orleans, it was kind of a three celebrations in one trip- our honeymoonHalloween, and my 45th birthday.

Well, on my birthday (also Day of the Dead) we took a cemetery tour while in N’awlins. Since this year we couldn’t head to the Big Easy, we decided to explore the River City and try out Nicki’s new mirror-less camera.

I got to use her older digital SLR (which she bought for our wedding/honeymoon trip) and took some shots with my iPhone to post to social media. I need the practice with both!

We decided to park next to the Orpheum Theatre off Beale Street and Main Street and walk towards the South Main Historic Arts District and the train station.

We noticed a lot of construction going on- not as much as we’d seen on our last trips to Nashville or even Little Rock, but a lot. Plus there was a new hotel or two that were open now- one behind the Orpheum where we used to park! Had to park beside the Orpheum.

We put 2hs worth of money in the parking lot meter and headed south on Main Street. It was a bit windy and chilly, so we were dressed in layers (we love our Geeky Jerseys).

There weren’t many people out and about downtown that Tuesday afternoon, which we were okay with. Here to shoot locations, not people- which I know is ironic to say about Memphis.

We did see a few folks jogging or walking their dogs, and I saw a couple birds hanging out in some bushes just off the sidewalk in an alley.

We watched several trolleys go by- and I was worried about this guy trying to outrun one on his bike..!

One of my favorite things about downtown are the trolleys, and am glad they’re back up and running again after being down for a while.

The last Friday of the month is Trolley Night on South Main, and South Main and is open late with live music, great shopping, restaurant specials, art galleries, and of course trolley rides. It’s a lot of fun, but I haven’t checked out a last Friday or ridden a trolley for several years now. The last one I remember riding was when Kevin and I parked in the Pinch District near the Pyramid and rode one south down Main to Beale for the Memphis In May Beale Street Music Festival. It was storming and lightning blew a fuse on our trolley. After a bit of waiting they got it up and running again and we made it to the Beale Street stop next to the Orpheum. Just then we saw lighting strike Tom Lee Park along the riverfront and heard a loud thunder crack! Someone was wanting to buy tickets, so we sold ours, ate dinner at Blues City Cafe, hopped back on a northbound trolley, got in Kev’s car and headed home for the night.

But, like I said, as much as I love the trolleys I rarely get to ride on any. If I’m downtown I usually just end up taking pics of them rumbling and clanging down the street and honestly end up forgetting to hop on one!

As we walked we saw some fun art murals, some great architecture, and some interesting items in the windows of shops.

It was also fun to just look around off the beaten path, or up above our heads.

It’s amazing how many things around us we just don’t notice most of the time.

Once we got to the train station and Arcade Restaurant end of Main, we turned around and headed back up the other side of the street. BTW- the area of what’s now South Main was once the City of South Memphis, a separate city from Memphis, separated at Union Avenue.

We passed by WEVL (the Mid-South’s only listener-supported, independent, volunteer radio station-“WE VoLunteer” 89.9 FM MHz) and Murray Riss Photography (516 S Main St.- he came to Memphis to establish a photography department at Memphis College of Art, where he taught for almost 20yrs).

As we got to the fire station at the top of the hill we decided to hang a right and head towards the Lorraine Motel/National Civil Rights Museum.

This is the place where on April 4, 1968 the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King was killed while staying in town to support the 1968 Memphis sanitation workers strike.

I’ve been a couple times for Memphis Area Radio Stations (M.A.R.S.) awards presentations at the museum, but have only gotten to take the tour once, and that was years ago (mid ’90s).

Nicki has never been, and we really need to correct that.

There are a few other historic places around Memphis I really want to check out as well, like Stax and the Blues Hall of Fame Museum. Have been by but never ventured inside for a tour.

As we were standing in the parking lot outside the hotel room, we noticed a huge mural behind us and just up the street a bit.

It’s titled “Upstanders In Memphis History” by The Memphis Mural Brigade.

The Memphis Mural Brigade is a collaborative of artists from around the world based in Memphis, Tennessee. The Brigade was formed in 2015 to create a series of murals for the University of Memphis Fogelman College. The Brigade brings together practices in painting, printmaking and conceptual art to create meaningful, visually compelling artworks which help to create community dialogue. The Brigade is comprised of a changing, diverse team of artists and was founded by Nelson Gutierrez and Cedar Nordbye.

Just a little ways up the street we saw a building that reminded me of the Hook & Ladder Co. #8 firehouse we had visited while in NYC back in 2019 (another anniverary/birthday trip), which is one of the two firehouses featured in the Ghostbusters movies (NYC/Tribeca exteriors, L.A. interiors) and recently got a complete renovation.

Not sure who owns this one, or if it is occupied, but I wish I had the money to buy it and many other properties we saw while exploring the downtown area.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen this building before either, or if I did it had been something else. Some things have been the same for years, while other locations around town come and go and get a face-lift, or get torn down and replaced with something else. All too often it’s the latter…but I’m always thankful when I see a building repurposed/renovated than torn down. They just don’t make ’em like they used to!

So many amazing buildings die from neglect or “progress”. Thankfully these two gorgeous ones are still standing and occupied on Main.

We cut back towards Main Street and turned towards the Orpheum and Beale. Earlier we had seen a classic car parked on the side of the street on our way down Main, and as we were walking back up the owner got in it and drove off. Pretty sweet ride! Oh, on the 4th Tuesday of the month from April – September from 6pm till 10pm Beale has hot rod nights, and bike nights every Wednesday night.

Around Main we saw a couple more murals, and a few places that were available for lease. Also since we were starting to get hungry, we spotted several places we hadn’t ate at before- some were just closed for lunch while others were closed due to the pandemic.

Same situation while we were over on Beale Street a few minutes later.

Speaking of closings and Beale Street, I was sad to see Tater Red’s Lucky Mojos closing up shop permanently. Leo Allred, “Tater Red“, was a D.J. on Rock103 (he did the blues show on Sunday mornings) and he and the shop were a long time fixture on Beale.

Tater has said, “I’ve been on Beale Street since 1984 in one way or another. I like the feel, the history, the people.” Tater’s shop opened in 1995 (around the same time I had my t-shirt shop Animated Jack’s which started in ’92), and was not the only casualty of the pandemic. Lew’s Blue Note closed in 2020 after 7 years of serving wings and the blues on Beale. Apparently Lew’s was one of the few African American owned businesses left on the historic street.

Beale Street runs from Riverside Drive (on the west at the Mississippi River) to Myrtle Street (on the east) – a distance that’s just shy of 2mi. It features many restaurants, clubs, shops, museums, events and attractions. Beale St. (originally Beale Ave.) was created in 1841 by entrepreneur/developer Robertson Topp. After the yellow fever epidemics forced the city to forfeit its charter in 1879 and around this time, Robert Church purchased land around Beale which led to him becoming the first black millionaire from the south. 1890, Beale underwent renovation which included the addition of the Grand Opera House (after a fire in 1923 it was later rebuilt on the same spot as the Orpheum Theatre“Born in 1890. Reborn in 1928. Revitalized in 1977, 1984, and 2015. From vaudeville to Broadway, it is a story of resilience and reinvention that could only happen in Memphis.”).

Beale has had a long history of commerce/trade (including many black owned businesses), live music, being used as movie/TV filming locations, having songs written about it, and as a gathering place. It’s also certainly had a history of crime, drinking, plus its fair share of loan/pawn shops. It’s had ups and downs, and ups and downs, and ups again…and currently a down. The pandemic has many of the businesses up and down Beale struggling these days, but the street has been known to bounce back from worse.

The oldest store in the Mid-South, A. Schwab, is located in the oldest remaining building on Beale Street. The store was founded at another location on Beale Street by Jewish immigrant Abraham Schwab, moved to 163 Beale Street in 1911, and then expanded into 165 in 1922. Both of these buildings were constructed before 1890. Before the expansion, 165 Beale housed a Piggly Wiggly.

I believe there was talk about A. Schwab looking to close its doors sometime just after 2000, but if it did it was only briefly because the Schwab family sold the business at the end of 2011 after 136 years of ownership. It now has a soda fountain, and the store boasts that, “If you can’t find it at Schwab’s, you’re better off without it.

Shopping at Piggly Wiggly (Photo by Poland, Clifford H./Library of Congress/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images)

Piggly Wiggly started off in Memphis (at 79 Jefferson Avenue) back in September, 1916. It was the first the “self-serving store” to offer self-shopping, checkout stands, shopping carts, use refrigerated case, have employees in uniforms, and price marking for every item in the store- things we kind of take for granted these days while shopping…and it all started here in Memphis.

I miss each item being priced some days, especially with retailers like Walmart removing bar code scanners in their stores. WTF..?!

You can see a replica of the original Piggly Wiggly store at the Pink Palace Museum in Memphis (or check out my HGWT blog post when Nicki and I went).

We passed by “King” Jerry Lawler’s Hall of Fame Bar and Grille (at 159 Beale Street– next door to A. Schwab). It”s Jerry’s bar, burger, and BBQ joint. I’ve ate there before, and talked to the King about my dining experience while interviewing him at the Memphis Comic Expo a few years back. It used to be the police museum and sub-station, which I do miss- but glad Jerry’s restaurant seems to be doing well here.

My buddy Kevin and I recently ate there over the weekend so they are still operational on Beale, although it appears his King Jerry Lawler’s Memphis BBQ Company restaurant out east has closed.

Shame, I really liked the food and dug the wrasslin’ decor and videos at the BBQ location. I really enjoyed the music and burgers at his Beale restaurant, but liked the look of the Germantown Pkwy. location better. Local musician Chris Gales performed the night I dropped in on Beale after dropping off art to the Orpheum up the street. Chris currently has a solo acoustic show at Jerry’s on Beale and other locations around town (click here for show info).

While on Beale we met a few folks from out of town (one guy was celebrating his birthday, too). We saw a few more murals, lots of Beale Street Brass Note Walk of Fame brass notes, and some over-sized painted guitars like we had seen in Nashville a few years back.

These are part of the Gibson GuitarTown Public Art Display which consists of 20 giant guitar replicas of B.B. King’s legendary Lucille.


Each was painted by local Memphis artists and signed by a Memphis celebrity to celebrate the unique art and music contributions in the city. I’ve got a couple small guitars I need to paint for the Massac Theatre charity auction in Metropolis.

If there’s one thing I love about this city (next to the food), it’s the music. I’m a huge Memphis music fan and have always tried to support it and love finding out about it’s history.

Most folks think of Elvis when you mention Memphis music, but as much as I love Elvis’ he’s just a piece of that very large puzzle of performers, songwriters, producers, DJs, and more that came before and after him. The influence of Memphis music is worldwide and strong.

“Signs, signs, everywhere there’s signs…” – yeah, even though I’m not a fan of that song, I do love taking pics of signs and there are plenty downtown!

Our 2hrs of paid parking was about to be up and hunger was hitting us, so that was our sign to head back to the car.

We drove around the corner and up Front Street to have some Gus’s Fried Chicken for lunch. We normally hit the Southaven, MS location on Goodman Rd. which is closer to home, or the Wolfchase/G’town Rd. one which was closer to my old job, but this location is the one my buddy Kevin Williams and I used to always hit when we were downtown. Back then they’d let you draw on the tablecloths…and trust me we did!

I had met my friend Robbi Lepre there for lunch when she was in town for a conference a few years back. She was the Entertainment Director at Busch Gardens Tampa (where I met her in 2001 for Howl-O-Scream), and unfortunately passed away in 2020.

It’s been a while since Nicki and I had both been here together, probably several years. It may have been back when we ate there when some friends and us went downtown for a ghost tour with Gail Simone and her husband Scott after MidSouthCon in 2011. We learned a lot about the yellow fever epidemics in Memphis during the tour, and didn’t actually see any ghosts but we did see a leprechaun..!

Union Station, Memphis | Library of Congress

“The $15 million in losses caused by the epidemic bankrupted the city of Memphis. The federal government convened a commission to investigate the outbreak and established the National Board of Health in 1879. In a report to Congress shortly before the national agency was created, John Woodworth, the Marine Hospital Service surgeon general, emphasized the gravity of the situation: “Yellow fever should be dealt with as an enemy which imperils life and cripples commerce and industry. To no other great nation of the earth is yellow fever so calamitous as to the United States of America.” PBS.org

Sound familiar..? Well, apparently a lot of Memphians didn’t learn about it and we’ve sort of been living it again.

According to the Commercial Appeal, Shelby County, the largest county in Tennessee which includes Memphis and suburbs Germantown, Bartlett, Collierville, Lakeland, Arlington, and Millington, has reported at least 2,009 deaths due to COVID-19 as of September of 2021. I saw another statistic online that we’ve had 149,ooo COVID cases here, and that’s not including DeSoto or other surrounding counties in the Mid-south area. Scary…

Anyway, back to lunch at Gus’s…we each did iced tea and had the 2pc white with mac-n-cheese, I got baked beans and Nicki got coleslaw. It was a good birthday lunch.

It seemed the chicken was a bit spicier than the other locations, but it could be we just haven’t been eating Gus’s chicken as often the last couple years. Honestly, if it wasn’t take out we pretty much cooked/ate at home during the pandemic. Was nice to get back to their downtown location.

After lunch I took a few pics of one of the buildings across the street where we parked.

I’m hoping this one gets renovated and not demolished. It’s a HUGE space and has got a lot of potential. Another one I wish I had the money to buy and save.

Just a hundred yards or so away to the right and across the R/R tracks for the trolleys are some very expensive condos, and in-between them and this building there’s a huge crater where another building once stood- not sure what it was.

Behind me is a another new hotel going up, and a newer distillery is now open directly across the street from Gus’s (Old Dominick Distillery, just out of the photo and to the right- 305 S Front St.).

After lunch we decided to head over to Martyrs Park to take pics of the Mississippi River.

While we were there we got to watch a barge flanked by an escort boat travel up the river.

It’s surprising just how fast those can get upstream..!

On the marker sign as you enter the park:

“In August, 1878, fear of death caused a panic during which 30,000 of 50,000 Memphians fled the bluff city. By October, the epidemic of yellow fever killed 4204 of 6,000 Caucasians and 946 of 14,000 Negroes who stayed. With some outside help, citizens of all races and walks of life, recognizing their common plight in this devastated, bankrupt community, tended 17600 sick and buried the dead. As a result, many of them lost their lives, becoming martyrs in their service to mankind.” 

Yep, yellow fever…and if you’ve seen the mosquitoes here it’s a wonder anyone survived it.

Martyrs Park is located south of Big River Crossing and is accessible from Channel 3 Dr. off of Riverside Dr./I-55. I think I was here back in the late ’80s, but I remember it looking a lot different- a lot of new houses there now. Plus, there’s a small public parking lot (which is open 6AM-8PM) and an amazing statue…although a bit creepy.

Oh, and apparently the park is/was a mass grave..?!! Here’s more yellow fever info…

From RoadsideAmerica.com-

5,150 people died in the Memphis Yellow Fever epidemic of 1878, and many of them were formerly healthy people who had stayed to help the sick until succumbing themselves. The city buried 1,500 of its dead in a mass grave on a bluff overlooking the Mississippi — and pretty much forgot about them until January 3, 1971, when the grave site became Martyrs Park and the Yellow Fever Martyrs Memorial became its centerpiece.

A plaque at the memorial’s base extols “the heroes and heroines of Memphis… who gave their lives serving the victims of Yellow Fever” and notes that the epidemic “devastated the city, leaving few survivors.”

The Yellow Fever Martyrs Memorial was designed by Harris Sorrelle, who at the time was the head of the University of Memphis’ sculpture department.

Did I mention that there are houses built nearby..? Yeah, that never goes well for the homeowners in the movies.

I read online that there used to be more trees/bushes along the bluff here, but on March 1oth of this year an unidentified crew with chainsaws clear-cut about 200yrds along this area. The Memphis River Parks Partnership, Corps of Engineers, and City of Memphis all claim no knowledge or responsibility.

Tom Baily with The Daily Memphian reported, “The problem is, we don’t know who they are,” (City of Memphis) administration spokesman Dan Springer said. “We have the pictures, but the pictures are not very clear,” he said. “We can’t do anything because we don’t know who they are.”

Maybe they should use Facebook’s facial recognition software..? I’ve seen worse security footage from a bank or convenience store lead to convictions- just saying…

This line by Tom Baily caught my eye-

“The reason for the unauthorized work is unclear. But the tree-cutting may have improved the river views for residents living near Martyrs Park.” 

Not sure if he was trying to put a positive spin on the story, or if that was pure sarcasm pointed at the Founders Pointe subdivision. I’m guessing sarcasm.

The weather was still chilly and windy, but the park was a great discovery for us. It’s a fantastic place to enjoy the river and the “old“(1949) and “new“(1973) bridges- which were in national news this last year when a crack was spotted on the newer 1-40/Hernando de Soto Bridge one.

The new bridge was closed for months and traffic had to be detoured to the older I-55/Memphis & Arkansas Bridge.

Yeah, as if the transportation problems during a pandemic weren’t bad enough one of the main arteries across our country had to be bypassed. Thankfully the crack was found and repaired before anything catastrophic and tragic happened.

While at the park, we saw a few joggers, cyclists, and dog walkers using the walkway trail in Martyrs Park. We wanted to do the Big River Crossing (just south located on Virginia Ave. W. off Channel 3 Dr.) but it was too cold and windy.

It’s a walkway to the Arkansas side of the river on one of the former roadways on the north side of the Harahan Bridge (1916) next to the (old) Memphis & Arkansas Bridge. It’s the longest pedestrian bridge across the Mississippi River, and the the country’s longest active rail/bicycle/pedestrian bridge. I’m not a fan of heights, but am willing to cross it for the view of the river and downtown Memphis it offers. Big River Crossing is free and open daily from 6:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. The crossing is family-friendly and pet-friendly. The Memphis Police Department monitors 47 security cameras 24 hours a day on Big River Crossing and have several emergency call boxes on the bridge.

The Riverfront Pedestrian Path extends up/down along side the river and connects Martyrs Park to Tom Lee Park, Vance Park, Beale Street Landing and Mud Island/Harbortown.

Normally you can walk/jog/bike to Beale Street, Beale Street Landing, the Riverboats, the Pyramid/Bass Pro, Greenbelt Park/Harbortown, and the information center.

Currently Tom Lee Park is closed for construction, as is Beale Street Landing, so I don’t know how that effects the path right now. Construction for both projects is scheduled to be completed in 2023. I don’t know how Memphis in May will be able to have future BBQ Cooking Championships or MusicFests there. They’ve been very vocal about not being happy with the designs for the park and have scheduled their events at Liberty Park (the old Memphis Fairgrounds/Liberty Land) in Mid-town Memphis. That location is undergoing construction as well. According to their website MIM plan to be there for 2022, but back down on the river in 2023. We’ll see…

Tom Lee Park was a large open green space with a few sidewalks and an unobstructed view of the Mississippi River (about 30 acres and a little over a mile long), but now will be broken up into sections with shade, hammocks, concessions, misting stations, landscaping, and more- not really conducive for large crowds. I honestly haven’t been blown away by the designs I’ve seen presented by the River Parks Partnership, or what was already done at the landing (they’re already replacing the outer concrete for just over $1mil). Some things sound and look interesting like the steps/ramps on the bluff and a pavilion, others not so much- not sure how Canopy Walk and/or an observation deck that overhangs the river will be sturdy enough to survive the river, since the park was built on a landfill and has flooded and sustained damage from storms like 2003’s Hurricane Elvis. I will say I’ve never been downtown on the river and thought, “Hey, I could really use a hammock.”, not even when I had to watch our booth overnight on Beale.

I’ve I guess we’ll just have to wait and see how it all turns out in a year or two. Hoping it all turns out great, but I just don’t have a lot of faith in the powers that be in Memphis.

Mud Island looked extremely neglected when Nicki and I went to the Joe Walsh concert a few years back. The location has always had potential and a great place to catch a concert, event, or just an awesome view of downtown, but the park desperately needs upgrades and a lot of TLC.

To me, the city truly seems like it hasn’t known what to do with it, or even act like they care about the “attraction” in years.

And don’t get me started on the “pyramid bait shop”…ugh. It was a cluster from the beginning.

I really love going downtown and am glad to see more happening down there- fingers crossed it all adds to the experience of walking in Memphis.

There are a lot of fun things to do in Memphis, and many locals just don’t take advantage of if. I guess that’s true for a lot of towns.

Yeah, Memphis gets a lot of things wrong, has earned it’s reputation for violence and crime, and I felt safer walking around NYC…but the M-town also has a lot of good (and strange) things to offer if your willing to look and do a bit of research.

But like any city, be careful, mind your surroundings, and take somebody along with you- not only for safety, but to share the adventure with.

We plan to do more local tourist outings, as well as enjoy our own actual backyard a bit more before it becomes too cold!

Hope you all had a great Thanksgiving and a safe Black Friday- happy holidays, ya turkeys!


Memphis River Parks – www.memphisriverparks.org

South Main – www.gosouthmain.com

Beale Street – www.bealestreet.com

Downtown Memphis – www.downtownmemphis.com

Memphis Tourism – www.memphistravel.com

Choose 901 – www.choose901.com

Elvis Presley’s Graceland – www.graceland.com

Liberty Park – www.libertyparkmemphis.com

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