Thursday, October 7, 2010

Graceland .. what the... ?!


There’s a lot of history in this old city on the Mississippi. Cotton was once king in this part of the country, and the plantation system was the basis of the local economy. Issues surrounding slavery are evident in the number of museums that house exhibits on the subject, including one that we toured late one afternoon. The “Slavery Museum” is inside of an old, unimpressive house that dates back to the early 1800s. There are secret tunnels leading into the basement, where escaped slaves hid until passage for them could be arranged by the white man who lived in the house. It’s impossible to tour the house, with its displays and photos depicting what a slave’s life was like on a plantation. They even had the reminents of an old blood-stained, braided leather whip, a disturbing artifact to be sure. One of the docents showed us advertisements from a man named Nathan Bedford Forrest, who owned a company that traded in slaves. That same man fought hard for the Confederacy, becoming something of a hero in several battles because of his prowess on horseback. After the war, however, Forrest lost his thriving business and turned to a new venture. According to the docents, Forrest was one of the founders of the Ku Klux Klan. The Klan was brutal, doing everything possible to keep the African-American population from achieving true freedom. No one knows how many lynchings the KKK was responsible for. Here’s the thing that shocked Rick and I the most: Tennessee still honors this man’s birthday each year with a state holiday, not mentioning anything about his Klan affiliation. We were told that a large statue of Nathan Forrest was erected near Nashville, where Forrest and his wife were buried. And each year, members of the Klan (yes, they still exist) gather around his statue in Nashville to pay him tribute. The state has continued to ignore the protests by people who don’t want to see Forrest deified. It has done no good at all, and the tradition continues. Of course, we haven’t had time to research these claims made by the Slavery Museum, but if it’s true, it’s a good thing I don’t live in Tennessee, or I would be one of the protesting folks arrested at next year’s big Forrest rally!!

The Civil Rights Museum is located inside the motel where Martin Luther King was assassinated. The motel’s exterior remains the same as it was that terrible day in 1968, and a permanent wreath marks the spot where the Civil Rights leader was shot on the walkway just outside of his room. Yes, there were people touring the museum, taking photos, and contemplating what a great loss had occurred at this very spot.
The infamous Lorraine Motel where Martin Luther King was killed.


The wreath marks the spot where MLK was shot and died.

Window from which James Earl Ray shot MLK

But it was nothing compared to the zoo over at Graceland, where Elvis Presley lived and died. Graceland has become something of a theme-park, with its own mimi-mall where you can buy anything imaginable, as long as it relates to Elvis. His two airplanes, his cars, his house – you can see all of it, for a price. Don’t hate me for thinking that Graceland is over-the-top; a shrine to a roll-and-roll singer who died of a drug overdose. There must have been a dozen Grayline buses lined up in the big parking lot…which, incidentally, costs $14 for an auto to park in. A tour of the house is another $30 each. Does Lisa Marie really need all of that money? On the other hand, as long as the tens of thousands of visitors continue to flock to Graceland to immortalize the singer, the entire area will continue to grow and add more attractions. BTW, there weren’t any big buses at the Civil Rights Museum, let alone countless shopping opportunities to pick up a souvenir or four to take home.

The highlight of our time in Memphis was visiting Beale Street, a sort of Tennessee version of New Orleans’ Bourbon Street. Restaurants blare live music onto the street to attract visitors inside. Eclectic souvenir shops are interspersed with famous eateries, like B.B. Kings famous Barbeque Restaurant. We ate at two different restaurants along Beale Street on different days, and the sauces and deep fried foods were delicious. Ever tasted a fried pickle? Neither had we, so we ordered a plate as an appetizer. They weren’t bad, but we still can’t figure out why they’re such a popular dish in this part of the country. The fried green tomatoes were much tastier, and Rick swears that the batter used in the fried chicken is the best anywhere. Oh, and we shared a fried peach pie, something like a small turnover that is cooked in butter and sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon. It was so, so good! Glad I brought my elastic waist pants!

A look up the famous Beale Street

Typical scene along Beale Street
Unique toilet seats offered along Beale Street
The weather has cooled considerably, dipping to “frost” levels at night. The RV is warm and comfortable, and we’re definitely getting used to the pace and lifestyle. Off to Nashville tomorrow.

No comments: